Happy Birthday, TS

June 30, 2022
The inimitable Thomas Sowell is 92 today.
notion image
A Marxist in his youth, Sowell began to suspect demand curves sloped downward while working as an intern for the federal government. The rest is history. A quarter century later Sowell would publish his devastating critique of Marxism.
He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago where George Stigler—famous for being a stickler with graduate students—was his chair. You can read Sowell’s recollections of his great teacher here.
Sowell eschewed a traditional academic career, opting instead to write book after book. Who can doubt we are all the richer for that decision?
To the general public, he is rightfully known as a master communicator of basic economics and in particular the application of economics to race and discrimination. His books on those topics artfully straddle the divide between laymen and professional economist, and while all scholars can read them with tremendous profit, no intelligent reader will be left behind due to the piercing clarity of Sowell’s prose.
For his deepest economic contribution, see his Knowledge and Decisions. In it, he applies and extends Hayek’s classic 1945 paper—one of the most cited papers in the “American Economic Review”—on the use of knowledge in society.
Yet, no one reading Knowledge and Decisions can doubt that Sowell is far more than economist and is nothing short of a wide-ranging social theorist. For his two best examples, see his classic A Conflict of Visions and his more recent Intellectuals and Society. For a true taste of his range, I’ve heard his Late-Talking Children recommended, though I can’t speak to that one personally (nor would I have the expertise to evaluate it).
Amazingly, the books I mention here only scratch the surface of Sowell’s prodigious output. Here’s Wikipedia’s list of (just) his books (not papers). Note that that he published his most recent book at age 90:
1971. Economics: Analysis and IssuesScott Foresman & Co.
1972. Black Education: Myths and TragediesDavid McKay Co. . ISBN 0-679-30015-5 .
1972. Say's Law: An Historical AnalysisPrinceton University PressISBN 978-0-691-04166-7.
1974. Classical Economics Reconsidered. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-00358-0.
1981. Ethnic America: A History . Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-02074-7 .
Chapter 1, "The American Mosaic ."
1981. Markets and Minorities. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-04399-2 .
1981. Pink and Brown People: and Other Controversial Essays . Hoover Press . ISBN 0-8179-7532-2.
1983. The Economics and Politics of RaceWilliam MorrowISBN 0-688-01891-2.
1984. Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality? William Morrow. ISBN 0-688-03113-7.
1985. Marxism: Philosophy and Economics. Quill. ISBN 0-688-06426-4.
1986. Education: Assumptions Versus History. Hoover Press. ISBN 0-8179-8112-8.
1987. Compassion Versus Guilt and Other Essays. William Morrow. ISBN 0-688-07114-7.
1990. Preferential Policies: An International PerspectiveISBN 0-688-08599-7
1993. Is Reality Optional?: and Other Essays. Hoover. ISBN 978-0-8179-9262-0.
1995. Race and Culture: A World ViewISBN 0-465-06796-4.
1996. Migrations and Cultures: A World ViewISBN 0-465-04589-8OCLC 41748039.
1998. Conquests and Cultures: An International HistoryISBN 0-465-01400-3.
1998. Late-Talking ChildrenISBN 0-465-03835-2.
1999. The Quest for Cosmic Justice . ISBN 0-684-86463-0.
2000. A Personal OdysseyISBN 0-684-86465-7.
2002. Controversial Essays. Hoover. ISBN 0-8179-2992-4.
2002. The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk LateISBN 0-465-08141-X.
2006. Ever Wonder Why?: and Other Controversial Essays . Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press. ISBN 978-0-8179-4752-1OCLC 253604328ASIN 0817947523 .
2006. On Classical Economics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-12606-8.
2007. A Man of Letters. San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books. ISBN 978-1-59403-196-0.
2008. Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One (2nd ed.). Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-00345-7 . OCLC 260206351 .
2008. Economic Facts and Fallacies . Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-00349-5OCLC 1033591370ASIN 0465003494.
2010. Dismantling America: and Other Controversial Essays. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-02251-9 . OCLC 688505777 .
2011. The Thomas Sowell Reader. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-02250-2.
2011. Economic Facts and Fallacies, 2nd edition. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0465022038
2013. Intellectuals and Race. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-05872-3.
2016. Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective (2nd ed.). ISBN 978-0-465-09676-3.
2018. Discrimination and DisparitiesISBN 978-1-541-64560-8.
2019. Discrimination and Disparities (revised, enlarged ed.) ISBN 978-1-541-64563-9.
Even when I disagree with Sowell, I’m forced to reexamine deeply held beliefs. The sheer clarity of Sowell’s mind jumps off every page, and though he is known for being repetitious, I see that as a feature, not a bug. Herbert Spencer (supposedly) said that “it takes varied iterations to force alien concepts on reluctant minds.”
When it comes to the power and beauty of economic reasoning, there are very few iterators better than Thomas Sowell.