Thomas Sowell

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

Sourced[edit]

  • 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. Know-it-alls in the school system do not lose one dime or one hour's sleep if their bright ideas turn out to be all wrong, or even disastrous, for the child.
    • Jewish World Review; "Wake up, Parents"; 18 August 2000.
  • 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.
  • Some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity are among intellectuals who have trouble remembering that they are not God.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Although I am ready to defend what I have said, many people expect me to defend what others have attributed to me.
  • 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.
  • To find anything comparable to crowds' euphoric reactions to Obama, you would have to go back to old newsreels of German crowds in the 1930s, with their adulation of their fuehrer, Adolf Hitler. With hindsight, we can look back on those people with pity, knowing now how many of them would be led to their deaths by the man they idolized.
  • “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.”
  • "'Global warming' is just the latest in a long line of hysterical crusades to which we seem to be increasingly susceptible."
  • "Both history and contemporary data show that countries prosper more when there are stable and dependable rules, under which people can make investments without having to fear unpredictable new government interventions before these investments can pay off."

Books[edit]

Knowledge and Decisions (1980)[edit]

  • 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. (chapter: "What society expends?").
  • Freedom has cost too much blood and agony to be relinquished at the cheap price of rhetoric." (chapter: "Political Trade-Offs").

A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles (1987)[edit]

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

Compassion Versus Guilt and Other Essays (1987)[edit]

  • 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").

Is Reality Optional? (1993)[edit]

  • 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.

Barbarians inside the Gates and Other Controversial Essays (1999)[edit]

  • 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.

A Personal Odyssey (2000)[edit]

  • In the summer of 1959, 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.

Basic Economics (4th ed., 2010)[edit]

  • Understanding most of the economic issues discussed in the media and in politics requires knowledge of only the most basic principles of economics— and yet these principles are unknown to most of the public, and are widely ignored by politicians and journalists, and even by many scholars outside the field of economics.
    • Ch. 1. What is Economics?
  • Economics is more than just a way to see patterns or to unravel puzzling anomalies. Its fundamental concern is with the material standard of living of society as a whole and how that is affected by particular decisions made by individuals and institutions. One of the ways of doing this is to look at economic policies and economic systems in terms of the incentives they create, rather than simply the goals they pursue. This means that consequences matter more than intentions— and not just the immediate consequences, but also the longer run repercussions of decisions, policies,and institutions.
    • Ch. 1. What is Economics?
  • Many people agree on the importance of economics, but there is much less agreement on just what economics is.
    • Ch. 1. What is Economics?
  • Regardless of our policies, practices, or institutions— whether they are wise or unwise, noble or ignoble— there is simply not enough to go around to satisfy all our desires to the fullest. “Unmet needs” are inherent in these circumstances, whether we have a capitalist, socialist, feudal, or other kind of economy. These various kinds of economies are just different institutional ways of making trade-offs that are inescapable in any economy.
    • Ch. 1. What is Economics?
  • Economics is not just about dealing with the existing output of goods and services as consumers. It is also, and more fundamentally, about producing that output from scarce resources in the first place— turning inputs into output.
    • Ch. 1. What is Economics?
  • Economics is not simply a topic on which to express opinions or vent emotions. It is a systematic study of what happens when you do specific things in specific ways. In economic analysis, the methods used by a Marxist economist like Oskar Lange did not differ in any fundamental way from the methods used by a conservative economist like Milton Friedman. It is these basic economic principles that this book is about.
    • Ch. 1. What is Economics?
  • While there are controversies in economics, as there are in science, this does not mean that the basic principles of economics are just a matter of opinion, any more than the basic principles of chemistry or physics are just a matter of opinion.
    • Ch. 1. What is Economics?
  • However much we may think of ourselves as independent individuals, we are all dependent on other people for our very lives, as well as being dependent on innumerable strangers who produce the amenities of life. Few of us could grow the food we need to live, much less build a place to live in, or produce such things as computers or automobiles. Other people have to be induced to create all these things for us, and economic incentives are crucial for that purpose. Prices are at the heart of these incentives in a market economy.
    • Ch. 2. The Role of Prices
  • Simple as basic economic principles may be, their ramifications can be quite complex, as we have seen with the various effects of rent control laws and agricultural price support laws. However, even this basic level of economics is seldom understood by the public, which often demands political “solutions” that turn out to make matters worse. Nor is this a new phenomenon of modern times in democratic countries.
    • Ch. 3. Price Control
  • Many of the basic principles of economics may seem obvious but the implications to be drawn from them are not— and it is the implications that matter. Someone once pointed out that Newton was not the first man who saw an apple fall. His fame was based on his being the first to understand its implications. Economists have understood for centuries that when prices are higher, people tend to buy less than when prices are lower. But, even today, many people do not understand the many implications of that simple fact.
    • Ch. 4. An Overview
  • Just as a poetic discussion of the weather is not meteorology, so an issuance of moral pronouncements or political creeds about the economy is not economics. Economics is a study of cause-and-effect relationships in an economy. Its purpose is to discern the consequences of various ways of allocating scarce resources which have alternative uses. It has nothing to say about social philosophy or moral values, any more than it has anything to say about humor or anger.
    • Ch. 4. An Overview
  • Economics is concerned with what emerges, not what anyone intended.
    • Ch. 4. An Overview
  • Although the basic principles of economics are not very complicated, the very ease with which they can be learned also makes them easy to dismiss as “simplistic” by those who do not want to accept analyses which contradict some of their cherished beliefs. Evasions of the obvious are often far more complicated than the plain facts. Nor is it automatically true that complex effects must have complex causes. The ramifications of something very simple can become enormously complex.
    • Ch. 4. An Overview
  • Because economics is a study of cause and effect among human beings, it deals with incentives and their consequences. That often leads to radically different conclusions from those reached by people who think primarily or solely in terms of goals and their desirability.
    • Ch. 4. An Overview
  • Economics was christened “the dismal science” precisely because its analysis frustrated so many hopes and desires. On the other hand, knowing what is not possible can spare us many disappointments and avoid many disasters. Because human beings can be as wrong in their pessimism as in their optimism, economics has also served to expose the fallacies of many doom-and-gloom prophets.
    • Ch. 4. An Overview
  • Knowledge is one of the most scarce of all resources, so that one of the most important differences among alternative ways of organizing an economy is in how effectively they use what knowledge exists. In a market economy, it is not necessary that the innumerable decision-makers understand the costs entailed by their decisions. It is only necessary that they be confronted with those costs in the prices charged. In a “planned” economy, however, those who plan the production and distribution have to be able to understand and quantify the costs their decisions entail— a far more formidable task, if actually done, but a task that can be evaded with rhetoric or with estimates whose validity the public is usually unable to judge at the time, and which will usually be forgotten by the time the real costs become clear, often years later.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (2010), Ch. 4. An Overview
  • One of the great handicaps of economies run by political authorities, whether under medieval mercantilism or modern communism, is that insights which arise among the masses have no such powerful leverage as to force those in authority to change the way they do things. Under any form of economic or political system, those at the top tend to become complacent, if not arrogant. Convincing them of anything is not easy, especially when it is some new way of doing things that is very different from what they are used to. The big advantage of a free market is that you don’t have to convince anybody of anything. You simply compete with them in the marketplace and let that be the test of what works best.
    • Ch. 5. The Rise and Fall of Business
  • Economic changes include not only changes in the economy but also changes within the managements of firms, especially in their responses to external economic changes. Many things that we take for granted today, as features of a modern economy, were resisted when first proposed and had to fight uphill to establish themselves by the power of the marketplace. Even something as widely used today as credit cards were initially resisted.
    • Ch. 5. The Rise and Fall of Business
  • Neither individuals nor companies are successful forever. Death alone guarantees turnover in management. Given the importance of the human factor and the variability among people— or even with the same person at different stages of life— it can hardly be surprising that dramatic changes over time in the relative positions of businesses have been the norm.
    • Ch. 5. The Rise and Fall of Business
  • No economic system can depend on the continuing wisdom of its current leaders. A price-coordinated economy with competition in the marketplace does not have to, because those leaders can be forced to change course— or be replaced— whether because of red ink, irate stockholders, outside investors ready to take over, or because of bankruptcy. Given such economic pressures, it is hardly surprising that economies under the thumbs of kings or commissars have seldom matched the track record of economies based on competition and prices.
    • Ch. 5. The Rise and Fall of Business
  • To those who run businesses, profits are obviously desirable and losses deplorable. But economics is not business administration. From the standpoint of the economy as a whole, and from the standpoint of the central concern of economics— the allocation of scarce resources which have alternative uses— profits and losses play equally important roles in maintaining and advancing the standards of living of the population as a whole.
    • Ch. 5. The Rise and Fall of Business
  • Knowledge is one of the scarcest of all resources in any economy, and the insight distilled from knowledge is even more scarce. An economy based on prices, profits, and losses gives decisive advantages to those with greater knowledge and insight. Put differently, knowledge and insight can guide the allocation of resources, even if most people, including the country’s political leaders, do not share that knowledge or do not have the insight to understand what is happening. Clearly this is not true in the kind of economic system where political leaders control economic decisions, for then the limited knowledge and insights of those leaders become decisive barriers to the progress of the whole economy. Even when leaders have more knowledge and insight than the average member of the society, they are unlikely to have nearly as much knowledge and insight as exists scattered among the millions of people subject to their governance.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (2010), Ch. 5. The Rise and Fall of Business
  • Knowledge and insight need not be technological or scientific for it to be economically valuable and decisive for the material well-being of the society as a whole. Something as mundane as retailing changed radically during the course of the twentieth century, revolutionizing both department stores and grocery stores— and raising the standard of living of millions of people by lowering the costs of delivering goods to them.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (2010), Ch. 5. The Rise and Fall of Business
  • What is important is not the success or failure of particular individuals or companies, but the success of particular knowledge and insights in prevailing despite the blindness or resistance of particular business owners and managers. Given the scarcity of mental resources, an economy in which knowledge and insights have such decisive advantages in the competition of the marketplace is an economy which itself has great advantages in creating a higher standard of living for the population at large. A society in which only members of a hereditary aristocracy, a military junta, or a ruling political party can make major decisions is a society which has thrown away much of the knowledge, insights, and talents of most of its own people. A society in which such decisions can only be made by males has thrown away half of its knowledge, talents, and insights.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (2010), Ch. 5. The Rise and Fall of Business
  • Under both capitalism and socialism, the scarcity of knowledge is the same, but the way these different economies deal with it can be quite different. The problem is not simply with the over-all scarcity of knowledge, but also with the fact that this knowledge is often fragmented into tiny bits and pieces, the totality of which is not known to anybody in any economic system.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (2010), Ch. 5. The Rise and Fall of Business
  • Often the knowledge that is economically crucial is highly specific to a particular location or a particular group of people— and is therefore unlikely to be widely known.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (2010), Ch. 5. The Rise and Fall of Business
  • Highly specific knowledge of particular groups of people can prove to be just as economically decisive as knowledge of particular places.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (2010), Ch. 5. The Rise and Fall of Business
  • The perennial desire to “eliminate the middleman” is perennially thwarted by economic reality. The range of human knowledge and expertise is limited for any given person or for any manageably-sized collection of administrators. Only a certain number of links in the great chain of production and distribution can be mastered and operated efficiently by the same set of people. Beyond some point, there are other people with different skills and experience who can perform the next step in the sequence more cheaply or more effectively— and, therefore, at that point it pays a firm to sell its output to some other businesses that can carry on the next part of the operation more efficiently. That is because, as we have noted in earlier chapters ,goods tend to flow to their most valued uses in a free market, and goods are more valuable to those who can handle them more efficiently at a given stage.
    Prices play a crucial role in all of this, as in other aspects of a market economy. Any economy must not only allocate scarce resources which have alternative uses, it must determine how long the resulting products remain in whose hands before being passed along to others who can handle the next stage more efficiently. Profit-seeking businesses are guided by their own bottom line, but this bottom line is itself determined by what others can do and at what cost.
    • Ch. 6. The Role of Profits— and Losses
  • Knowledge is one of the scarcest of all resources. Glib generalities abound, but specific hard facts about particular places and particular things at particular times that are relevant to economic decisions are something entirely different and much more scarce. In some respects, governments are better able to assemble vast amounts of knowledge, but the kind of knowledge involved is often in the form of statistical or verbal generalities known as “expertise,” which is no substitute for the kind of concrete knowledge that someone in the middle of a particular economic situation has. Just picking the right location for a particular business in a particular community can be the difference between profits and bankruptcy, even though that kind of knowledge may not be exciting from an intellectual standpoint. Experts may indeed have far more knowledge than the averageamount of knowledge among individuals in the general population but the total amount of knowledge among millions of people in the general population vastly exceeds the total knowledge that any group of experts can assemble.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (2010), Ch. 8. An Overview
  • A price-coordinated economy may have no more total knowledge than a centrally-planned economy, but that knowledge is distributed very differently, as is decision-making power. When the owner of a gas station located on a highway in a capitalist country sees that the highway is being torn up for repairs, he knows to order less gasoline than usual from his supplier, because there will not be nearly as much traffic going past his station as before, at least until the repairs are completed.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (2010), Ch. 8. An Overview

Intellectuals and Society (2010)[edit]

  • Some intellectuals’ downplaying of objective reality and enduring criteria extends beyond social, scientific, or economic phenomena into art, music, and philosophy. The one over-riding consistency across all these disparate venues is the self-exaltation of the intellectuals. Unlike great cultural achievements of the past, such as magnificent cathedrals, which were intended to inspire kings and peasants alike, the hallmark of self-consciously “modern” art and music is its inaccessibility to the masses and often even its deliberate offensiveness to, or mockery of, the masses.
    Just as a physical body can continue to live, despite containing a certain amount of microorganisms whose prevalence would destroy it, so a society can survive a certain amount of forces of disintegration within it. But that is very different from saying that there is no limit to the amount, audacity and ferocity of those disintegrative forces which a society can survive, without at least the will to resist.

The Thomas Sowell Reader (2011)[edit]

  • 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.
    • Chapter: "The Survival of the Left"

Quotes about Sowell[edit]

  • I must take the occasion to apologize for a major omission from my article, my failure to give credit to Professor Thomas Sowell for two excellent discussions on Marxian economics which I have only recently come across. While he does not deal explicitly with the transformation problem, his discussion of Marxian value theory, which is documented with exquisite care, comes to conclusions very similar to my own on the tautological nature of the value theory and on the nature of Marx' interests in the subject. Though he does sometimes speak of value theory as a first approximation [3,1967, p. 66] he makes it clear that Marx always considered the deviations between prices and values to be systematic [3, 1967, pp. 65-6]. I recommend these pieces unhesitatingly as models of Marxian scholarship.
    • William J. Baumol, "The Fundamental Marxian Theorem: A Reply to Samuelson: Comment", Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Mar., 1974)
  • Sowell’s book attacks liberal, experts and intellectuals for their interventions into the media sphere (the wealth of homosexual journalists explains the absence of ‘factual information’ that could reflect negatively on homosexuals), the law, war (pacifism fails to understand the ‘tragic vision’ that human aggression must be controlled by force) and finally for seeking to replace ‘family, religion and patriotism’ with ‘class’ and ‘“gender”’. Ultimately, this partisan book reproduces the Hobbesian vision of humanity as savage and selfish and lacking higher instincts. There is no society: we are all rational consumers whose only influence should be through our myriad daily economic transactions. Intellectual utopianism is tyrannical arrogance. Democracy leads to fascism, and intellectuals are already there. Intellectuals and Society is neither philosophy, nor politics. It is, however, an instructive tour d’horizon of Tea Party concerns.
  • Sowell is an economist by training and should not be expected to know much about American foreign policy, as it’s beyond his area of expertise. I do find it a little rich, however, that Sowell has written a book complaining about what happens when intellectuals leave their knowledge reservation to opine about events of the day — and then proceeds to commit that precise sin during his book promotion.
    There are two possibilities here. Either Sowell has no capacity for irony, or he’s cleverly trying to add data points to support his argument.
  • Thomas Sowell is a gifted applied economist with much of importance to say about the larger issues in social policy and government regulation of economic affairs. [...] Sowell, however, has two failings. First, he has no heart for the plight of the poor, so his work in this area is illuminating for the false ideas he debunks, but does not contribute in any way to dealing with the problem of poverty. Second, he is a thorough-going right-wing ideologue, who is often cogent in his critique of liberal ideas, but is blind to similar, indeed often parallel, problems with conservative ideas. This book suffers especially from the second of these weaknesses. [...]Sowell has no understanding of information economics. He follows Hayek on the distributed nature of information, but he never confronts the literature that deals with the transformation of private information into public information. The importance of public information, central for instance to Durkheim and Aumann, is completely ignored in his treatment of government regulation.
  • For many years the term Austrian school in the United States was synonymous with Mises’s disciples. The first outstanding pupils to find themselves highly respected were Murray N. Rothbard and Israel M. Kirzner. In the 1970s and 1980s the group greatly expanded, with the present most representative work probably being done by Thomas Sowell.
    • Friedrich Hayek, unfinished essay for the New Palgrave dictionary of economics, published in addendum of Chapter 1 of The fortunes of liberalism: essays on Austrian economics and the ideal of freedom (2012).
  • Professor Sowell is one of the rare minds who, after they have ascended from the infinite variety of concrete facts to a general view accounting for the structure of the complex world, find their way back to the wealth of particulars from which they started and in which ordinary people, other than economic theorists, are alone interested. Although his exposition of economic theory is impeccable and contains many original contributions, the strength of the book, its impressiveness and liveliness, is due to his always having before his eyes the concrete phenomena. Simple and vivid illustrations make us aware of the practical implications of his theoretical insights. [...] What I mean by the heading I have given to this review is that if I should now be asked by persons capable of exact thinking but ignorant of technical economics (and there must be hundreds of thousands of them who have great influence on policy) what single modern work would give them the best introduction to the present knowledge needed to judge the wisdom or folly of current policies, I would without hesitation refer them to Professor Sowell’s book.
    • Friedrich Hayek, in "The Best Book on General Economics in Many a Year, Knowledge and Decision By Thomas Sowell: Reviewed by F. A. Hayek" Reason, Vol. 13, No. 8 (December 1981).
  • All in all, Sowell offers a number of intriguing ideas in the book, but he leaves too many of them only partly developed and defended. One final example: Sowell claims that those of us who favor free markets are more empirically inclined and have less ego invested in our views than those who advocate central planning and heavy government intervention generally. That is my impression too, and it is one of the most interesting and important ideas in his book. Unfortunately, he gives no evidence for that comparison. The book would have been a great forum in which to do so, but on this idea and too many others, he leaves his readers unsatisfied.
    • David Henderson, Review of Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell, Regulation (2010)
  • Sowell likes history, but he likes it on Post-it notes. He also prefers to revisit stale arguments rather than intervene in current controversies. In a book about intellectuals and society, he manages to ignore the health-care and financial crises. Instead, he argues that intellectuals have misunderstood Herbert Hoover. Wouldn't VLII help us with the current economic crisis, to find out which ideas "worked"?
    • Russell Jacoby, "Why Intellectuals Are All Bad", The Chronicle of Higher Education (2010)
  • Instead of addressing any concrete issues, Mr. Sowell simply repeats the bluster that intellectuals play rhetorical tricks and avoid arguments. As usual, he provides no details. If teaching consists of repetition, Mr. Sowell is a master. As to the single specific point in Sowell's note—that he in fact offers criticism of contemporary intellectuals, for instance, of myself: Dream on. Sowell cites me in two sentences—that is all—and he cites me in error. In Sowell country, a passing mention or mismention constitutes criticism.
  • I have a very high likelihood of finding amusement in the things that Thomas Sowell says. It's not what he says so much as the fact that he's saying it. ... Thomas Sowell is very well known for his critique of intellectuals who make claims about society. That's all well and good - he even has some good points in the critique. But I just can't bring myself to take Sowell completely seriously when he puts on his public intellectual hat, precisely because he is so widely identified as an anti-public-intellectual. ... A lot of this is just meant to be in fun - the point of Intellectuals and Society was a good point. Unfortunately, it's often people who complain the loudest about the misbehavior of others that are successful in taking the spotlight off themselves.
  • Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions is, on the whole, a very stimulating book and it argues a very important point, namely, that the political struggles which will shape our future social and political order are not only, and maybe not even primarily, driven by identifiable interests and by rent-seeking activ - ities that use politics as a pure machinery for the redistribution of material wealth. Sowell rightly reminds us of the genuine power ofideas and visions in the political arena.
    • Viktor Vanberg, "Review of A Conflict of Visions", Cato Journal (1987)

External links[edit]

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