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The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy Paperback – June 28, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this broadside against the received wisdom of America's elite liberal intelligentsia, noted conservative Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, offers some strenuous arguments as well as fuzzy generalizations. Thus, his attacks on the war on poverty, sex education and criminal justice policies forged in the 1960s counter some slippery rhetoric by their defenders, yet his suggestion that these policies exacerbated things is questionable. Sowell deconstructs how statistics can be distorted to prove assumptions (that lack of prenatal care is the cause of black infant mortality) and gleefully skewers "Teflon prophets" such as John Kenneth Galbraith (who said that big companies are immune from the market) and Paul Ehrlich (who said starvation loomed). While "the anointed" favor explanations that exempt individuals from personal responsibility and seek painless solutions, those with the "tragic vision" see policies as trade-offs. Sowell scores his targets for disdaining their opponents, but this book also invokes caricature-these days, many of "the anointed" are less unreconstructed than he assumes. Conservative Book Club and Laissez-Faire Book Club selections.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Ever the contrarian, this time Sowell targets the rhetorical methods liberals use to support their views of social issues. Usually, they frame a crisis to which the well-educated, articulate liberal, ruthlessly disparaged by Sowell as the "anointed," offers a categorical solution. To reach the solution, the liberal resorts to argumentative means that Sowell regards as fallacious. Examples he cites are the "Aha!" statistic in which condition A (say, infant mortality) is claimed to have cause B (inadequate budgets for prenatal care); or the assertion of a policy preference as a right, which is how a federal judge ordered a public library to allow an odoriferous, boisterous vagrant to roam the stacks--so that he could exercise his "right to receive ideas." These means defend a worldview of perfectible man that Sowell contrasts with the "tragic" view, stemming from human fallibility. Sowell's targets will find his criticisms irksome, if even worthy of their notice, but avid conservatives, for whom Sowell is a true-blue intellectual force, will certainly seize upon his analysis for succor. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (June 28, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046508995X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465089956
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (182 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #137,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Thomas Sowell has taught economics at Cornell, UCLA, Amherst and other academic institutions, and his Basic Economics has been translated into six languages. He is currently a scholar in residence at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has published in both academic journals in such popular media as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine and Fortune, and writes a syndicated column that appears in newspapers across the country.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

340 of 360 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on February 22, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is very rare that I will write more than one review for a book. I wrote one for "Vision of the Annointed" a few years ago, and is by now burried in the heap of 5 star reviews below. In it, I praised Sowell for walking us through some of the rhetorical tricks used predominantly by the left wing (though since reading the book, I've become sensitive to the 'right' using similar arguments). I stand by that review. So why am I writing a new one?

I've recently picked up the book again after 2 or so years and have read through some - not all - of the chapters again really hit me. The most important thing about this book is not simply the 'expose of the left'; rather, the predominant message seems to be about how the left (and I would argue, the right) ignore why 'tradeoffs' have to be made.

To put it more philosophically, the politicians dream is the policy that has no downsides. Sowell realizes that in a nation of many millions, every policy has negatives and that politicians should, instead of being focused on perfection, should be focused on taking the most gain for the least loss. This, Sowell says, is capitalism and markets. Yes, there are some losers. But there will be more winners and less losers through markets than there will through a regulatory state.

Now, let's put Sowells argument into modern context (the issue that made me pick the book up again). Lately, companies have been moving overseas and this, says the dems (and to a lesser degree the reps) is a problem. The solution being proposed? Let's pass laws to keep them here. The problem with that is that it ignores the real problem (by refusing to look at tradeoffs).
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114 of 123 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 6, 1997
Format: Paperback
Thomas Sowell demonstrates how anti-intellectual the current intelligensia are and how closed minded. When good intentions are more important than outcomes, a closed belief system results, insulated from real world feedback, with catastrophic results.
Modern political discourse has degenerated into name-calling ("mean-spirited," "reactionary," "racist") without reference to actual merits of a proposed course of action. Until I read Dr. Sowell's discussion of "mascots" and the "benighted," I never understood why organizations like the ACLU display the most passion of the behalf on those who exhibit the most anti-social behavor (Nazis marching in Skokie, drunks yelling obscenities at ballball games): Now I do.
Dr. Sowell's description of the genesis of government "solutions" (a phony crisis, a proposed program whose critics are shouted down and a retroactive redefinition of the program's goals when the critics prove correct) was also a revelation. Read this section and then turn to any N.Y. Times article discussing either global warming or the gender "wage gap" to see this cycle in action today.
If you read the book (and I highly recommend it), look at the Kirkus Review of it for an example of what Dr. Sowell is talking about. Isn't funny how articulate liberal writers are "passionate" and articulate conservative writers are "venomous?"
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316 of 360 people found the following review helpful By Stan Vernooy on July 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
Ever wonder why liberals are so emotionally in favor of gun control even though it's a conclusive fact that gun control doesn't reduce gun violence? Or why they support the bilingual education programs that do so much damage to immigrant children? Or why they favor rent controls that make housing unavailable to the poor people for whom they supposedly have so much sympathy? Or why they want to make it illegal for a person to be employed if (s)he lacks the skills to do more than $7 worth of work every hour?
If the motives of liberals were truly what they say they are, then these positions would never gather the support that they now enjoy from the liberal community. Liberals are not uninformed; they read the same books, newspapers and academic journals as conservatives or libertarians. So why do they so consistently advocate policies whose results are demonstrably contrary to the results they claim to want?
Sowell explains the answer in this wonderful book. The reason, he says, is that the real motives of liberals have nothing to do with the welfare of other people. Instead, they have two related goals: first, to establish themselves as morally and intellectually superior to the rather distasteful population of common people, and second, to gather as much power as possible to tell those distasteful common people how they must live their lives. If a policy moves them closer to those two goals, they will find a reason to advocate it, regardless of how harmful the consequences of that policy may be.
Once you read this book, the dishonest posturing of liberals becomes far more understandable. They engage in a preposterous circular argument: They are wiser and more moral than others because they "understand" the need for the policies they advocate.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Kolby on March 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book's main emphasis is the need for "results oriented" social policy.
Sowell's fundamental argument is:
1. Social policy is often built based on a perceived, "crisis."
2. That a "crisis," even exists, usually goes unchallenged, or ignored.
3. When said social policy fails to accomplish its stated objective, attempts are made to change the initial objective, or simply ignore the outcome.
"The Anointed," as Sowell calls them, are those who identify the crisis, put forth the policies, and then, if they fail, obfuscate the results. They live in a self justifying world, where what they "envision" is correct and moral *a priori.* Those who disagree are demonized as simpleminded and mean-spirited.
Sowell offers a lot of examples that support his theory at varying degrees of success. From Sex Ed programs, Low Income Housing, to environment policy. It is certainly a fascinating read.
Whether you agree with him or not (I mostly agree with him), what this book accomplishes is that it forces you to refocus on facts and data to make decisions, as opposed to your own moral vision.
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