Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell

Infobox Scientist
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name = Thomas Sowell

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birth_place = North Carolina
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nationality = flag|United States
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fields = Economics, Education, Politics, History, Race relations, Child Development
workplaces = Hoover Institution
alma_mater = Howard University
Harvard College
Columbia University
University of Chicago
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academic_advisors = George Stigler
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influenced = Clarence Thomas
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Thomas Sowell (born June 30, 1930), is an American economist, social commentator, and author of dozens of books. He often writes from an economically laissez-faire perspective. He is currently a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In 1990, he won the Francis Boyer Award, presented by the American Enterprise Institute. In 2002 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal for prolific scholarship melding history, economics, and political science.


Thomas Sowell was born in North Carolina, where, as recounted in his autobiography, [ "A Personal Odyssey"] , his encounters with white people were so limited that he didn't believe that "yellow" was a possible color for human hair. He and his siblings moved to Harlem, New York City with his mother's sister (whom he believed was his mother; his father died before he was born). He dropped out of high school and moved out on his own at age 17 because of financial difficulties and a deteriorating home environment. ["Hoover Institution Newsletter", Winter 2001 [] ] These hard-scrabble years are detailed in his autobiography. He later served in the US Marine Corps.

After his service, Sowell passed a GED and enrolled at Howard University. His high grades enabled him to transfer and complete a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Harvard College, where he graduated magna cum laude. He went on to receive a Master of Arts in Economics from Columbia University, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Economics from the University of Chicago. He initially chose Columbia University he has said, because he wanted to study under George Stigler. After arriving at Columbia and hearing that Stigler had moved on to Chicago, Sowell followed him there. [ name=CharlieRoseSowell> [ Charlie Rose - September 15, 1995] ]

Sowell has taught at prominent American universities including Howard University, Cornell University, Brandeis University, and UCLA. Since 1980 he has been a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where he holds the fellowship named after Rose and Milton Friedman. ["" [] ]

Career highlights

*Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, September 1980 - present
*Professor of Economics, UCLA, July 1974 - June 1980
*Visiting Professor of Economics, Amherst College, September- December 1977
*Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, April- August 1977
*Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, July 1976 - March 1977
*Project Director, The Urban Institute, August 1972 - July 1974
*Associate Professor of Economics, UCLA, September 1970 - June 1972
*Associate Professor of Economics, Brandeis University, September 1969 - June 1970
*Assistant Professor of Economics, Cornell University, September 1965 - June 1969
*Economic Analyst, American Telephone & Telegraph Co., June 1964 - August 1965
*Lecturer in Economics, Howard University, September 1963 - June 1964
*Instructor in Economics, Douglass College, Rutgers University, September 1962 - June 1963
*Labor Economist, U.S. Department of Labor, June 1961 - August 1962


Sowell is both a syndicated columnist and an academic economist.

Besides scholarly writing, Sowell has written books, articles and syndicated columns for a general audience, in such publications as Forbes Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and major newspapers. Sowell primarily writes on economic subjects, generally advocating a free market approach to capitalism. Sowell opposes Marxism, providing a critique in his book "Marxism: Philosophy and Economics". He also argues that, contrary to popular perception, Marx never held to a labor theory of value.

Sowell also writes on racial topics and is a critic of affirmative action. ["" [] ] ["" [] ] While often described as a "black conservative", he prefers not to be labeled, and considers himself more libertarian than conservative. [Sawhill R. (1999) [ "Black and right: Thomas Sowell talks about the arrogance of liberal elites and the loneliness of the black conservative."] "". Accessed May 6, 2007.]

In another departure from economics, Sowell wrote "The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late", a follow-up to his "Late-Talking Children". This book investigates the phenomenon of late-talking children, frequently misdiagnosed with autism or pervasive developmental disorder. He includes the research of — among others — Professor Stephen Camarata, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University and Professor Steven Pinker, Ph.D., of Harvard University in this overview of a poorly understood developmental trait. It is a trait which he says affected many historical figures. He includes famous late-talkers such as physicists Albert Einstein, Edward Teller and Richard Feynman; mathematician Julia Robinson; and musicians Arthur Rubenstein and Clara Schumann. The book and its contributing researchers make a case for the theory that some children develop unevenly (asynchronous development) for a period in childhood due to rapid and extraordinary development in the analytical functions of the brain. This may temporarily "rob resources" from neighboring functions such as language development.

The book contradicts speculation by Simon Baron-Cohen that Einstein may have had Asperger's Syndrome (see also people speculated to have been autistic).


Sowell regularly writes a nationally syndicated column that appears in various newspapers, as well as online on websites such as the conservative

Sowell considers the following to be problematic issues in modern-day society:

*Liberal media bias [] [] [] [] []
*judicial activism (while staunchly defending originalism) [] [] [] [] []
*partial birth abortion []
*minimum wage
*socializing health care
*affirmative action
*government bureaucracy
*Militant U.S. foreign policy
*The Federal War on Drugs

Sowell is a supporter of free market and pro-growth economics. In a recent column he criticized as "socialism for the rich" certain policies which he points out benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor. []

Sowell also favors decriminalization of drugs. [Sowell, Thomas (1987); "Compassion versus guilt, and other essays"; ISBN 0688071147.]

ummary of some of Sowell's thought and philosophy

This section briefly summarizes some of the major themes and philosophies of Sowell. They range from social policy on race, ethnic groups, education and decision-making, to classical and Marxist economics, to the problems of children perceived as having disabilities. Sowell has also extended his research from the United States to the international sphere, finding supporting data and patterns from several cultures and nations. He has demonstrated that similar incentives and constraints often result in similar outcomes among very different peoples and cultures.

Five themes in his work cut across specific topics:
*The importance of empirical evidence, not only in a narrow technical sense but as reflected in the broad record of history.
*The competing basic visions of policy makers, and their role in the interactions of elites versus the ordinary masses.
*An importance of trade-offs, constraints and incentives in human decision making.
*The significance of human capital—attitudes, skills, and work.
*The importance of systemic (orderly, structured) processes for decision-making—from free markets to the rule of law.

These five keys place the economist's writings in the greater context of historical synthesis and human decision-making, rather than being simply those of a conservative pundit or "race" writer on particular contemporary social issues. Sowell's work is also a significant answer to critiques of economics arguing that the discipline has failed to come to grips with real world problems and is occupied too much with technical models and details, while paying little attention to historical processes. [Graeme Donald Snooks, Historical Analysis in Economics, (Routledge 1993)] Broad, incisive analysis of history is a fundamental pillar of Sowell's method, and he has repeatedly demonstrated that he can take the models of the discipline and integrate them to shed light on important historical problems and trends. The summary below does not attempt to "endorse" or establish whether the claims or arguments advanced by Sowell are "true" or "false" but encapsulates a good deal of his thought, cutting across three decades.

1) Empirical evidence and objective analysis of relevant factors is sorely lacking in claims surrounding race, culture and society: In his writings Sowell has repeatedly emphasized the need for empirical evidence and objective assessments of data, as opposed to the sweeping generalizations, wishful thinking, and distorted or false evidence provided by numerous writers in the field of social policy and economics. Sowell contends that in no field are these distortions greater than when the topic of race is discussed. Sowell maintains that common assumptions and stirring rhetoric about poverty, slavery, discrimination, economic progress or education don't hold up when measured against hard data. [Sowell, Thomas (1981). Knowledge and Decisions ]

2) What counts in assessing a social or economic policy is not the stated intentions of promoters, but the incentives created and the actual end results produced: In his book "Marxism: Philosophy and Economics" Sowell shows that this was the outlook of Marx. He applies this "bottom line" approach to other social policies, ranging from IQ Tests to affirmative action. In numerous cases, he demonstrates that the stated aims of promoters had little relation to the actual results produced. In regard to affirmative action, for example, the goals of proponents: that it was a temporary measure, that it helped those categories of minorities less fortunate, that it would promote social harmony, et cetera, have not been satisfied when the empirical evidence is analyzed. Sowell contends that too often, social policy is made on the basis of sweeping assumptions, arbitrarily selected statistical data, and ideological dogma, without sufficient evidence. [Sowell, Thomas (2004). Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-10199-6 ]

3) Numerous factors determine income and education levels among American ethnic groups, and between genders, not the overgeneralized, "all-purpose" explanations of racism, or sexism: In books, such as "Markets and Minorities", "Ethnic America", "Race and Culture" and others, Sowell demonstrates the importance of such factors as geography, degree of urbanization, cultural structures, field of work, and other factors more relevant than charges of “racism”. He believes that those who make such charges seldom present credible empirical evidence. As for the “pay gap” between men and women, for example, Sowell’s book "Civil Rights" argues that most of said gap is based on marital status, not a “glass ceiling” discrimination. Earnings for men and women of the same basic description (education, jobs, hours worked, marital status) were essentially equal. That result would not be predicted under explanatory theories of “sexism”. ["Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality", Thomas Sowell, 1984. "Markets and Minorities, Thomas Sowell, 1981]

4) Internationally, empirical evidence shows colonialism, imperialism, and/or claims of genetic superiority are all theories failing to explain technological or economic differences among nations. Sowell’s trilogy, "Race and Culture", "Migrations and Culture" and "Conquests and Cultures" exemplifies his broad analytical approach to historical processes, cutting across centuries of history, and many different peoples. He compares nations and minority groups within nations, particularly migrants. On an international scale, cultural factors are very important. Some countries heavily subjected to imperialism and colonialism are themselves among the most prosperous. For example, he notes that once backward Britain survived centuries of Roman colonialism and imperialism, to emerge centuries later as the most powerful empire on earth.

Too often, Sowell maintains, trendy explanations of racism and imperialism, or their reverse- simplistic claims of genetic superiority- are used to explain significant historical patterns, when mundane factors such as geography can be much more relevant and useful in understanding an issue. Factors such as the presence of navigable rivers, good harbors favorable for transportation and trade, mountain ranges that capture water for later irrigation, fertile land, climate patterns that facilitate the movement of productive plants and animals, etc. all heavily influenced nations' or people's successes over the span of history. Tropical Africa for example, is particularly deficient on a number of such geographic advantages. Sowell shows that for centuries, non-white nations like China were more advanced that those of Europe until comparatively recent times. He also argues that the European West borrowed and adapted freely from other nations and regions- from the writing systems and domesticates of Southwest Asia, to the numerous inventions or innovations of China (gunpowder, compass, etc), to various other strands in-between. Within national settings, students of East Asian origin in the West frequently outperform their white counterparts and score higher on IQ tests. These patterns undercut simplistic white supremacist theories of inherent genetic superiority. In 1983's "Economics and Politics of Race" Sowell predicts that the long cycles of history may yet again reshuffle the success of nations and peoples.

5) Many modern ideological struggles can be traced to two visions: the vision of the anointed and the vision of the constrained realist: Sowell lays out these concepts in his "A Conflict of Visions", and "The Vision of the Anointed". These two visions encompass a range of ideas and theories. The vision of the anointed relies heavily on sweepingly optimistic assumptions about human nature, distrust of decentralized processes like the free market, impatience with systemic processes that constrain human action, and absent or distorted empirical evidence. The constrained or tragic vision relies heavily on a reduced view of the goodness of human nature, and prefers the systematic processes of the free market, and the systematic processes of the rule of law and constitutional government. It distrusts sweeping theories and grand assumptions in favor of heavy reliance on solid empirical evidence and on time-tested structures and processes. [For helpful discussion of Sowell's dualistic ideological model, see Joseph G. Conti and Brad Stetson, Challenging the Civil Rights Establishment: Profiles of a New Black Vanguard, (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1993, pp. 85--122).]

6) On race and intelligence (as measured by IQ), whole groups and nations have raised their IQ scores over time, undermining various theories of intelligence related to minorities such as Jews and blacks. :#In "Intelligence and Ethnicity", Sowell demonstrates how IQ scores have risen among many groups, (see the Flynn effect). He notes that a number of white ethnic groups tallied poor scores as they began entry into the American urban economy. Jews for example scored dismally on Army intelligence tests during WWI, leading to assumptions that they were second rate citizens. Jewish IQ scores have risen steadily, and now they rank near the top. Similarly, IQ scores of East Asians were unimpressive in early measurements, but they rank high today. :#Sowell shows that black IQ progress has been concealed by the practice of statistical redefinitions, or "norming" of beginning measurement baselines. Thus an IQ score that might have been considered "normal" or "average" in 1960, is today considered below par. By recalculating from the "original" baselines, he demonstrates that not only blacks but entire nations have shown significant rises in IQ over time. He notes that the roughly 15-point gap in contemporary black-white IQ scores is similar to the gap between the national average and the scores of particular ethnic white groups in years past. Indeed similar gaps have been reported "within" white populations, such as Northern Europeans versus Southern Europeans. Sowell references some of these points in his criticism of the book "The Bell Curve". [The Bell Curve Wars- Thomas Sowell- Chapter 6 'Ethnicity and IQ", pg 70-80] :#In short Sowell argues, IQ "gaps" are hardly startling or unusual between, and within ethnic groups. What is distressing he claims, is the sometimes hysterical response to the very fact of IQ research, and movements to ban testing in the name of "self-esteem" or "fighting racism." He argues however, that few would have known of black IQ progress if scholars like James Flynn had not undertaken allegedly "racist" research. [Thomas Sowell, 'Affirmative Action: An International Perspective, op. cit.; Web: [ "Race and IQ" - column for] ]

7) What some portray as "authentic black culture" is actually a relic of a highly dysfunctional white southern redneck culture. Such a dysfunctional white culture Sowell maintains, in turn derived from the ‘Cracker culture’ of certain regions in Britain, mainly the harsh English borderlands, origin of many 'cracker' migrants. Sowell gives a number of examples that he regards as supporting the lineage, including an aversion to work, proneness to violence, neglect of education, sexual promiscuity, improvidence, drunkenness, lack of entrepreneurship,… and a style of religious oratory marked by strident rhetoric, unbridled emotions, and flamboyant imagery.

Sowell also provides figures to support his argument that there was a far bigger divide between the cracker/redneck culture of the Southern and Applachian regions and the culture of more northerly Americans, than between whites and blacks. E.g. Northern blacks tried to stop redneck blacks coming up from the South, and the same happened between northern whites and redneck whites. This thesis is the title essay of Sowell's book "Black Rednecks and White Liberals". [Thomas Sowell, Black Rednecks, White Liberals, (Encounter Books: 2005) ]

8) Ordinary citizens might benefit from analyzing issues and public policies in terms of costs, benefits and tradeoffs, where scarce resources have alternative uses, rather than rely on lofty rhetoric from political leaders, activists and special interests. In "Basic Economics" [Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics: A Citizens Guide to the Economy, (Basic Books: 2003)] and "Applied Economics" [Thomas Sowell, Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One, (Basic Books, 2003)] , Sowell lays out the fundamentals of the discipline so that the layman can understand them, and his essential way or model for approaching problems. There are no free lunches Sowell emphasizes, only tradeoffs at various levels. This "transactional" approach to social and economic policy is one of the hallmarks of Sowell's writings. Quote::"Lofty talk about “non-economic values” too often amounts to very selfish attempts to impose one’s own values, without having to weigh them against other people’s values. Taxing away what other people have earned, in order to finance one’s own fantasy ventures, is often depicted as a humanitarian endeavor, while allowing others the same freedom and dignity as oneself, so they can make their own choices with their own earnings, is considered to be pandering to “greed.” Greed for power is more dangerous than greed for money and has shed far more blood in the process. Political authorities have often had “revolutionary values” that were devastating to the general population." [ Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell, p. 308]

9. Government action is too often perceived as beneficial, just and noble, when in fact it often hurts those it is purportedly trying to help. As far back as 1975's "Race and Economics" [Race and Economics, 1975] and continuing through his "Affirmative Action Around The World" and "Basic and Applied Economics" series, Sowell repeatedly shows that much government action in the social and economic arena has not only failed to achieve desired or claimed results but in many cases has created worse conditions than those previously existing. [Basic Economics, op. cit] Examples given to bolster Sowell's arguments range from rent control (which decreases the supply of housing), to busing for racial balance (schools in some areas under busing are just as segregated or worse than before), to crime control, to zoning laws, to education. Sowell also takes strong issue with the notion of government as a helper or savior of minorities, arguing that the historical record shows quite the opposite- from the lower level Jim Crow laws created and enforced by state and local regimes, to welfare subsidies at the federal level that have promoted family dependency and breakdown. Sowell draws upon a mass of historical data to question both the priorities and logic of those who call for even more government intervention and spending to 'solve' the problems of minorities. [Race and Economics, 1975, op. cit.]

10. On several measures, black progress was much more positive prior to the significant rise of the welfare state, and prior to the era of affirmative action. Another of Sowell's themes is to show the painful but steady rise of blacks in the US against heavy odds before massive intervention by government programs, a rise that contradicts some popular assumptions.

:"Social problems." He demonstrates that several so-called 'black' problems occurred to a lesser degree "before" the widespread implementation of the welfare state era in the 1970s. In "Affirmative Action Around the World" (2004) [Affirmative action. op. cit] and "Civil Rights" [Civil Rights, op. cit] Sowell demonstrates that on several measures, black progress was actually better in earlier times, than in the contemporary era. In the decades immediately after the Civil War for example, blacks posted higher employment rates and lower divorce rates than whites. As regards family stability and out-of-wedlock births, black rates prior to WWII were hardly perfect, but were still far lower than the 70% out-of-wedlock births afflicting the black community at the beginning of the 21st century.

:"Education." Black education was badly hurt by Jim Crow laws and practices, nevertheless Sowell demonstrates in "Inside American Education" (1993) and "Black Education: Myths and Tragedies" (1972) that even on this measure, blacks often showed progress that would be almost inconceivable in many of today's inner city schools. All-black Dunbar High School in Washington D.C. prior to the 1960s, for example, achieved performance levels equal to or exceeding that of comparable surrounding white schools. In several New York schools before WWII, black students achieved basic parity with their white counterparts, sometimes higher, sometimes lower, but never miles behind as is the case in numerous ghetto schools of the contemporary era. Black educational performances cannot be confined to the Jim Crow South. As far back as WWI, black soldiers from various Northern States like New York, Pennsylvania, etc scored higher on Army intelligence tests than southern whites from several southern states like Mississippi, etc.. [Thomas Sowell, Inside American Education, Basic Books: 1993)]

:In his 1986 "Education: Assumptions versus History," Sowell discusses several all-black public and private schools that achieved high performance standards like Dunbar. Ironically, these black schools "declined" after the "Brown" desegregation, as the urban centers they were located in descended into crime, poverty and decay. Schools that once boasted high test scores, numerous academic awards, service to the community, and the development of black professionals became marked by low test scores, locations in decaying neighborhoods, lack of parental support and discipline problems. Policies such as busing for racial 'balance' did little to stem this decline. [Sowell, T. Education: Assumptions versus History, (Hoover Institution: 1986)]

:"Long-standing trend of black progress." Sowell also challenges the notion that black progress is due to 'progressive' government programs or policies. In "The Economics and Politics of Race," (1983), "Ethnic America" (1981), "Affirmative Action" (2004) and other books for example, Sowell shows that in the 5 years prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, black gains in employment and education were actually higher than in the 5 years after. Black progress in employment and education was a "long-standing trend" from the WWII era, almost 2 decades before the 1964 law, and "before" the era of affirmative action in the mid 1970s. Black gains in education and employment after 1964 Sowell maintains, continued this established upward movement in the booming postwar economy. The passage of the race-neutral Civil Rights Act of 1964, complemented this upward swing, and by removing unjust "legal" barriers, provided significant "equal opportunity." Sowell sharply contrasts "equal opportunity" (fair treatment across the board regardless of race) with the disguised or open race quotas and headcounts of affirmative action.

:Long-standing advance in reducing poverty is also a hallmark of black effort, Sowell maintains, contradicting assorted claims of black inability. Prior to the 1964 Act, when few welfare or transfer payment programs as such were in place, a majority of blacks had actually pulled themselves "above" the poverty line despite open hostility from many whites and open segregation and discrimination in job and housing markets. On several other measures- from youth employment to crime, blacks posted a much better showing prior to the expansion of the welfare state, or the affirmative action era, than after.

:"White ethnic groups show many of the same problems historically." Sowell also argues that many problems identified with 'blacks' in modern society are hardly unique in terms of American ethnic groups. In "Ethnic America", (1981) he shows that white ethnic groups like the Irish were marked by many of the same patterns as blacks who migrated from rural backgrounds to the big urban centers, including high levels of violence and substance abuse. As regards out-of-wedlock births for example, the rate in some early white Irish neighborhoods in New York was over 50%, comparable to what would develop in later black ghettos in the same city. [ Sowell, Ethnic America, Basic Books: 1981)]

:"Objective data challenges both sides of the political spectrum." This history of achievement is too often lost and overlooked Sowell holds, and contradicts some right-wing claims that blacks have not pulled themselves up, or that seek to tar black progress as a function of affirmative action. The same history also contradicts some liberal claims that government programs like race quotas are responsible for black progress, when the facts show a long-standing trend of black advance "before" such programs.

11. Human capital is the most durable, most precious of all, trumping both physical and financial capital, and overcoming the most adverse circumstances. Over and over again in Sowell's works the theme of "human capital" appears. Human capital is the sum total of values, attitudes, skills, work effort and cultural inheritance and patterns, often extending back for centuries. Human capital can be individual- education, self-discipline, savings or hard work - but more important to Sowell's work, it is also mass capital, the combined product of millions, not the selected preserve of a few.

"Human capital and oppressed minorities." Human capital has permitted ethnic minorities to bounce back and triumph over the harshest, most brutal treatment by majorities. Sowell's works ("Economics and Politics of Race" (1993), "Ethnic America"(1981), "Affirmative Action around the World" (2004), and "Race and Culture" (1994). etc) are laced with such illustrations, across several nations of the world, and across several centuries. Jews in Europe or the Middle East for example, often harshly persecuted for centuries and denied a basis in agriculture, used their skills in urban economies to not only survive, but to ultimately end-run their enemies. Overseas Chinese are another such group- enduring harsh treatment from the colonial and modern era of Southeast Asia to the mining towns of 19th Century California, where rampaging white mobs did not give them "a Chinaman's chance." [Sowell, Ethnic America, op. cit. ] Today their native born descendants as a group surpass the US white average on a number of counts, from income and education, to IQ and academic tests. Japanese-Americans show a similar pattern despite such obstacles as racist land laws designed to freeze them out of farming occupations, or the internment camps of WWII.

"Human capital in patterns reaching back centuries." In several works- Sowell demonstrates this triumph of human capital, and the human spirit. These are repeated across several different countries. Industrious German farmers for example who took over "wasteland" scorned by others and made them productive farms did so not only in the United States, but in places as far afield as Russia and Argentina. Japanese farming skill and discipline repeated itself from the produce fields of California to Brazil. Italian stone and vineyard workers dominated certain related trades from the streets of New York, to the fields of distant Argentina. None of this is by accident- but reflects human capital earned the hard way across the span of centuries, in multiple nations, across multiple generations. The importance of human capital- mass capital attained by ordinary men and women through generations of experience and sacrifice, is for Sowell, much more important to human well-being than the theories of racial supremacists or utopian activists. Such capital is the foundation of human liberty and civilization. Some critics claim that the sharp, sometimes sarcastic tone found in some of Sowell's works such as "Inside American Education" reflects his exasperation and frustration at the waste of human capital occurring in many minority, particularly black communities. [Robert J. Nash "A Neo-essentialist Diatribe Against American Education," Journal of Teacher Education, March-April 1995, Vol 46, no 2, pp. 150-155]

12. Systemic processes mated to the common wisdom and practical action of the ordinary "volk" are superior to the grandiose presumptions of intellectual, political and bureaucratic elites. In several works, such as "Knowledge and Decisions", "A Conflict of Visions" and "The Economics and Politics of Race," Sowell stresses the importance of systemic processes like free markets, the rule of law and constitutional government. Such systemic processes are orderly, structured and sequential. They are not perfect, nor can they be, since humans themselves are flawed. Instead, on the balance, they provide the best framework whereby imperfect humans, can achieve large measures of freedom in not only the political sphere but the economic one as well. Such processes are continually refined and improved incrementally over time. Improvements over time to common law judicial systems like that of the United States for example, did not quickly come about by sweeping decrees from those with allegedly superior wisdom, but by a long, painful process extending back to the Magna Carta and beyond. Likewise US blacks pulled themselves from poverty not because of government programs or policies, but often "in spite" of government, largely using the processes of free markets. Blacks broke segregation in many white neighborhoods for example, not because of the goodness of the government or the goodwill of whites, but because their combined dollars outbid or induced even racist whites to sell them property in 'reserved' areas.

On the balance Sowell maintains, systemic processes are superior to the dictates or condension of those on high, who presume to know better than ordinary people. A product of the hard-scrabble streets himself, Sowell also stresses the practical action and wisdom of the broad masses within those methodical frameworks, versus the presumptions, confiscations and social engineering of elites. The ordinary masses deserve freedom as much as "their betters." Such elites he argues, are only too ready to claim freedom for their own trendy notions and self-aggrandizing profit, while denying similar freedom to the small man on the street to manage his own resources and make his own decisions. A deep skepticism towards intellectual and bureaucratic elites runs through much of Sowell's work. This is perhaps summed up best at the end of "Knowledge and Decisions" (1983):

:"Historically, freedom is a rare and tragic thing. It has emerged out of the stalemates of would-be oppressors. Freedom has cost the blood of millions in obscure places and historic sites ranging from Gettysburg to the Gulag Archipelago. That something that cost so much in human lives should be surrendered piecemeal in exchange for [trendy] visions or rhetoric seems grotesque. Freedom is not simply the right of intellectuals to circulate their merchandise. It is, above all, the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their 'betters.'" [Knowledge and Decisions, p. 383]

Those influenced by Sowell

*Sowell's book "Race and Economics" greatly influenced Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas read the book in 1975, and later said that the book changed his life.
*Bates College in Maine has an endowed professorship in economics named after Sowell. []
*Playwright David Mamet has called Sowell "our greatest contemporary philosopher". As does British Historian Paul Johnson in his book A History of the American People. [,374064,374064,1.html/full]
*Rush Limbaugh is an admirer of Sowell's writing and considers him an "honest Thinker". [ New York Times Magazine, July 6, 2008 [] ]


*"Most people who read The Communist Manifesto probably have no idea that it was written by a couple of young men who had never worked a day in their lives, and who nevertheless spoke boldly in the name of 'the workers'."

*"If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago, and a racist today."

*"Blacks were not enslaved because they were black but because they were available. Slavery has existed in the world for thousands of years. Whites enslaved other whites in Europe for centuries before the first black was brought to the Western hemisphere. Asians enslaved Europeans. Asians enslaved other Asians. Africans enslaved other Africans, and indeed even today in North Africa, blacks continue to enslave blacks."

*"Prices are important not because money is considered paramount but because prices are a fast and effective conveyor of information through a vast society in which fragmented knowledge must be coordinated."

*"The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics."

*"Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late."

*"One of the most fashionable notions of our times is that social problems like poverty and oppression breed wars. Most wars, however, are started by well-fed people with time on their hands to dream up half-baked ideologies or grandiose ambitions, and to nurse real or imagined grievances."

*"The simplest and most psychologically satisfying explanation of any observed phenomenon is that it happened that way because someone wanted it to happen that way." (Animistic fallacy)

*"Moderation is fine, as long as it's not taken to extremes."

*"People who claim that sentencing a murderer to "life without the possibility of parole" protects society just as well as the death penalty ignore three things: (1) life without the possibility of parole does not mean life without the possibility of escape or (2) life without the possibility of killing while in prison or (3) life without the possibility of a liberal governor being elected and issuing a pardon."

*"Liberalism is totalitarianism with a human face."

*"The big divide in this country is not between Democrats and Republicans, or women and men, but between talkers and doers."

*“Liberals seem to assume that, if you don't believe in their particular political solutions, then you don't really care about the people that they claim to want to help”

*“One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain”

*"'Global warming' is just the latest in a long line of hysterical crusades to which we seem to be increasingly susceptible." []

Books by Sowell

*cite book |last=Sowell |first=Thomas |title=Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One |publisher=Basic Books |location= |edition=2nd edition |year=2008 |pages=400 pages|isbn=978-0465003457 |oclc= |doi=
*cite book |last=Sowell |first=Thomas |title=Economic Facts and Fallacies |publisher=Basic Books |location= |edition= |year=2007 |pages=262 pages|isbn=978-0465003495 |oclc= |doi=
*cite book |last=Sowell |first=Thomas |title=Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy |publisher=Perseus Books Group |location=Cambridge, Mass |edition=3rd edition |year=2007 |pages=627 pages|isbn=978-0465002603 |oclc= |doi=
*cite book |last=Sowell |first=Thomas |title=A Man of Letters |publisher=Encounter Books |location=San Francisco |year=2007 |pages=320 pages|isbn= 978-1594031960 |oclc= |doi=
*cite book |last=Sowell |first=Thomas |title=Ever Wonder Why? And Other Controversial Essays |publisher=Hoover Institution Press |location=Stanford, CA |year=2006 |pages=460 pages|isbn=978-0817947521 |oclc= |doi=
*cite book |last=Sowell |first=Thomas |title=On Classical Economics |publisher=Yale University Press |location=New Haven, Conn |year=2006 |pages=320 pages |isbn=978-0300126068 |oclc= |doi=
*cite book |last=Sowell |first=Thomas |title= |publisher=Encounter Books |location=San Francisco |year=2005 |pages=360 pages |isbn=978-1594030864 |oclc= |doi=
*cite book |last=Sowell |first=Thomas |title= |publisher=Yale University Press |location=New Haven, Conn |year=2004 |pages=256 pages |isbn=978-0300107753 |oclc= |doi=
*2004. "Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy", revised and expanded ed. Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-08145-2 (1st ed. 2000)
*2003. "", ISBN 0-465-08143-6
*2003. "Inside American Education", ISBN 0-7432-5408-2
*2002. "The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late", ISBN 0-465-08141-X
*2002. "Controversial Essays", ISBN 0-8179-2992-4
*2002. "A Personal Odyssey", ISBN 0-684-86465-7
*2002. "The Quest For Cosmic Justice", ISBN 0-684-86463-0
*1998. "Conquests and Cultures: An International History", ISBN 0-465-01400-3
*1996. "Migrations and Cultures: A World View", ISBN 0-465-04589-8
*1996. "The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation As a Basis for Social Policy". Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-08995-X
*1994. "Race and Culture: A World View", ISBN 0-465-06796-4
*1987. "". William Morrow, ISBN 0-688-06912-6
*1987. "Compassion Versus Guilt and Other Essays". William Morrow, ISBN 0688-07114-7
*1986. "Marxism: Philosophy and Economics". Quill, ISBN 0-688-06426-4
*1984. "Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?" William Morrow, ISBN 0-688-03113-7
*1983. "The Economics and Politics of Race". William Morrow, ISBN 0-688-01891-2
*1981. "Ethnic America: A History". Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-02074-7
*1981. "Markets and Minorities". Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-04399-2
*1980. "Knowledge and Decisions". Basic Books.
*1975. "Race and Economics". David McKay Company Inc, ISBN 0-679-30262-X

Articles and interviews

* [ "10 Questions With Thomas Sowell"] , John Hawkins, "Right Wing News". Sowell on flat-tax vs. progressive tax, rent-control, balanced budget amendments, protectionist tariffs, poverty & welfare, profit-restriction, illegal immigration, a weak dollar vs. a strong dollar, affirmative action, and reparations.
* [ 'Q&A' Interview (April 17, 2005)]
* [ 'Booknotes' Interview (June 10, 1990)]
* [ 'Uncommon Knowledge' discussion of affirmative action]
* [ Thomas Sowell- Columns on Jewish World Review website]
* [ "Race and IQ"] Detailed discussion of Race and IQ including techniques that have masked the improvement of black IQ scores.
* [ "Choosing a College"] - discusses benefits and costs including college quality, size, specialty, intellectual rigor, social, political and sexual environment of today's campuses. Recommends hard-nosed parental analysis (including campus visits) that ignores PR fluff and focuses on the bottom line
* [ "Affirmative Action around the World"] - critical analysis of Affirmative Action and its failures worldwide.
* [ Salon interview with Sowell]
* [ Audio interview with National Review Online]
* [ Sowell on Economic Facts and Fallacies: Audio interview]
* [ Sowell en español]


External links

* [ Thomas Sowell's home page]
* [ Column archive at]
* [ Free Podcasts of Sowell's recent articles]
* [ Socialism for the rich] by Thomas Sowell (October 6, 2006)
* [ A Dangerous Obsession, Parts I] [ II] , [ III] , [ IV] , and [ V] by Thomas Sowell
* [ Too "Complex"?, Parts I] , [ II] , & [ III] by Thomas Sowell
* [ Economic Fallacies -- Interview with Thomas Sowell] by Bill Steigerwald
* [ Archive of Articles] by Thomas Sowell at
* [ Book review] of "The Einstein Syndrome" by Isabelle Rapin, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
* [ on Various aticles attributed to Thomas Sowell]

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