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Thomas Sowell
New Social Economics
Birth June 30, 1930 (1930-06-30) (age 79)
North Carolina
Nationality United States
Institution Hoover Institution (1980-Present)
UCLA (1970-1972, 1974-1980)
Urban Institute (1972-1974)
Brandeis University (1969-1970)
Cornell University (1965-1969)
Field Economics, Education, Politics, History, Race relations, Child development
Alma mater Howard University
Harvard University (A.B.) 1958
Columbia University (M.A.) 1959
University of Chicago (Ph.D.) 1969
Influences Milton Friedman, George Stigler, F.A. Hayek, Edmund Burke
Influenced Clarence Thomas

Thomas Sowell (born June 30, 1930), is an American economist, social and political commentator, and author of dozens of books. He often writes as an advocate of laissez-faire economics. 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. In 2003, he was awarded the Bradley Prize for intellectual achievement.[1]



Sowell was born in North Carolina. His father died before he was born. In his autobiography, A Personal Odyssey, he recalled that his encounters with whites were so limited he didn't believe that "yellow" was a hair color. He moved to Harlem, New York City with his mother's sister (who, at the time, he believed was his mother). Sowell attended Stuyvesant High School, but dropped out at age 17 because of financial difficulties and a deteriorating home environment.[2] To support himself he worked at various jobs, including in a machine shop and as a delivery man for Western Union. He applied to enter the Civil Service and was eventually accepted, which prompted a move to Washington DC. He was drafted in 1951, during the Korean War, and was assigned to the US Marine Corps. Due to prior experience in photography, he worked in a photography unit.

After discharge, Sowell passed the GED examination and enrolled at Howard University. He transferred to Harvard University, where in 1958 he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. He received a Master of Arts in Economics from Columbia University in 1959, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Economics from the University of Chicago. Sowell initially chose Columbia University because he wanted to study under George Stigler. After arriving at Columbia and learning that Stigler had moved to Chicago, he followed him there.[3]

Sowell has taught Economics at 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 a fellowship named after Rose and Milton Friedman.[4]

Sowell has stated that he was a Marxist during "the decade of my 20s." His experience working as a federal government intern during the summer of 1960 caused him to reject Marxism in favor of free market economic theory. His intern work revealed a correlation between the rise of mandated minimum wages for workers in the sugar industry of Puerto Rico and the rise of unemployment in that industry. Studying the patterns led to his conclusion that the government employees who administered the minimum wage law cared not that they may be causing higher unemployment of the poor by enforcing that law; their primary concern was keeping their own jobs secure.[5]

Career highlights


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, who claims to be a former Marxist, 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.[6][7] While often described as a "black conservative", he prefers not to be labeled, and considers himself more libertarian than conservative.[8]

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 syndrome (see also people speculated to have been autistic).

Sowell has also written A Conflict of Visions where he speaks about the origins of political strife.


Sowell has a nationally syndicated column distributed by Creators Syndicate that appears in various newspapers, as well as online on websites such as the conservative and The Jewish World Review.[9]

Sowell comments on issues he considers to be problematic in modern-day society, which include a perceived liberal media bias;[10] judicial activism (while staunchly defending originalism);[11][12][13][14][15] partial birth abortion;[16] the minimum wage; socializing health care; affirmative action; government bureaucracy; militancy in U.S. foreign policy; the U.S. war on drugs.

Sowell is a supporter of free market and pro-growth economics. In one column he criticized as "socialism for the rich" certain policies which he describes as benefitting the wealthy at the expense of the poor.[17]

Sowell also favors decriminalization of all drugs.[18]


The major themes and philosophies of Sowell's writing 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:

  1. The importance of empirical evidence, not only in a narrow technical sense but as reflected in the broad record of history.
  2. The competing basic visions of policy makers, and their role in the interactions of elites versus the ordinary masses.
  3. An importance of trade-offs, constraints and incentives in human decision making.
  4. The significance of human capital—attitudes, skills, and work.
  5. 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.[19]

Importance of empirical evidence

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.[20]

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.[21]

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”.[22]

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.

Sowell maintains that trendy explanations of racism and imperialism, or their reverse—simplistic claims of genetic superiority—are often 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 than 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.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.[23]
  3. 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.[24]

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.[25]

Competing visions

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.[26]

Trade-offs, constraints and incentives

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[27] and Applied Economics[28], 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."[29]

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[30] 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.[31] 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.[32]

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)[33] and Civil Rights[34] 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..[35]
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.[36]
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.[37]
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.

Human capital

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."[38] 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.[39]

Systemic processes

Systemic processes mated to the common wisdom and practical action of the ordinary people 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 condescension 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.'"[40]

Those influenced by Sowell

Books by Sowell

  • Sowell, Thomas (2010). Intellectuals and Society. Basic Books. pp. 416 pages. ISBN 978-0465019489. 
  • Sowell, Thomas (2009). The Housing Boom and Bust. Basic Books. pp. 184 pages. ISBN 978-0465018802. 
  • Sowell, Thomas (2008). Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One (2nd edition ed.). Basic Books. pp. 400 pages. ISBN 978-0465003457. 
  • Sowell, Thomas (2007). Economic Facts and Fallacies. Basic Books. pp. 262 pages. ISBN 978-0465003495. 
  • Sowell, Thomas (2007). Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy (3rd edition ed.). Cambridge, Mass: Perseus Books Group. pp. 627 pages. ISBN 978-0465002603. 
  • Sowell, Thomas (2007). A Man of Letters. San Francisco: Encounter Books. pp. 320 pages. ISBN 978-1594031960. 
  • Sowell, Thomas (2006). Ever Wonder Why? And Other Controversial Essays. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press. pp. 460 pages. ISBN 978-0817947521. 
  • Sowell, Thomas (2006). On Classical Economics. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press. pp. 320 pages. ISBN 978-0300126068. 
  • Sowell, Thomas (2005). Black Rednecks and White Liberals: And Other Cultural And Ethnic Issues. San Francisco: Encounter Books. pp. 360 pages. ISBN 978-1594030864. 
  • Sowell, Thomas (2004). Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press. pp. 256 pages. ISBN 978-0300107753. 
  • 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. Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One, 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
  • 1995. Race and Culture: A World View. Description & chapter previews. ISBN 0-465-06796-4
  • 1987. A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. 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
  • 1972. Say's Law, An Historical Analysis. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04166-0


  1. ^ Thomas Sowell. "Hoover Institution - Fellows - Thomas Sowell". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  2. ^ Hoover Institution Newsletter, Winter 2001
  3. ^ Charlie Rose - September 15, 1995
  4. ^
  5. ^ Salon interview with Sowell
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Judaism: The Jewish site". 2009-11-06. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  10. ^ "Thomas Sowell, Conservative, Political News". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  11. ^ "Judicial Activism Reconsidered". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  12. ^ "Thomas Sowell, Conservative, Political News". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  13. ^ "Thomas Sowell, Conservative, Political News". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  14. ^ "Conservative Columnists and Political Commentary". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  15. ^ "Thomas Sowell, Conservative, Political News". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  16. ^ Sowell, Thomas. "Thomas Sowell : 'Partial truth' abortion". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  17. ^ "Thomas Sowell". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  18. ^ Sowell, Thomas (1987); Compassion versus guilt, and other essays; ISBN 0688071147.
  19. ^ Graeme Donald Snooks, Historical Analysis in Economics, (Routledge 1993)
  20. ^ Sowell, Thomas (1981). Knowledge and Decisions
  21. ^ Sowell, Thomas (2004). Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-10199-6
  22. ^ "Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality", Thomas Sowell, 1984. "Markets and Minorities, Thomas Sowell, 1981
  23. ^ The Bell Curve Wars- Thomas Sowell- Chapter 6 'Ethnicity and IQ", pg 70-80
  24. ^ Thomas Sowell, 'Affirmative Action: An International Perspective, op. cit.; Web: "Race and IQ" - column for
  25. ^ Thomas Sowell, Black Rednecks, White Liberals, (Encounter Books: 2005)
  26. ^ 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).
  27. ^ Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics: A Citizens Guide to the Economy, (Basic Books: 2003)
  28. ^ Thomas Sowell, Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One, (Basic Books, 2003)
  29. ^ Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell, p. 308
  30. ^ Race and Economics, 1975
  31. ^ Basic Economics, op. cit
  32. ^ Race and Economics, 1975, op. cit.
  33. ^ Affirmative action. op. cit
  34. ^ Civil Rights, op. cit
  35. ^ Thomas Sowell, Inside American Education, Basic Books: 1993)
  36. ^ Sowell, T. Education: Assumptions versus History, (Hoover Institution: 1986)
  37. ^ Sowell, Ethnic America, Basic Books: 1981)
  38. ^ Sowell, Ethnic America, op. cit.
  39. ^ Robert J. Nash "A Neo-essentialist Diatribe Against American Education," Journal of Teacher Education, March-April 1995, Vol 46, no 2, pp. 150-155
  40. ^ Knowledge and Decisions, p. 383
  41. ^ "Clarence Thomas Biography". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  42. ^ "Major Alumnus Gift Supports Bates College Professorship; Economist, Author Robert J. Barro to Give Inaugural Lecture - Bates College". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  43. ^ Comments (55) By David Mamet Tuesday, Mar 11 2008 (2008-03-11). "David Mamet: Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal' - Page 3 - News - New York". Village Voice. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  44. ^ New York Times Magazine, July 6, 2008

External links

Articles and interviews


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Thomas Sowell (born June 30, 1930) is an American economist and political commentator.



  • People who think that they are being "exploited" should ask themselves whether they would be missed if they left, or whether people would say: "Good riddance"?
    • Random thoughts, 29 April 2002
  • 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.
    • During a discussion in Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose" television series in 1980
  • Racism has never done this country any good, and it needs to be fought against, not put under new management for different groups.
  • I'm always embarrassed when people say that I'm courageous. Soldiers are courageous. Policemen are courageous. Firemen are courageous. I just have a thick hide and disregard what silly people say.
  • It may be expecting too much to expect most intellectuals to have common sense, when their whole life is based on their being uncommon -- that is, saying things that are different from what everyone else is saying. There is only so much genuine originality in anyone. After that, being uncommon means indulging in pointless eccentricities or clever attempts to mock or shock.
  • Before the Iraq war I was quite disturbed by some of the neoconservatives, who were saying things like, "What is the point of being a superpower if you can't do such-and-such, take on these responsibilities?" The point of being a superpower is that people will leave you alone.
  • If the battle for civilization comes down to the wimps versus the barbarians, the barbarians are going to win.
  • One undeniable accomplishment of Bill Clinton's presidency was that it kept Jimmy Carter from being the worst U.S. president in history.
  • Nothing could be more jolting and discordant with the vision of today's intellectuals than the fact that it was businessmen, devout religious leaders and Western imperialists who together destroyed slavery around the world. And if it doesn't fit their vision, it is the same to them as if it never happened.
  • When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.
  • Intellectuals may like to think of themselves as people who "speak truth to power" but too often they are people who speak lies to gain power.[1]
  • Some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity are among intellectuals who have trouble remembering that they are not God.[2]
  • Too often what are called "educated" people are simply people who have been sheltered from reality for years in ivy-covered buildings. Those whose whole careers have been spent in ivy-covered buildings, insulated by tenure, can remain adolescents on into their golden retirement years.[2]
  • Virtually no idea is too ridiculous to be accepted, even by very intelligent and highly educated people, if it provides a way for them to feel special and important. Some confuse that feeling with idealism.[3]
  • Some of the most vocal critics of the way things are being done are people who have done nothing themselves, and whose only contributions to society are their complaints and moral exhibitionism.[3]
  • 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.[4]
  • Although I am ready to defend what I have said, many people expect me to defend what others have attributed to me.[4]
  • As far as party primaries are concerned, both Republican and Democratic Party primaries are dominated by the most zealous voters, whose views may not reflect the views of most members of their own respective parties, much less the views of those who are going to vote in the November general election.
    In recent times, each election year has seen each party's nominee selected - or at least subject to veto - by its most extreme wing and then forced to try to move back to the center before the general election.
    This can only undermine the public's confidence in the integrity of the candidates of both parties.
  • Right after liberal Democrats, the most dangerous politicians are country club Republicans.
  • Republicans won big, running as Republicans, in 2004. But once they took control of Congress, they started acting like Democrats and lost big. There is a lesson in that somewhere but whether Republicans will learn it is another story entirely.
  • When we hear about rent control or gun control, we may think about rent or guns but the word that really matters is 'control.' That is what the political left is all about, as you can see by the incessant creation of new restrictions in places where they are strongly entrenched in power, such as San Francisco or New York.
  • “Anyone who has actually had to take responsibility for consequences by running any kind of enterprise—whether economic or academic, or even just managing a sports team—is likely at some point to be chastened by either the setbacks brought on by his own mistakes or by seeing his successes followed by negative consequences that he never anticipated.”Real Clear Politics Nov 2008
  • "'Global warming' is just the latest in a long line of hysterical crusades to which we seem to be increasingly susceptible." National Review, March 15, 2007


Barbarians Inside the Gates

  • When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.
  • I have never understood why it is "greed" to want to keep the money you have earned but not greed to want to take somebody else's money.
  • 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.
  • Those who believe that "basic necessities" should belong to people as a matter of right ignore the implication -- that people are to work only for amenities, frivolities, and ego. Will that mean more work or less work? And if less, where are all those "basic necessities" coming from that the government is supposed to hand out?
  • Many of the dangerous things that drivers do are not likely to save them even 10 seconds. When you bet your life against 10 seconds, that is giving bigger odds than you are ever likely to get in Las Vegas.
  • Most problems do not get solved. They get superceded by other concerns.
  • People who talk incessantly about "change" are often dogmatically set in their ways. They want to change other people.
  • Maturity is not a matter of age. You have matured when you are no longer concerned with showing how clever you are, and give your full attention to getting the job done right. Many never reach that stage, no matter how old they get.
  • One of the most ridiculous defenses of foreign aid is that it is a very small part of our national income. If the average American set fire to a five-dollar bill, it would be an even smaller percentage of his annual income. But everyone would consider him foolish for doing it.
  • Letters from teachers continue to confirm the incompetence which they deny. A teacher in Montana says that my criticisms of teachers are "nieve." No, that wasn't a typographical error. He spelled it that way twice.
  • If I could offer one piece of advice to young people thinking about their future, it would be this: Don't preconceive. Find out what the opportunities are.
  • Some of the people on death row today might not be there if the courts had not been so lenient on them when they were first offenders.
  • If you don't believe in the innate unreasonableness of human beings, just try raising children.
  • Time was when people used to brag about how old they were -- and I am old enough to remember it.

Is Reality Optional?

  • 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.

Compassion Vs. Guilt

  • Competition does a much more effective job than government at protecting consumers. (chapter: "Bogeyman Economics")
  • One of the grand fallacies of our time is that something beneficial should be subsidized. (chapter: "Cutting the Budget")
  • The case for the political left looks more plausible on the surface but is harder to keep believing in as you become more experienced. (chapter: "Left Vs. Right")
  • Understanding the limitations of human beings is the beginning of wisdom. (chapter: "Police Shootings")
  • The key feature of Communist propaganda has been the depiction of people who are more productive as mere exploiters of others. (chapter: "Twentieth Century Limited")


  1. Thomas Sowell (2004-02-25). Random Thoughts. Retrieved on 2008-02-19.
  2. a b Thomas Sowell (2004-05-01). Random Thoughts. Retrieved on 2008-02-19.
  3. a b Thomas Sowell (2005-10-15). Random Thoughts. Retrieved on 2008-02-19.
  4. a b Thomas Sowell (2007-09-03). Random Thoughts. Retrieved on 2008-02-19.

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