Thomas Sowell, America’s most influential public intellectual, announces retirement

Economist Thomas Sowell
Economist Thomas Sowell changed the minds of a generation of young people, including me

I had written enough posts to carry me through the Christmas and New Year’s vacation. But then something happened that caused me to come off vacation and postpone today’s scheduled post in order to write about the retirement of a man who influenced my worldview as much as anyone has. And I am not exaggerating when I say that this man contributed the most of anyone to the economic views of libertarians and conservatives. (Although his views on social and foreign policy issues were largely conservative, as well). I never disagreed with his views, or maybe it’s just that he always convinced me to change to agree with him. He’s that kind of man – if you liked having a friend who knew how to think through just about anything, then this was the guy for you.

But now he has announced his retirement. Here is his farewell column. (H/T Mary)

Excerpt:

After enjoying a quarter of a century of writing this column for Creators Syndicate, I have decided to stop. Age 86 is well past the usual retirement age, so the question is not why I am quitting, but why I kept at it so long.

[…]Looking back over the years, as old-timers are apt to do, I see huge changes, both for the better and for the worse.

In material things, there has been almost unbelievable progress. Most Americans did not have refrigerators back in 1930, when I was born. Television was little more than an experiment, and such things as air-conditioning or air travel were only for the very rich.

My own family did not have electricity or hot running water, in my early childhood, which was not unusual for blacks in the South in those days.

It is hard to convey to today’s generation the fear that the paralyzing disease of polio inspired, until vaccines put an abrupt end to its long reign of terror in the 1950s.

[…]Most people living in officially defined poverty in the 21st century have things like cable television, microwave ovens and air-conditioning. Most Americans did not have such things, as late as the 1980s. People whom the intelligentsia continue to call the “have-nots” today have things that the “haves” did not have, just a generation ago.

[…]With all the advances of blacks over the years, nothing so brought home to me the social degeneration in black ghettoes like a visit to a Harlem high school some years ago.

When I looked out the window at the park across the street, I mentioned that, as a child, I used to walk my dog in that park. Looks of horror came over the students’ faces, at the thought of a kid going into the hell hole which that park had become in their time.

When I have mentioned sleeping out on a fire escape in Harlem during hot summer nights, before most people could afford air-conditioning, young people have looked at me like I was a man from Mars. But blacks and whites alike had been sleeping out on fire escapes in New York since the 19th century. They did not have to contend with gunshots flying around during the night.

We cannot return to the past, even if we wanted to, but let us hope that we can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.

It’s a tragedy that Thomas Sowell is not more recognized in our culture. Thomas Sowell makes public appearances, but mostly to conservatives. Although I am not a Rush Limbaugh listener, I once heard Thomas Sowell sitting in for Rush, and he had another conservative black economist Walter Williams on with him. Rank-and-file conservatives bought Sowell’s books by the bushel and we went through them one after another. The first girl I ever dated went though 6 Thomas Sowell books in 2 months, then enrolled in university to study economics. That’s the kind of effect that Thomas Sowell had on people – you couldn’t read just one of his books. You read as many as you get from the public library, then you read all could afford to buy. Then you asked for them on birthdays and Christmases from your dumbfounded liberal relatives. It was fresh air – you read Thomas Sowell to get the lies and dishonesty of the progressive culture out of your mind.

But most people on the left have never heard of Thomas Sowell. Despite Sowell’s splendid scholarly credentials and academic publications, the leftist gatekeepers don’t want their liberal followers to know that the real intellect behind economic conservative is a black economist. Instead of fighting against Sowell’s ideas, their response has been to ignore him.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the institutions who are recognizing the great man’s retirement.

The American Enterprise Institute called it “the end of an era”:

In my opinion, there is no economist alive today who has done more to eloquently, articulately, and persuasively advance the principles of economic freedom, limited government, individual liberty, and a free society than Thomas Sowell. In terms of both his quantity of work (at least 40 books and several thousand newspaper columns) and the consistently excellent and crystal-clear quality of his writing, I don’t think any living free-market economist even comes close to matching Sowell’s prolific record of writing about economics. And I don’t think there is any writer today, economist or non-economist, who can match Thomas Sowell’s “idea density” and his ability to consistently pack so much profound economic wisdom into a single sentence and a single paragraph.

Even at 86 years old, Thomas Sowell has remained intellectually active with his syndicated newspaper columns and the publication last year of his 40th book — Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective — which was, amazingly, his 13th book in the last decade! To honor Thomas Sowell’s well-deserved retirement from writing his invaluable weekly column for the last quarter century, I present below some of my favorite quotations from Dr. Thomas Sowell (most were featured on a CD post in June on Sowell’s birthday) and a bonus video of the great economist:

I had to choose just a few of these, so here goes:

6. Politicians as Santa Claus. The big question that seldom— if ever— gets asked in the mainstream media is whether these are a net increase in jobs. Since the only resources that the government has are the resources it takes from the private sector, using those resources to create jobs means reducing the resources available to create jobs in the private sector.

So long as most people do not look beyond superficial appearances, politicians can get away with playing Santa Claus on all sorts of issues, while leaving havoc in their wake— such as growing unemployment, despite all the jobs being “created.”

If you show or read the quote below to anyone who is a serious conservative, they will immediately tell you that the author is Thomas Sowell, or someone summarizing Sowell’s work:

10. The Anointed Ones. In their haste to be wiser and nobler than others, the anointed have misconceived two basic issues. They seem to assume: 1) that they have more knowledge than the average member of the benighted, and 2) that this is the relevant comparison. The real comparison, however, is not between the knowledge possessed by the average member of the educated elite versus the average member of the general public, but rather the total direct knowledge brought to bear through social processes (the competition of the marketplace, social sorting, etc.), involving millions of people, versus the secondhand knowledge of generalities possessed by a smaller elite group.

The vision of the anointed is one in which ills as poverty, irresponsible sex, and crime derive primarily from ‘society,’ rather than from individual choices and behavior. To believe in personal responsibility would be to destroy the whole special role of the anointed, whose vision casts them in the role of rescuers of people treated unfairly by ‘society.’

Celebrating entrepreneurs:

12. Helping the Poor. It was Thomas Edison who brought us electricity, not the Sierra Club. It was the Wright brothers who got us off the ground, not the Federal Aviation Administration. It was Henry Ford who ended the isolation of millions of Americans by making the automobile affordable, not Ralph Nader.

Those who have helped the poor the most have not been those who have gone around loudly expressing “compassion” for the poor, but those who found ways to make industry more productive and distribution more efficient, so that the poor of today can afford things that the affluent of yesterday could only dream about.

Distinctions like this is what gave so many ordinary people the desire to read more and more of Thomas Sowell to clean popular culture socialist pablum out of their minds:

13. Income Mobility. Only by focusing on the income brackets, instead of the actual people moving between those brackets, have the intelligentsia been able to verbally create a “problem” for which a “solution” is necessary. They have created a powerful vision of “classes” with “disparities” and “inequities” in income, caused by “barriers” created by “society.” But the routine rise of millions of people out of the lowest quintile over time makes a mockery of the “barriers” assumed by many, if not most, of the intelligentsia.

Everything becomes clear – as spiderwebs – with a little Thomas Sowell. And for evidence, he used the best studies from all over the world, from across all different times and places, so that you always had the evidence at your fingertips. His books are filled with footnotes for further study.

The Weekly Standard

The Weekly Standard has an article entitled “Thomas Sowell, America’s Greatest Public Intellectual, Says ‘Farewell'” by Fred Barnes.

Excerpt:

Thomas Sowell is giving up his column. I can think of lots of columnists whose writing we wouldn’t miss. Sowell isn’t one of them. Every column he wrote in a quarter-century career as a columnist was eminently worth reading. I say this having read nearly every one of them.

What made his columns so good? He wrote with sparkling clarity. He relied on facts. He didn’t showcase his scholarship, but his range of subjects was impressive. He understood his readers and didn’t write down to them. He was prolific. He wrote two columns a week and, when he had more to say, sometimes three or four. Best of all, he analyzed things from conservative—and somewhat libertarian—perspective better than anyone else and in fewer words.

If you wanted more words, you could always look to his books, and that’s what my friends and I did.

National Review

National Review has an article entitled “Thank You, Professor Sowell” by Michelle Malkin. They also re-posted an article from 2011, entitled “A Lion in High Summer”.

One quote from Michelle Malkin:

I first read Thomas Sowell in college — no thanks to my college.

At the majority of America’s institutions of “higher learning,” reading Thomas Sowell was a subversive act in the early 1990s when I was a student. It remains so today. Why? Because the prolific libertarian economist’s vast body of work is a clarion rejection of all that the liberal intelligentsia hold dear.

[…]The former leftist playwright David Mamet, in his 2008 manifesto “Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal,” cited his exposure to Sowell, whom he dubbed “our greatest contemporary philosopher,” as a critical factor in his conversion. Whether tackling the “bait and switch media,” the “organized noisemakers,” or the lawless enablers of “social disintegration,” Thomas Sowell’s dozens of academic books and thousands of newspaper columns have sparked generations of his readers across the political spectrum to think independently and challenge imposed visions.

Asked once how he would like to be remembered, Sowell responded: “Oh, heavens, I’m not sure I want to be particularly remembered. I would like the ideas that I’ve put out there to be remembered.” Mission accomplished. Though it has been decades since he taught in a formal classroom, his students are legion.

This is where today’s conservatives came from – we read the Thomas Sowell. Many conservatives (e.g. – Michelle and myself) came from non-white families and cultures, just like Sowell. We were convinced to give up on the socialism popular in our families and cultures by his writing. He convinced himself, then he convinced us. In contrast, there isn’t much convincing on the secular left – most people just accept secular leftism in order to be liked – it’s not cognitive, it’s just virtue signaling. Conservatives are convinced by Thomas Sowell’s writing, whereas liberals blindly follow Hollywood celebrities. It’s just tribalism.

Ben Shapiro

Jewish conservative Ben Shapiro wrote an article in The Daily Wire entitled “Farewell to Thomas Sowell, Dean of Conservative Columnists”.

One excerpt:

In what we can only hope is the final heartbreak of 2016, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution Thomas Sowell announced his retirement from his syndicated column. Sowell isn’t just one of the great thinkers of our time. He’s a genuine voice of decency and truth in a time when screaming and hysterics gain headlines. His voice will be missed every week.

[…]For years, I’ve named Sowell as the man I’d most love to see as president. That doesn’t end just because his column has.

At the end, he lists his favorite Thomas Sowell books.

That’s to show you how real conservatives like Ben Shapiro who are having a real influence (his podcast is the #1 conservative podcast, it has exploded in popularity) were influenced by Thomas Sowell. Shapiro always says that people new to conservatism should always start with a study of basic economics, e.g. – books by Thomas Sowell. No one in my own family started out conservative. I read Thomas Sowell, then they read Thomas Sowell. That’s how we became conservatives.

Wintery Knight

I’m busy cleaning stuff out of my parents basement this holiday season. This trip, I am taking some of my books back with me. I made the choices about what to take before I saw Sowell’s retirement. Without any sentiment at all, I chose:

  • Basic Economics, 4th edition
  • Applied Economics, 2nd edition
  • Economics Facts and Fallacies, 2nd edition
  • Intellectuals and Society, 2nd edition
  • The Housing Boom and Bust, 2nd edition
  • Inside American Education
  • A Personal Odyssey
  • A Conflict of Visions
  • The Vision of the Anointed (best book for beginners)
  • Barbarians Inside the Gates
  • Black Rednecks and White Liberals

I am leaving my second edition of Basic Economics for my Dad. I understand that a new 5th edition is now out, and I might get that. I have many, many more on audio books – I buy all the audio books editions that I can get, and listen to them over and over. This is where my worldview on economic issues (not to mention marriage, gun rights, education, war, etc.) came from.

3 thoughts on “Thomas Sowell, America’s most influential public intellectual, announces retirement”

  1. Thanks to Dr. Sowell for the great insights he has given over the years. I only wish I had read his work before the time I so began, only 30 years ago. Books such as “Intellectuals and Race” and “The Economics and Politics of Race” by Thomas Sowell have been so valuable among a plethora of bogus works by others.

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