Another Take: Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions

As I thought more about my post yesterday (that discussed views that recognize tradeoffs and those that do not), I realized that it related to an excellent book by Thomas Sowell.  His book, A Conflict of Visions, discusses two visions of the world that has some relationship to the two that David Sloan Wilson discusses.  Sowell labels his two visions the Constrained and Unconstrained Visions.  Charles Murrays describes the two visions as follows:

The Left holds an unconstrained vision: Given the right political and economic arrangements, human beings can be improved, even perfected. Success is defined by what people have the potential of becoming, not by people as they are. The Right holds a constrained vision: People come to society with innate characteristics that cannot be reshaped and must instead be accommodated. Success in political and economic policy must be defined in light of those innate characteristics.

Clearly, the constrained and unconstrained visions resemble the visions that recognize tradeoff and those that do not.  Like the visions that recognize tradeoffs, the constrained visions holds that we cannot have a perfect world – that there are inherent limits on our ability to improve things.

Interestingly, both Sowell and Murray tend to view the constrained and unconstrained visions along political lines – although for them the constrained vision is associated with the right whereas Wilson seemed to associate the tradeoff vision with the left.  My sense is that the standard political ideologies of the left do embrace the unconstrained visions more, but as Wilson’s post makes clear, there are such visions on the right as well.

Of course, the distinction that Sowell describes is not exactly the same as that discussed by Wilson.  For example, Rand believes that people come into society with innate characteristics (the constrained vision) and that leads her to suggest that the right policies tend to make everyone better off (the nontradeoff view).  Thus, Rand seems to have characteristics of both the constrained view and the nontradeoff view.  Overall, though, there is an interesting resemblance between Wilson’s and Sowell’s distinctions.

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