Migrations and Cultures Essay - Critical Essays

Thomas Sowell

Migrations and Cultures

Sowell is a controversial scholar because he refuses to conform to the stereotype demanded by black solidarity and this book, like his others, will not be welcomed by the politically correct. This controversy does not arise because his ideas are outrageous or even new. There is little in this book which would surprise most scholars of either American or world history. His presentation of old information in a format that sheds considerable light on contemporary debates, however, will make this a much-discussed publication.

Sowell’s study of several immigrant experiences (Germans, Chinese, Jews, and Asian Indians) demonstrates that history is less simple and predictable than many believe. First of all, societies are extremely complex, so that generalizations should be hazarded only very carefully. At the same time, the success that migrating peoples have can vary widely, depending largely on the culture of the places they settle and the employment niches available. Finally, peoples who were once down and out are capable of raising their status once they adapt their cultural skills to exploiting the opportunities they find. Sowell argues that one should not expect “equal outcomes.” How many members of any group find employment in any profession or trade is the result of historical processes that cannot be changed radically by government intervention (by implication, “affirmative action”).

“Cultural capital” transcends race and gender. It can be lost (as demonstrated in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire). It can be borrowed. It can increase with fantastic speed. Sowell argues that under varying conditions, some cultural traits are better than others. How groups adapt their culture to changing needs and their willingness to adopt superior traits usually determines their fates.

Sources For Further Study

Commentary. CII, September, 1996, p. 78.

Forbes. CLVII, May 6, 1996, p. 152.

Foreign Affairs. LXXV, March, 1996, p. 128.

Headway. VIII, July, 1996, p. 36.

Los Angeles Times. April 11, 1996, p. E3.

National Review. XLVIII, November 25, 1996, p. 65.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, June 2, 1996, p. 9.

The Wall Street Journal. June 27, 1996, p. A16.