Even though it’s important – particularly in a world with slippery politicians – to define words and terms accurately, I haven’t focused on this issue.
Indeed, a quick search through my archives shows that the only glossary I’ve ever published was this humorous list of financial terms.
And the only dictionary I’ve ever published was this clever example of Republican-to-English humor by a leftist.
Here’s some of what he writes in Part I. He starts with the elastic definition of “racism.”
“Racism” is another term we can expect to hear a lot this election year, especially if the public opinion polls are going against President Barack Obama. Former big-time TV journalist Sam Donaldson and current fledgling CNN host Don Lemon have already proclaimed racism to be the reason for criticisms of Obama, and we can expect more and more other talking heads to say the same thing as the election campaign goes on. The word “racism” is like ketchup. It can be put on practically anything — and demanding evidence makes you a “racist.”
I also like his assessment of “compassion” and “greed.”
In the political language of today, people who want to keep what they have earned are said to be “greedy,” while those who wish to take their earnings from them and give it to others (who will vote for them in return) show “compassion.”
But my favorite from Part I is “hungry.”
A political term that had me baffled for a long time was “the hungry.” Since we all get hungry, it was not obvious to me how you single out some particular segment of the population to refer to as “the hungry.” Eventually, over the years, it finally dawned on me what the distinction was. People who make no provision to feed themselves, but expect others to provide food for them, are those whom politicians and the media refer to as “the hungry.” Those who meet this definition may have money for alcohol, drugs or even various electronic devices. And many of them are overweight. But, if they look to voluntary donations, or money taken from the taxpayers, to provide them with something to eat, then they are “the hungry.” I can remember a time, long ago, when I was hungry in the old-fashioned sense. I was a young fellow out of work, couldn’t find work, fell behind in my room rent — and, when I finally found a job, I had to walk miles to get there, because I couldn’t afford both subway fare and food. But this was back in those “earlier and simpler times” we hear about. I was so naive that I thought it was up to me to go find a job, and to save some money when I did. Even though I knew that Joe DiMaggio was making $100,000 a year — a staggering sum in the money of that time — it never occurred to me that it was up to him to see that I got fed.
Now let’s shift to Part II of Sowell’s glossary, which focuses on the meaning of “access.”
Politicians seem to be forever coming to the rescue of people who have been denied “access” to credit, college or whatever. But what does that mean, concretely? …To take a personal example, Michael Jordan became a basketball star — and a very rich man. I did neither. Was that because I was denied “access” to professional basketball? Anyone who saw me as a teenager trying to play basketball could tell you that I was lucky to hit the back board, much less the basket.
Sowell explains why this debate matters.
When statistics showed that blacks were turned down for conventional mortgage loans at twice the rate of whites, that was the clincher for those saying that “access” was the problem and that racial discrimination was the reason. Since this fit the existing preconceptions in many quarters, what more could you want? Other statistics, however, showed that whites were turned down for conventional mortgage loans at nearly double the rate for Asian Americans. By the very same reasoning, that would suggest that whites were being racially discriminated against by banks that were mostly run by whites. …Statistics on the average credit ratings of people in different racial groups likewise seldom saw the light of day. The average credit ratings of whites were higher than the average credit ratings of blacks, and the average credit ratings of Asian Americans were higher than the average credit ratings of whites. But to lay all these facts before the public and say, “We report, you decide” might well result in the public’s deciding that banks and other financial institutions prefer lending to individuals who were more likely to pay them back.
Fans of Professor Sowell can read more of his work here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And you can see him in action here. A truly gifted public intellectual and (thankfully) a prolific writer.