Thomas Sowell (1930- )

Hello Kinkaid:

Thomas Sowell is the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California (website here). According to Wiki,

Sowell is the author of more than 45 books (including revised and new editions) on a variety of subjects including politics, economics, education and race, and he has been a syndicated columnist in more than 150 newspapers. His views are described as conservative, especially on social issues; libertarian, especially on economics; or libertarian-conservative. He has said he may be best labelled as a libertarian, though he disagrees with libertarians on some issues, such as national defense…Sowell has said that he was a Marxist “during the decade of my 20s”…. What began to change his mind toward supporting free market economics, he said, was studying the possible impact of minimum wage on unemployment of sugar industry workers in Puerto Rico, as a U.S. Department of Labor intern. Workers at the department were surprised by his questioning, he said, and he concluded that “they certainly weren’t going to engage in any scrutiny of the law”.


In classical liberal quarters, Sowell is described as


one of the great social theorists of our age. In a career spanning more than a half century, he has written over thirty books, covering topics from economic history and social inequality to political theory, race, and culture. His bold and unsentimental assaults on liberal orthodoxy have endeared him to many readers but have also enraged fellow intellectuals, the civil-rights establishment, and much of the mainstream media. The result has been a lack of acknowledgment of his scholarship among critics who prioritize political correctness. In the first-ever biography of Sowell, Jason L. Riley gives this iconic thinker his due and responds to the detractors. Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell(link is external) showcases Sowell’s most significant writings and traces the life events that shaped his ideas and resulted in a Black orphan from the Jim Crow South becoming one of our foremost public intellectuals.


Some quotations follow:


  • Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good. In area after area – crime, education, housing, race relations – the situation has gotten worse after the bright new theories were put into operation. The amazing thing is that this history of failure and disaster has neither discouraged the social engineers nor discredited them.
  • The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.
  • People who pride themselves on their “complexity” and deride others for being “simplistic” should realize that the truth is often not very complicated. What gets complex is evading the truth.
  • “No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems—of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.”
  • “It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.”
  • “Some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity are among intellectuals who have trouble remembering that they are not God.”
  • “People who want special taxes or subsidies for particular things seem not to understand that what they are really asking for is for the prices to misstate the relative scarcities of things and the relative values that the users of these things put on them.”