Saturday

An Introduction to Thomas Sowell



Surprisingly enough, most American are not familiar with Thomas Sowell. Though he's been one of the most influential thinkers of our times, Mr. Sowell remains remarkably unknown at most kitchen tables, as well as with the intelligentsia throughout the country. However, the reason is no mystery to me.

Though some would point Sowell's skin color for his relative obscurity, those with understanding would tell you differently. It's not that Sowell is black that keeps our main stream media from celebrating the man's brilliance, but rather because he's a conservative with strong libertarian leanings. Need I say more?

While the left was busy boasting how President Obama was "the most brilliant man in America," with wall to wall coverage of him glad-handing on The View, Thomas Sowell went quietly about his business, writing ground-breaking classics that will outlive Obama and the great majority of the academe acknowledged today.

To date, Sowell has written over three dozen books. I understand that many of us do not have the time to pour through all of Sowell's work, let alone make the time to read one or two. If this is you, might I suggest you may be too busy. If only you knew what you were missing. George Will says of Sowell's writing, "Sowell proved me that someone could say something of substance in so short a space (750 words). And besides, writing for the general public enables him to address the heart of issues without the smoke and mirrors that so often accompany academic writing."

A sampling of just ten extraordinary books, out three dozen, written by Sowell.
Thomas Sowell is a man among men - my mentor. Considering so few Americans will not invest the time to delve into Sowell's books and enjoy them as I have, I wanted to offer a way others might at least sample his inspiring insights and peerless acumen.

It occurred to me that a befitting introduction might be one that simply offered a selection of his most quoted observations. My hope is that after sampling Sowell's universal precepts, those unfamiliar with his work might thirst for more, which would eventually lead them to the pages of his profundity and devotion.

Before we begin I'd first like to share a brief biographical sketch of Sowell. Since there is a plethora of bios written about him, rather than me reinventing the wheel, I've posted an abridged version of Sowell's bio from Town Hall.

Thomas Sowell was born in Gastonia, North Carolina but grew up in Harlem. As with many others in his neighborhood, Thomas Sowell did not finish high school and left home at an early age. The years that followed were difficult for Sowell. He eventually joined the Marine Corps, where he became a photographer in the Korean War. Shortly after his honorable discharge, Thomas Sowell entered Harvard University. He worked as a part-time photographer and studied the science that would become his passion and profession: economics.
For a man who didn't graduate from high school, Sowell did very well for himself. He graduated from Harvard University (1958), magna cum laude, then went on to receive his master's in economics from Columbia University (1959). Later he earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago (1968).
In the early '60s, Sowell held jobs as an economist with the Department of Labor and AT&T. However, Sowell's fascination was for teaching and scholarly pursuits. While at Cornell University in 1965, Sowell began the first of his many professorships. Other teaching assignments quickly followed: Rutgers University, Amherst College, Brandeis University and the University of California at Los Angeles, where he taught in the early '70s and also from 1984 to 1989.
As noted earlier, Thomas Sowell has published a large volume of writing. His dozens of books, as well as numerous articles and essays, cover a wide range of topics, from classic economic theory to judicial activism, from civil rights to choosing the right college.
Though Thomas Sowell had been a regular contributor to newspapers in the late '70s and early '80s, he did not begin his career as a newspaper columnist until 1984.
In 1990, Sowell won the prestigious Francis Boyer Award, presented by The American Enterprise Institute.
Currently Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute in Stanford, Calif.

Most Noted Quotes of Thomas Sowell

I suggest using this blog post as more of a reference that a one time read. While you'll find many of Sowell's words to be fun and witty, others will stick with you for awhile. In those instances I think it best to simply sit and reflect. This tribute to Thomas Sowell will remain posted for years to come, so enjoy.

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• It is amazing that people who think we cannot afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, and medication somehow think that we can afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, medication and a government bureaucracy to administer it.

• 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.

• One of the common failings among honorable people is a failure to appreciate how thoroughly dishonorable some other people can be, and how dangerous it is to trust them.

• It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.

• Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.

• Capitalism knows only one color: that color is green; all else is necessarily subservient to it, hence, race, gender and ethnicity cannot be considered within it.

• What is ominous is the ease with which some people go from saying that they don't like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road, don't expect freedom to survive very long.

• Elections should be held on April 16th- the day after we pay our income taxes. That is one of the few things that might discourage politicians from being big spenders.

• It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.

• People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.

• Freedom has cost too much blood and agony to be relinquished at the cheap price of rhetoric.

• Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.

• Both free speech rights and property rights belong legally to individuals, but their real function is social, to benefit vast numbers of people who do not themselves exercise these rights.

• 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.

• The real goal should be reduced government spending, rather than balanced budgets achieved by ever rising tax rates to cover ever rising spending.

• The problem isn't that Johnny can't read. The problem isn't even that Johnny can't think. The problem is that Johnny doesn't know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.

• The march of science and technology does not imply growing intellectual complexity in the lives of most people. It often means the opposite.

• Talkers are usually more articulate than doers, since talk is their specialty.

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

• Actually lowering the cost of insurance would be accomplished by such things as making it harder for lawyers to win frivolous lawsuits against insurance companies.

• The most fundamental fact about the ideas of the political left is that they do not work. Therefore we should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive.

• If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism.

• The next time some academics tell you how important diversity is, ask how many Republicans there are in their sociology department.

• 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.

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

• You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing.

• Liberalism is totalitarianism with a human face.

• In liberal logic, if life is unfair then the answer is to turn more tax money over to politicians, to spend in ways that will increase their chances of getting reelected.

• If people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that the public understand that difference, and choose their news sources accordingly.

• Stopping illegal immigration would mean that wages would have to rise to a level where Americans would want the jobs currently taken by illegal aliens.

• The people made worse off by slavery were those who were enslaved. Their descendants would have been worse off today if born in Africa instead of America. Put differently, the terrible fate of their ancestors benefited them.

• The welfare state is not really about the welfare of the masses. It is about the egos of the elites.

• If the battle for civilization comes down to the wimps versus the barbarians, the barbarians are going to win.

• Mistakes can be corrected by those who pay attention to facts but dogmatism will not be corrected by those who are wedded to a vision.

• Like a baseball game, wars are not over till they are over. Wars don't run on a clock like football. No previous generation was so hopelessly unrealistic that this had to be explained to them.

• Would you bet your paycheck on a weather forecast for tomorrow? If not, then why should this country bet billions on global warming predictions that have even less foundation?

• Facts do not speak for themselves. They speak for or against competing theories. Facts divorced from theories or visions are mere isolated curiosities.

• People who have time on their hands will inevitably waste the time of people who have work to do.

• Mystical references to society and its programs to help may warm the hearts of the gullible but what it really means is putting more power in the hands of bureaucrats.

• What 'multiculturalism' boils down to is that you can praise any culture in the world except Western culture - and you cannot blame any culture in the world except Western culture.


• People who identify themselves as conservatives donate money to charity more often than people who identify themselves as liberals. They donate more money and a higher percentage of their incomes.

• The real minimum wage is zero.

• Balanced budget requirements seem more likely to produce accounting ingenuity than genuinely balanced budgets.

• The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.

• The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings.

• Too much of what is called "education" is little more than an expensive isolation from reality.

• As for gun control advocates, I have no hope whatever that any facts whatever will make the slightest dent in their thinking - or lack of thinking.

• Life in general has never been even close to fair, so the pretense that the government can make it fair is a valuable and inexhaustible asset to politicians who want to expand government.

• There are only two ways of telling the complete truth - anonymously and posthumously.

• One of the most pervasive political visions of our time is the vision of liberals as compassionate and conservatives as less caring.

• Imagine a political system so radical as to promise to move more of the poorest 20% of the population into the richest 20% than remain in the poorest bracket within the decade? You don't need to imagine it. It's called the United States of America.

• 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.

• There are few things more dishonorable than misleading the young.
Thomas Sowell - A Man Among Men - My Mentor

• Do countries with strong gun control laws have lower murder rates? Only if you cherry-pick the data.

• 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 Massachusetts Institute of Technology accepts blacks in the top ten percent of students, but at MIT this puts them in the bottom ten percent of the class.

• Tariffs that save jobs in the steel industry mean higher steel prices, which in turn means fewer sales of American steel products around the world and losses of far more jobs than are saved.

• The word 'racism' is like ketchup. It can be put on practically anything - and demanding evidence makes you a 'racist.'

• Wishful thinking is not idealism. It is self-indulgence at best and self-exaltation at worst. In either case, it is usually at the expense of others. In other words, it is the opposite of idealism.


Mark
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