A tribute to Thomas Sowell

Last week marked the 90th birthday of Thomas Sowell, who is my favorite economic and political author.  He is way more than an author to me, he is a mentor and favorite professor.  No author is more responsible for my transition from a progressive-socialist to a Libertarian free market warrior.  I owe Thomas Sowell a great deal of gratitude. He has not only informed and inspired me, he has entertained me a great deal because he is an exceptional writer who makes even the dry subject of economics fun

Thomas Sowell has written around a dozen books and countless articles.  Because of the volume of his works it would not have been possible for me to read through all of it to find quotes for this article so I cheated by using his Wikiquote page.

The welfare state is often a main target of criticism by Thomas Sowell because of the disastrous effects it has had on the African American community.  Here is a quote from a discussion in Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” television series in 1980.

What the welfare system and other kinds of governmental programs are doing is paying people to fail. In so far as they fail, they receive the money; in so far as they succeed, even to a moderate extent, the money is taken away.

Thomas Sowell is a very harsh critic of the political left.  Here is one of his more colorful quotes on that subject. It is from the Forbes article “The Survival of the Left” which ran Sep 8, 1997.

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.

Is Reality Optional?: And Other Essays is one of his best books.  Here is a quote from the essay Social Deterioration.

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.

Here is a quote from an article that appeared in the South Florida Sun Sentinel on December 26, 2003.

To the economically illiterate, if some company makes a million dollars in profit, this means that their products cost a million dollars more than they would have cost without profits. It never occurs to such people that these products might cost several million dollars more to produce if they were produced by enterprises operating without the incentives to be efficient created by the prospect of profits.

Random Thoughts was a running article he wrote.   Here is a quote from Sep 03, 2007

One of the painful signs of years of dumbed-down education is how many people are unable to make a coherent argument. They can vent their emotions, question other people’s motives, make bold assertions, repeat slogans– anything except reason.

When Thomas was young he was a Marxist.  The book Thomas Sowell, A Personal Odyssey (2000) chronicles his transition to a Libertarian philosophical giant.  Here is a quote from Chapter 5 : Halls of Ivy.  Emphasis is from the Wikiqoute page.

In the summer of 1959, as in the summer of 1957, I worked as a clerk-typist in the headquarters of the U.S. Public Health Service in Washington. The people I worked for were very nice and I grew to like them. One day, a man had a heart attack at around 5 PM, on the sidewalk outside the Public Health Service. He was taken inside to the nurse’s room, where he was asked if he was a government employee. If he were, he would have been eligible to be taken to a medical facility there. Unfortunately, he was not, so a phone call was made to a local hospital to send an ambulance. By the time this ambulance made its way through miles of Washington rush-hour traffic, the man was dead. He died waiting for a doctor, in a building full of doctors. Nothing so dramatized for me the nature of a bureaucracy and its emphasis on procedures, rather than results.

Race is very frequent topic of Thomas Sowell’s.  The National Review article The Scapegoat for Strife in the Black Community is a perfect example of his genius on this subject.  This quote proves that the Founding Fathers of the US were well ahead of the rest of the world when it came to the condemnation and abolition of slavery.

What was special about America was not that it had slavery, which existed all over the world, but that Americans were among the very few peoples who began to question the morality of holding human beings in bondage. That was not yet a majority view among Americans in the 18th century, but it was not even a serious minority view in non-Western societies at that time.

Then how did slavery end? We know how it ended in the United States — at a cost of one life lost in the Civil War for every six slaves freed.

The welfare state was more responsible for the destruction of the African American family than even slavery. 

Were children raised with only one parent as common at any time during the first 100 years after slavery as in the first 30 years after the great expansion of the welfare state in the 1960s?

As of 1960, 22 percent of black children were raised with only one parent, usually the mother. Thirty years later, two-thirds of black children were being raised without a father present.

What about ghetto riots, crimes in general and murder in particular? What about low levels of labor force participation and high levels of welfare dependency? None of those things was as bad in the first 100 years after slavery as they became in the wake of the policies and notions of the 1960s. 

The Website American Thinker wrote this tribute article Sowell At 90. Isn’t It High Time More of Us Listened to This Man? and I could not agree more

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