Look at a map and compare the ragged coastline of Western Europe, with its many ports and rivers to the smoother shoreline of Africa. That geography has a powerful impact on the development of cultures and contributes to differences in income and success, says Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Thomas Sowell in a new Hoover Essay.
In Race, Culture and Equality, Sowell argues that the most urban and less isolated a group, the more they learn from and build on the accomplishments of others. That speaks the economic success of Western Europeans, who have the benefit of urban centers around navigable waterways. By contrast, their landlocked Eastern European neighbors earn less than those of Western European descent even once they immigrate to North America or Australia. The same holds true for Africans who are isolated by a lack of natural harbors and by wilder in-land rivers.
Sowell sprinkles the essay with examples of how geography shaped cultures and determined the success of entire cultures. As an island nation with good rivers, Great Britain had contact with civilizations as far away as India and China. The British used technology developed by those peoples to make their way across the Atlantic Ocean to North America. There they encountered the more isolated Iroquois could not benefit from the accomplishments of the Aztecs and Incas to their south because they did not even know of their existence.
Sowell also addresses the issues of racial prejudice and how political dogma influences government spending.
Thomas Sowell is the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow in Public Policy at the Hoover Institution and has written extensively on economics, history, social policy, ethnicity, and the history of ideas. He is the author of many books, most recently Conquests and Culture (Basic Books, 1998), which follows Migrations and Culture (Basic Books, 1996), and Race and Culture (Basic Books, 1994). His writings have appeared in a nationally syndicated newspaper column and a column for Forbes magazine, as well as in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Fortune, Newsweek, and other publications, and have been translated into several foreign languages.
Copies of this Essay are available for $5 each from the Hoover Institution Press, 1-800-935-2882.