Thomas Sowell (; born June 30, 1930) is an American economist
, social theorist
, and senior fellow
at Stanford University
's Hoover Institution
Born in North Carolina
, Sowell grew up in Harlem
, New York
. He dropped out of Stuyvesant High School
and later served in the Marine Corps
during the Korean War
. Upon returning to the United States, Sowell enrolled at Harvard University
, graduating ''magna cum laude
'' in 1958. He received a master's degree from Columbia University
in 1959, and earned his doctorate
in economics from the University of Chicago
Sowell has served on the faculties of several universities, including Cornell University
and University of California, Los Angeles
. He has also worked at think tank
s such as the Urban Institute
. Since 1980, he has worked at the Hoover Institution
at Stanford University
, where he presently serves as the Rose
and Milton Friedman
Senior Fellow on Public Policy. Sowell writes from a libertarian conservative
perspective. Sowell has written more than thirty books, and his work has been widely anthologized. He is a National Humanities Medal
recipient for innovative scholarship which incorporated history, economics and political science.
Sowell's latest book, ''Charter Schools and Their Enemies
'', was published in 2020.
Sowell was born in Gastonia, North Carolina
. His father died shortly before he was born, leaving behind Sowell's mother, a housemaid
, who already had four children. A great-aunt
and her two grown daughters adopted Sowell and raised him.
In his autobiography
, ''A Personal Odyssey,'' Sowell wrote that his childhood encounters with white people
were so limited that he did not know that blond
was a hair color.
When Sowell was nine, his family moved from Charlotte, North Carolina
, New York City
for greater opportunities, joining in the large-scale trend
of African-American migration from the American South
to the North
He qualified for Stuyvesant High School
, a prestigious academic high school in New York City; he was the first in his family to study beyond the sixth grade. However, he was forced to drop out 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
he tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers
He was drafted
into the military in 1951, during the Korean War
, and was assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps
. Because of his experience in photography
, Sowell became a Marine Corps photographer.
Higher education and early career
After his Honorable discharge
, Sowell worked a civil service
job in Washington, DC
, and attended night classes at Howard University
, a historically black college
. His high scores on the College Board
exams and recommendations by two professors helped him gain admission to Harvard University
, where he graduated ''magna cum laude
'' in 1958 with a Bachelor of Arts
degree in economics
He earned a master's degree
from Columbia University
the following year.
Sowell has said that he was a Marxist
"during the decade of my 20s"; accordingly, one of his earliest professional publications was a sympathetic
examination of Marxist thought vs. Marxist–Leninist
However, his experience working as a federal government intern
during the summer of 1960 caused him to reject Marxian economics
in favor of free market economic theory
. During his work, Sowell discovered an association 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 Sowell to theorize that the government employees who administered the minimum wage law cared more about their own jobs than the plight of the poor.
Sowell received a Doctor of Philosophy
degree in economics from the University of Chicago
His dissertation was titled "Say's Law
and the General Glut
Sowell had initially chosen Columbia University
to study under George Stigler
, who would later receive the Nobel Prize in Economics
. When he learned that Stigler had moved to the University of Chicago, he followed him there.
From 1965 to 1969, Sowell was an assistant professor
of economics at Cornell University
. Writing 30 years later about the 1969 takeover by black Cornell students of Willard Straight Hall
, Sowell characterized the students as "hoodlum
s" with "serious academic problems ho wereadmitted under lower academic standards
", and noted "it so happens that the pervasive racism that black students supposedly encountered at every turn on campus and in town was not apparent to me during the four years that I taught at Cornell and lived in Ithaca
Sowell has taught economics at Howard University, Rutgers
, Cornell, Brandeis University
, Amherst College
, and the University of California, Los Angeles
. 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
, his mentor.
In addition, Sowell appeared several times on William F. Buckley Jr.
's show ''Firing Line
'', during which he discussed the economics of race and privatization
In 1987, Sowell testified in favor of federal appeals court judge Robert Bork
during the hearings for Bork's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court
. In his testimony, Sowell said that Bork was "the most highly qualified nominee of this generation" and that what he viewed as judicial activism
, a concept that Bork opposed as a self-described originalist
, "has not been beneficial to minorities."
In a review of Sowell's 1987 book, ''A Conflict of Visions
'', Larry D. Nachman in ''Commentary
'' magazine described Sowell as a leading representative of the Chicago school of economics
Previously married to Alma Jean Parr from 1964 to 1975, Sowell married Mary Ash in 1981. He has two children, John and Lorraine.
In 2007, Sowell commented that modern television talk show
s did not match the quality of David Susskind
's ''Open End
'' or ''The University of Chicago Roundtable'' and that ''Meet the Press
'' moderated by Tim Russert
was unlike the shows moderated by Lawrence Spivak
or Bill Monroe
. Sowell is also known for his disdain of self-promotion
Writings and thought
Themes of Sowell's writing range from social policy
, ethnic group
, and decision-making
, to classical
and Marxian economics
, to the problems of children perceived as having disabilities.
Sowell had a nationally syndicated column distributed by Creators Syndicate
that was published in ''Forbes
'' magazine, ''National Review
'', ''The Wall Street Journal
'', ''The Washington Times
'', ''The New York Post
'', and other major newspapers, as well as online on websites such as ''RealClearPolitics
'', and the ''Jewish World Review
''. Sowell commented on current issues, which include liberal media bias
; judicial activism
(while defending originalism
); intact dilation and extraction
(commonly known as, and described in U.S. federal law
as, ''partial-birth abortion'');
; universal health care
; the tension between government policies, programs, and protections and familial autonomy
; affirmative action
; government bureaucracy
; gun control
in U.S. foreign policy
; the war on drugs
, and multiculturalism
On December 27, 2016, Sowell announced the end of his syndicated column, writing that, at age 86, "the question is not why I am quitting, but why I kept at it so long," and cited a desire to focus on his photography hobby.
A documentary detailing his career entitled "Thomas Sowell: Common Sense in a Senseless World" was released on January 25, 2021, by the Free to Choose Network
Economic and political ideology
While often described as a black conservative
, he prefers not to be labeled, having stated, "I prefer not to have labels, but I suspect that 'libertarian
' would suit me better than many others, although I disagree with the libertarian movement on a number of things."
Sowell primarily writes on economic subjects, generally advocating a free market
approach to capitalism
. Sowell opposes the Federal Reserve
, arguing that it has been unsuccessful in preventing economic depressions
and limiting inflation
Sowell described his serious study of Karl Marx
in his autobiography; he opposes Marxism
, providing a critique
in his book ''Marxism: Philosophy and Economics'' (1985).
Sowell has also written a trilogy of books on ideologies
and political positions
, including ''A Conflict of Visions
'', in which he speaks on the origins of political strife; ''The Vision of the Anointed
'', in which he compares the conservative
worldviews; and ''The Quest for Cosmic Justice'', in which, as in many of his other writings, he outlines his thesis of the need for intellectual
s, and leaders to fix and perfect the world in utopia
n and ultimately, he posits, disastrous fashions. Separate from the trilogy, but also in discussion of the subject, he wrote ''Intellectuals and Society
'', building on his earlier work, in which he discusses what he argues to be the blind hubris
and follies of intellectuals in a variety of areas.
His book ''Knowledge and Decisions
'', a winner of the 1980 Law and Economics Center Prize, was heralded as a "landmark work," selected for this prize "because of its cogent contribution to our understanding of the differences between the market process and the process of government." In announcing the award, the centre acclaimed Sowell, whose "contribution to our understanding of the process of regulation alone would make the book important, but in reemphasizing the diversity and efficiency that the market makes possible, is
work goes deeper and becomes even more significant." Friedrich Hayek
wrote: "In a wholly original manner owell
succeeds in translating abstract and theoretical argument into highly concrete and realistic discussion of the central problems of contemporary economic policy."
Sowell also favors decriminalization of all drugs
and occasionally writes on the subject of gun control
; for example:
One can cherry-pick the factual studies, or cite some studies that have subsequently been discredited, but the great bulk of the studies show that gun control laws do not in fact control guns. On net balance, they do not save lives, but cost lives.
Race and ethnicity
Sowell thinks that systemic racism
is an untested, questionable hypothesis that is a piece of propaganda
pushed on the American people. Sowell has said that "it really has no meaning that can be specified and tested in the way that one tests hypotheses" and "it's one of many words that I don't think even the people who use it have any clear idea what they're saying". He has argued that it is a propaganda tactic akin to those used by Joseph Goebbels
because it comes with an attitude that it must be "repeated long enough and loud enough" until it is believed and people "cave in" to it.
In several of his works, Sowell challenges the notion that black progress is due to progressive government programs or policies, including in ''The Economics and Politics of Race'' (1983), ''Ethnic America'' (1981), ''Affirmative Action Around the World
'' (2004), and other books. He claims that many problems identified with blacks in modern society are not unique, neither in terms of American ethnic groups, nor in terms of a rural proletariat
struggling with disruption as it became urbanized
, as discussed in his ''Black Rednecks and White Liberals
Sowell also writes on racial topics, typically critical of affirmative action
and race-based quotas
. He takes strong issue with the notion of government
as a helper or savior of minorities
, arguing that the historical record shows quite the opposite. In ''Affirmative Action Around the World'',
In ''Intellectuals and Race'' (2013), Sowell argues that intelligence quotient
(IQ) gaps are hardly startling or unusual between, or within, ethnic group
s. He notes that the roughly 15-point gap in contemporary black–white IQ scores
is similar to that between the national average and the scores of certain ethnic white groups
in years past, in periods when the nation was absorbing new immigrants.
Late-talking and the Einstein syndrome
Sowell wrote ''The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late'', a follow-up to his ''Late-Talking Children'', discussing a condition he termed the ''Einstein syndrome
''. This book investigates the phenomenon of late-talking children, frequently misdiagnose
d with autism
or pervasive developmental disorder
. He includes the research of Stephen Camarata and Steven Pinker
, among others, in this overview of a poorly understood developmental
trait. It is a trait which he says affected many historical figures who developed prominent careers, such as physicist
s Albert Einstein
, Edward Teller
, and Richard Feynman
; mathematician Julia Robinson
; and musician
s Arthur Rubinstein
and Clara Schumann
. He makes the 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
. As such, Sowell disagrees with Simon Baron-Cohen
's speculation that Einstein may have had Asperger syndrome
In a ''Townhall'' editorial, titled "The Bush Legacy", Sowell assessed President George W. Bush
as "a mixed bag" but "an honorable man." Sowell was strongly critical of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump
, and officially endorsed Ted Cruz
in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries
in a February article. However, he indicated that he would vote in the general election
nominee Hillary Clinton
, due to fears about the appointments Clinton would possibly make to the Supreme Court
In 2020, Sowell wrote that if the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden
won the 2020 presidential election
, it could signal a point of no return for the United States, a tipping point akin to the fall of the Roman Empire
. In an interview in July 2020, he stated that "the Roman Empire
overcame many problems in its long history but eventually it reached a point where it could no longer continue on, and much of that was from within, not just the barbarian
s attacking from outside." Sowell wrote that if Biden became President, the Democratic Party
would have a huge amount of control over the country and if this happened, they could twin with the "radical left" and ideas such as defunding the police
could come to fruition.
Two weeks before the 2016 presidential election
, Sowell urged voters to vote for Donald Trump
over Hillary Clinton
. In 2018, when asked on his thoughts of Trump's presidency
, Sowell replied "I think he's better than the previous president."
In March 2019, Sowell commented on the public's response to mainstream media
's allegations that Trump is a racist: "What's tragic is that there's so many people out there who simply respond to words rather than ask themselves 'Is what this person says true? How can I check it?' And so on." A month later, Sowell again defended Trump against media charges of racism, stating: "I've seen no hard evidence. And, unfortunately, we're living in a time where no one expects hard evidence. You just repeat some familiar words and people will react pretty much the way Pavlov's dog
was conditioned to react to certain sounds."
Sowell has written about education throughout his career. He has argued for the need for reform of the school system in the United States. In his latest book, ''Charter Schools and Their Enemies
'' (2020), Sowell compares the educational outcomes of school children educated at charter schools
with those at conventional public schools. In his research, Sowell first explains the need and his methodology for choosing comparable students—both ethnically and socioeconomically—before listing his findings. He presents the case that charter schools on the whole do significantly better in terms of educational outcomes than conventional schools.
Sowell also writes about the importance of education for young people. He argues that many schools are failing children in their educations. This is for numerous reasons among which he argues are that indoctrination has taken the place of proper education, teaching unions have been making unfair money out of schools and that many schools have become monopolies for educational bureaucracies.
In his book, ''Education: Assumptions Versus History'' (1986), Sowell analyzes the state of education in US schools and universities. In particular, he examines the experiences of blacks and other ethnic groups in the American education system and identifies the factors and patterns behind both success and failure.
, and conservatives
of different disciplines have received Sowell's work positively.
Among these, he has been noted for his originality, great depth and breadth,
clarity of expression, and thoroughness of research.
Sowell's publications have been received positively by economists Steven Plaut
and Abigail Thernstrom
political scientist Charles Murray
psychologists Steven Pinker
and Jonathan Haidt
; Josef Joffe
, publisher and editor of ''Die Zeit
, Senior Editor of ''National Review
theater critic and political commentator Kevin D. Williamson
Walter E. Williams
, professor of economics at George Mason University
; and publishing executive Steve Forbes
Other academics such as Hampton University
economist Bernadette Chachere, Harvard University sociologist William Julius Wilson
, social scientist
Richard Coughlin, and Stanford law
professor Richard Thompson Ford
have been critical of some of his work in book reviews. Criticisms include failure to take into account discrimination against women at work
in ''Rhetoric or Reality?''; the lack of a coherent methodology
in ''Race and Culture: A World View''; and caricaturing
and then attacking liberal theories
in ''Intellectuals and Race''.
Legacy and honors
* 1982: the Mencken Award for Best Book, from the Free Press Association, for his ''Ethnic America: A History''.
* 1990: the Francis Boyer Award
, presented by the American Enterprise Institute
* 1998: the Sydney Hook
Award, from the National Association of Scholars
* 2002: the National Humanities Medal
, presented by President George W. Bush
, for prolific scholarship melding history
, economics, and political science
* 2003: the Bradley Prize
for intellectual achievement.
* 2004: the Lysander Spooner
Award, presented by Laissez Faire Books
, for his ''Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One
* 2008: the International Book Award, from getAbstract
, for his book ''Economic Facts and Fallacies''.
* Labor Economist
, U.S. Department of Labor
, June 1961 – August 1962
* Instructor in Economics, Douglass College, Rutgers University
, September 1962 – June 1963
* Lecturer in Economics, Howard University
, September 1963 – June 1964
* Economic Analyst
, American Telephone & Telegraph Co.
, June 1964 – August 1965
* Assistant Professor of Economics, Cornell University
, September 1965 – August 1969
* Associate Professor of Economics, Brandeis University
, September 1969 – June 1970
* Associate Professor of Economics, University of California, Los Angeles
, September 1970 – June 1972
* Project Director, Urban Institute
, August 1972 – July 1974
, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences
, July 1976 – March 1977
* Visiting Professor
of Economics, Amherst College
, September–December 1977
* Fellow, Hoover Institution
, Stanford University
, April–August 1977
* Professor of Economics, UCLA
, July 1974 – June 1980
* Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, September 1980–present
* 1971. ''Economics: Analysis and Issues''. Scott Foresman & Co
* 1972. ''Black Education: Myths and Tragedies''. David McKay Co.
* 1972. ''Say's Law: A Historical Analysis''. Princeton University Press
* 1974. ''Classical Economics Reconsidered''. Princeton University Press. .
* 1975. ''Race and Economics
''. David McKay Co
* 1980. ''Knowledge and Decisions
''. Basic Books
* 1981. ''Ethnic America: A History'' . Basic Books. .
** Chapter 1,The American Mosaic
* 1981. ''Markets and Minorities''. Basic Books. .
* 1981. ''Pink and Brown People: and Other Controversial Essays'' . Hoover Press
* 1983. ''The Economics and Politics of Race''. William Morrow
* 1984. ''Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?'' William Morrow. .
* 1985. ''Marxism: Philosophy and Economics''. Quill. .
* 1986. ''Education: Assumptions Versus History''. Hoover Press. .
* 1987. ''A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles
'' . William Morrow. .
* 1987. ''Compassion Versus Guilt and Other Essays''. William Morrow. .
* 1990. ''Preferential Policies: An International Perspective''.
* 1993. ''Inside American Education
''. New York: The Free Press
* 1993. ''Is Reality Optional?: and Other Essays''. Hoover. .
* 1995. ''Race and Culture: A World View''. .
* 1995. ''The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation As a Basis for Social Policy
''. Basic Books. .
* 1996. ''Migrations and Cultures: A World View''. . .
* 1998. ''Conquests and Cultures: An International History''. .
* 1998. ''Late-Talking Children''. .
* 1999. ''The Quest for Cosmic Justice'' . .
* 2000. ''A Personal Odyssey''. .
* 2000. ''Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy'' (1st ed.)
. Basic Books. .
* 2002. ''Controversial Essays''. Hoover. .
* 2002. ''The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late''. .
* 2003. ''Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One
* 2004. ''Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study
'' . New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
* 2004. ''Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy'' (revised and expanded ed.)
. New York: Basic Books.
* 2005. ''Black Rednecks and White Liberals
''. San Francisco: Encounter Books
* 2006. ''Ever Wonder Why?: and Other Controversial Essays'' . Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press. . . .
* 2006. ''On Classical Economics''. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. .
[Berdell, John. 2007.]
On Classical Economics
(review). ''EH.net''. Economic History Association.
* 2007. ''A Man of Letters''. San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books. .
* 2007. ''Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy'' (3rd ed.).
Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books
. . .
* 2008. ''Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One'' (2nd ed.). Basic Books. . .
* 2008. ''Economic Facts and Fallacies'' . Basic Books. . . .
* 2009. ''The Housing Boom and Bust
''. Basic Books. .
** Chapter 5,The Past and the Future
* 2010. ''Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy'' (4th ed.).
Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books. .
* 2010. ''Dismantling America: and Other Controversial Essays''. Basic Books. . .
* 2010. ''Intellectuals and Society
'' . Basic Books. Lay summary
* 2011. ''The Thomas Sowell Reader''. Basic Books. .
* 2013. ''Intellectuals and Race''. Basic Books. .
* 2014. ''Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy
'' (5th ed.). New York: Basic Books. .
* 2015. ''Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective
* 2016. ''Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective'' (2nd ed.). .
* 2018. ''Discrimination and Disparities''. .
* 2019. ''Discrimination and Disparities'' (revised, enlarged ed.) .
* 2020. ''Charter Schools and Their Enemies
* 1975.Affirmative Action Reconsidered. Was It Necessary in Academia?
(''Evaluation Studies'' 27). Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
. . .
* 1979.Status versus Behavior
" ''Washington University Law Review
* 1982.Weber and Bakke, and the Presuppositions of 'Affirmative Action'
" Pp. 37–63 in ''Discrimination, Affirmative Action, and Equal Opportunity: An Economic and Social Perspective'', edited by W. E. Block and M. A. Walker. Fraser Institute
* 2002.The Education of Minority Children
" Pp. 79–92 in ''Education in the Twenty-First Century,'' edited by E. P. Lazear
. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution PressAvailable via eText
* 2002.Discrimination, Economics, and Culture
" Pp. 167–80 in ''Beyond the Color Line: New Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America'', edited by A. Thernstrom
and S. Thernstrom
. Hoover Institution Press.
* 2012.'Trickle Down' Theory and 'Tax Cuts for the Rich'
(''Hoover Institution Press Publication'' 635) Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press. . Google BooksEY3prsH-5bwC
* Greenhouse effect
* List of newspaper columnists
* Black conservatism in the United States
* Kwong, Jo. 2008. "Sowell, Thomas (1930–)." Pp. 482–83 in ''The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism'', edited by R. Hamowy
. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE
/ Cato Institute
. . . . . .
Thomas Sowell's home page
at Creators Syndicate
Column archive at Townhall.comArchive of Articles
by Thomas Sowell at JewishWorldReview.com
* Thomas Sowell: Common Sense in a Senseless World
2021 PBS intellectual biography of its subject with Jason Riley
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