Photo by Henry & Co. on Unsplash

Human Capital. Inspired by Thomas Sowell

“You know, doing what is right is easy. The problem is knowing what is right.”

— Lyndon B. Johnson

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell dismantles America with the perspective of economics. Politicians offer policies to create “new” things and take credit for it. Yet there is a price for everything. “There is no free lunch” he says.

Furthermore, Mr. Sowell speaks of the disadvantage people have in this time (after the second half of 20th century) compared to when he was growing up in the 1930’s, 40’s. Where he was able to attend one of the best grade schools and a top high school in New York City. At the time, the percentage of students in those top schools represented the percentage of the blacks in the city. However, that is not the case in the present time.

Next, Sowell points out no matter how much money the government spends on schools, it won’t get better if for example, parents are not following up on their kids assignments, putting their kids to bed early, waking them up early for school, and help them prepare for the day.

Sowell explains in his book “Wealth, Poverty, and Politics: An International Perspective” the reason why immigrants from specific areas of Europe, Asia, North and South America, Australia, and Africa, these specific groups bring human capital to where they go. For instance, he points out differences in Chinese from one region of China versus Chinese from another part of China. One of these groups came to the U.S.A. with nothing but human capital (their ability to make money with their skills). They prospered, some became professionals, and others have their own businesses.

What about the other group? After arriving in the U.S.A. most stayed poor. Even though both groups are from the same country. Also, the same previous concept may be applied to other countries.

Yet there is one important point Mr. Sowells covers. He says after the creation of “welfare” there was more damage than good. This surprised me. Because welfare is to help the poor or unskilled person. Right? Well, he goes deep into it. The Welfare system created by President Franklyn D. Roosevelt in 1935 focused on creating jobs for the poor. He also backed the idea of federal aid for poor children and other dependent persons.

Contrary to present time, most impoverished kids before welfare grew up with both of their parents. Eventually, most of them got out of the ghetto, and became successful. They got out of the welfare system because of their principles, values, discipline and preparation towards the demands of the market.

So what was the damage?

The welfare system can be a trap for some. Because if you make more money than the limit they set, then you do not receive any help. So many are scared of losing housing, food stamps, and medicare if they get a job. Its as getting a reward for doing nothing. Not knowing if they prepare themselves in a “specific skill” that’s on demand they are able to earn enough to prosper. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

There are or “were” mostly two groups of poor. The generation before and after welfare.

The generation before welfare had values and principles very different than those who want to be proud of being ghetto. They respected each other more. People living in the “ghetto” in the 1930’s and 1940’s leaved their doors opened so that the neighbors kids could come and watch the Saturday TV show. People had less material possessions (no cars, no TV, no laundry machines, no cellphones) but more respect and discipline. There was no graffiti. Their buildings were clean. Senior people would stay outside late at night in the hot summer months playing domino because they had no air conditioner. They felt safe…

On the other hand, the generation after welfare developed a new culture. For example their music. Music can be good if the content is encouraging. But this time the lyrics of the music that the upcoming kids/teenagers were listening to were about being a gangster, drugs, fights, jail, crimes, and so on. So how can we expected anything good coming out of this? And from a crab mentality?

Example of the crab mentality.

On the flip side, on the before welfare generation, Swing and Jazz dominated the music scene in the 1930s. Musicals were also quite popular. Music from the 1930s was generally upbeat and sometimes very relaxing. Humor was an important element in popular music.

So the saying “we are what we eat” is true. That doesn’t need to be only for food to look good and be healthy. We should also be selective of the content we consume from music, books, shows, movies, podcasts, radio stations, youtube channels and so on. Because there is a lot of trash out there not doing us any favors.

Harlem Tenement in Summer, 1935. Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

In addition, an example of difference is Mr. Sowell himself who grew up without parents, as a black man, with no money. Looking for better opportunities with his aunt, he found a mentor in Harlem New York when he was a kid, after moving from Gastonia, North Carolina.

His Alma mater are: Harvard University (BA), Columbia University (MA), and University of Chicago (PhD).

Thomas Sowell is very well respected. He is an American economist, social theorist, and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He attended also Stuyvesant High School and later served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War.

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

— T. S. ELiot

For this reason what’s the bottom line?

If you have a kid or teenager, or know one who is lost, or has potential and wants to become of value in society, be a mentor to him or her. Or find someone who is better suited for that role. As a man I can say boys need a male role model to have less bumps on the road of life.

If you are a single mother you don’t need to do this alone. We all need mentors, even as adults if the situation permits it. Because we don’t know everything. Even if it’s temporary such as a few months or a year.

As a scene in the movie “Facing the Giants” says: Prepare the field for the rain.

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Note: Information on this site are my own and do not represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of my current or any previous employer.

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