Thomas Sowell turns ninety

Happy 90th birthday (June 30) to Thomas Sowell, one of the greatest living economists, which begins:

One of my two all-time most favorite economists — Thomas Sowell — turns 90 tomorrow, he was born on June 30, 1930. Here is Thomas Sowell’s webpage and here is his Wikipedia entry. Milton Friedman (my other all-time favorite economist) once said, “The word ‘genius’ is thrown around so much that it’s becoming meaningless, but nevertheless I think Tom Sowell is close to being one.”

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 (49 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 while no one else unfortunately understands how he was able to become the economist he became, let me point out that his PhD was on Say’s Law and two of his earliest books were on Say’s Law and Classical Economic Theory. Nor was that just an early part of his career, but he came back to Classical Theory again in 2006.

Sowell, Thomas (1972), Say’s Law: A Historical Analysis, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-04166-7.

——— (1974). Classical Economics Reconsidered. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691003580.

——— (2006). On Classical Economics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-12606-8.

And on this, let me add to what Currency Lad has already written on it’s always our money, via Adam Creighton. Money is a metaphor – probably actually a synecdoche – for the word resources. If you use the word “money” you can be deceived by government spending since a government can always print more of the stuff. Resources, actual labour and capital, are much harder to come by. Here is the point made by Adam Smith in 1776:

Great nations are never impoverished by private, though they sometimes are by public prodigality and misconduct. The whole, or almost the whole public revenue, is in most countries employed in maintaining unproductive hands.

That, by the way, is from the chapter “On the Accumulation of Capital, or of Productive and Unproductive Labour”. There is more sense in that chapter than in the whole of a modern economics text. It is Thomas Sowell amongst a very few others who is keeping that tradition alive.

If you are looking for a modern discussion of classical economic theory, and amongst other things a discussion of productive and unproductive labour, might I recommend my own Classical Economic Theory and the Modern Economy which has just been published.

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18 Responses to Thomas Sowell turns ninety

  1. Thomas Sowell isthe BEST. One of TAFKAS’ favourite writers/thinkers who has so much shaped his thinking. Watch some of the brilliant interviews of Sowell on YouTube if you don’t have time to read his books.

    TAFKAS’ favourite – a Conflict of Visions. Brilliant.

    May he live to 180.

  2. min

    I discovered Thomas Sowell late in life and have introduced him to others . His daily twitters are amazing and succinctly sum up the ongoing issues

  3. Zatara

    Sowell, who never knew his father, was raised by a great-aunt and her two grown daughters. They lived in Harlem, where he was the first in his family to make it past the sixth grade. However, he was forced to drop out of school at age 17 because of financial difficulties and problems in his home.

    Sowell held a number of positions, including one at a machine shop and another as a delivery man for Western Union, and he tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948.

    He then served as a Marine in the Korean War, graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, earned a master’s degree at Columbia University the next year, followed by a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Chicago.

    A true Renaissance man. He has authored some four dozen books, wrote hundreds of scholarly articles and essays in periodicals and thousands of newspaper columns. Since 1980 he has served as a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University where he holds the Friedman Fellowship. Sowell appeared several times on William F. Buckley Jr.’s show Firing Line, during which he discussed the economics of race and privatization.

    And yet he has never been listed on the Ebony “Power 100” list (defined as those “who lead, inspire and demonstrate through their individual talents, the very best in Black America”).

    You see, being a conservative black wasn’t acceptable to the rabble. God willing that pendulum is swinging and Dr Sowell will eventually be universally recognized for his brilliance.

  4. Helen

    A truly great man in the greatest sense of the word.

  5. A truly brilliant mind. Amongst his great books, quotes and talks his best advice is also the simplest. For everything you hear ask 3 questions;

    1. Compared to what?
    2. At what cost?
    3. Say’s [not the economist] who? / Where’s the evidence?

    It’s supposed to apply to Government policy and spending but you can pretty much run anything through it – cost doesn’t have to be a $ figure.

    And if you want a nice Sowell t-shirt here’s one I made earlier.

  6. Thomas Sowell speaks the most incredible common sense that his fellow Professors cannot understand him.

  7. Zatara

    For those who have never had the pleasure to watch Sowell in action. Youtube has some amazing videos.

    Sowell was educating the woke before it was cool. That old batty never knew what hit her.

    Thomas Sowell on the Myths of Economic Inequality… He started out as a marxist!

    Thomas Sowell — Dismantling America. Prescient.

  8. Thomas Sowell was a Marxist as a young man. All the way through his studies, he remained a staunch Marxist.
    Then he got a job in a government department collating statistics etc (Labour Department from memory). He was shocked at some of his findings which were totally contradictory to his beliefs.
    He presented his findings to his colleagues and superiors who all ran a mile from him and refused to even check his work. His findings would have put many of them out of work.
    That’s when he realised government was the problem and had a come to J moment.

    He was offered senior economic positions in the Nixon admin (I think) but he rejected them, preferring to stay in the education sector.

  9. metro70

    Thomas Sowell is one of those thinkers the world really can’t do without… those of us who care about our children’s futures can’t help but wish fervently that he still had decades of life ahead of him.

  10. For those who have never had the pleasure to watch Sowell in action. Youtube has some amazing videos.

    Well until he too is purged for wrongthink.
    Might be an idea to start archiving some of this stuff.

  11. Bruce of Newcastle

    It’s always amazing to me that the Left goes on and on about how racist righties are, yet we admire guys like Dr Sowell, and Walter Williams and Lloyd Marcus. Not to mention Candace Owens, Ben Carson and many others. I hope Ms Owens makes headway with her Blexit initiative, to free many Americans from their thrall to the race hustlers.

  12. liliana

    Might be an idea to start archiving some of this stuff.

    Agree – especially since there will be ceremonial book burnings soon.

    I was only reading some of Mr Sowell’s quotes a few days ago. His words of wisdom are like a shining beacon of sanity in the current sea of insanity.

    Not only is he a great thinker but also a great communicator. His ability to coin his message in simple clear language put him, in my opinion, head and shoulders above over great thinkers. Wonderful, wonderful man.

  13. Herodotus

    Diverging for a moment, I recall how during the Reagan years the left media (and isn’t that most of it?) wanted to demonise Friedman and Laffer.

  14. Spurgeon Monkfish III

    Thomas Sowell is a true giant in his field and goodness knows it needs one, given the battering Economics has received courtesy of all the unrelentingly embarrassing wrongologist idiots claiming to be qualified in that truly dismal science.

    If nothing else, as people have noted above, he has always been a gifted communicator, which has allowed him to convey many many necessary messages about the evils of collectivism, in simple and unambiguous language.

    I’ve read a few of his comments on twatter regarding events of late and he still has that happy knack.

    That he isn’t more widely recognised among the “black community” in the US reflects very very poorly on them.

  15. Mique

    Happy Birthday, Mr Sowell.

    My favourite of his many books is “Black Rednecks, White Liberals”. If ever a book should never be allowed to go out of print, it’s this one.

    Which reminds me of an American woman in a Usenet group I used to frequent who took me seriously to task for quoting him in some thread or other (about Say’s Law, in fact) . Why do you quote this man, she said. He’s not a recognised Economics expert here in the US.

    Long may his voice resonate. I miss his columns since he retired.

  16. By the way, a couple of commenters mentioned Mr Sowell’s twitter account.
    He does NOT have one. That account is by a fan who tweets Sowell quotes.

  17. Thomas H Ray II

    As a younger I followed Mr. Sowell. I finally completely understood economics. Just think I majored
    in economics/business in college. Sowell became my teacher with his column in the news papers.
    He was far better than the Economics Prof’s in College. They were still stuck in a time warp.
    Happy Birthday Mr. Sowell, fare thee well.

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