- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

As much as I enjoy most messages from readers, there is no way I can answer more than a small fraction.

The messages I never reply to are those from obviously ignorant people who offer insults instead of arguments. However, a recent column has brought forth more than the usual number of uninformed denunciations, so it may be useful to other readers to explain why they should not take such nonsense seriously when they encounter it.

What set off the crazies was that I said there is no such thing as “trickle-down” economics. Supposedly those who believe in trickle-down economics want to give benefits to the rich, on the assumption these benefits will trickle down to the poor.

Having spent my career’s first decade researching, teaching and writing about the history of economic thought, I can say no economist of the last two centuries had any such theory.

Some who denounced me for saying there was no trickle-down theory cited an article by David Stockman years ago — as if he were the last word, and I should forget everything I learned in years of research because Mr. Stockman said otherwise.

What is often confused with a trickle-down theory is supply-side economics, as advocated by Arthur Laffer. That theory holds tax cuts can generate more tax revenue because it changes behavior, creating more economic activity and more taxable income and increased economic growth

It is not hard to find examples of this happening — for example, during the Kennedy administration, among other times and places. Controversy concerns whether it will happen in a given set of circumstances, but none of this has anything to do with money trickling down from the rich to the poor. It involves creating more wealth in the whole economy.

The notion of a trickle-down theory is debunked on pages 388-389 of my book “Basic Economics” (second edition). But most of those who went ballistic over my denial of a trickle-down theory were not seeking further information.

As far as they were concerned, they already had the absolute truth and only needed to vent their anger when I dared say otherwise. That is a sign of a much more general and dangerous current social trend that goes far beyond a handful of true believers foaming at the mouth against one columnist.

If education provides anything, it should be an ability to think — that is, weigh one idea against an opposing idea and use evidence and logic to try to determine what is true or false. But our schools and colleges fail to teach that today.

Worse still, too many teachers, from elementary to graduate schools, see their role as indoctrinating students with what the teachers regard as the right beliefs and opinions. That usually means the left’s beliefs and opinions.

The merits or demerits of those ideas are far less important than whether students learn to analyze and weigh them. Educators once said, “We are here to teach you how to think, not what to think.”

Students can now spend years in schools, discussing all sorts of issues, without ever hearing a coherent statement of opinions that differ with what their politically correct teachers say.

There are students in our most prestigious law schools who have never heard arguments for the social importance of property rights — not just for those fortunate enough to own property but for those who don’t own a square inch of real estate or a single share of stock. How they would view the issues if they did is a moot point because they have heard only one side of the issue.

People who go through life never hearing the other side of issues ranging from environmentalism to minimum wage laws are nevertheless emboldened to lash out in ignorance at anyone who disturbs their worldview. The self-confident moral preening of ignoramuses is perhaps an inevitable product of promoting “self-esteem” in our schools.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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