Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell's Maverick Insights on Race, Economics, and Society

The peerless 90-year-old scholar is the subject of a new documentary and biography.

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"I was still a Marxist after taking Milton Friedman's course [at the University of Chicago]," says free market economist and social critic Thomas Sowell. "One summer in the government was enough to let me say government is really not the answer."

Known for provocative and best-selling books such as Knowledge and Decisions, A Conflict of Visions, and last year's Charter Schools and Their Enemies, the internationally renowned scholar is the subject of a new documentary and biography, both authored by Jason L. Riley, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and Wall Street Journal columnist. Beyond the breadth and depth of his interests, what sets Sowell apart is that he "puts truth above popularity and doesn't concern himself with being politically correct," Riley tells Reason's Nick Gillespie. "It's an adherence to empiricism, to facts and logic and putting that ahead of theory. [Sowell] is much more interested in how an idea has panned out…rather than simply what the intent is."

Among Sowell's chief insights are the realizations that there are no perfect solutions, only tradeoffs, and that information, knowledge, and wisdom are dispersed throughout society, often in unarticulated ways that experts and elitists ignore. As Sowell wrote in his memoir, growing up poor and segregated during the Depression, he had "daily contact with people who were neither well-educated nor particularly genteel, but who had practical wisdom far beyond what I had," which gave him "a lasting respect for the common sense of ordinary people, a factor routinely ignored by the intellectuals among whom I would later make my career."

At age 90, Sowell is still writing and publishing. His greatest scholarship may be behind him, but his body of work will continue to have a profound impact on our understanding of the world long after he's gone.

Narrated by Nick Gillespie. Edited by John Osterhoudt. Additional graphics by Paul Detrick.

Photo: CHUCK KENNEDY/KRT/Newscom; CHUCK KENNEDY/KRT/Newscom; Everett Collection/Newscom; Keystone Pictures USA/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; 'Friedrich August von Hayek' by Levan Ramishvili, https://flic.kr/p/2eDMKB3. License at https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/; Free to Choose Network; Liszt Collection/Newscom; akg-images/Newscom; Nancy Kaszerman/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  1. He soundly debunked the “wage gap” in the 1970s. Yet we’re still having this stupid conversation.

    1. I hate how politics has destroyed the word “conversation”. There’s no conversation about the wage gap. There never has been. Few people talk about it and absolutely no one listens to anything about it. No one wants to. It is simply a rhetorical club to be wielded in service of whatever pet policy or favorite party someone is affiliated with. The day I hear someone on the floor of congress say “Some people earn a lot of money, other people earn less money, all of this is fine.” is the day I eat my hat.

      1. This is very true. No one in politics or the media (or most of academia) give one shit about facts. All they care about is validating their internal narrative. And the narrative is the wage gap.

        It will be interesting to see how the various Trans issues will feed into this. If Trans-Women are truly women, then is there a wage gap between pre- and post- transition? Is there a wage gap between Trans- and Cis- women? If gender is just an ephemeral choice, and race is increasingly becoming a social construct, then are there any gaps at all? Maybe social justice comes by letting everyone just be individuals without labels. Except that individualism is despised and loathed by the Woke.

        1. The left is a coalition of interests far more contradictory than the right. It honestly surprised me that the right is the one to break up first. Perhaps because the old democrat guard is fiercely policing the upper rungs of the party but most of them are extremely old and dying off rapidly. Soon the AOCs and the Yangs will be in full control and I think almost immediately you will see a crack up. That brand of communism is pretty well tested at this point and I think it’s safe to say that it has little use for people who won’t conform. Minorities, alphabet people, hippies, all of those sorts are going to be swept aside with amazing speed to make room for the equality brigade. Mark my words: Transgender politics and minority pandering will become republican core values overnight. The cultural whiplash is going to be real. Assuming Biden survives for 8 years I would not be at all surprised to see the 2028 election be between a transgender republican fighting to make people bake the cake vs a Che Guevara wannabe democrat advocating taking up arms against the rich.

          The future is about to get weird and the biggest losers are going to be you and me.

          1. Well it USED TO BE that the one dimensional left-right spectrum everyone agreed to use was about attitudes towards private property and wealth accumulation. Which was a yuuge shift from the prior monarchism vs republicanism.

            Basically the more you hated wealth and property the more leftist one was, all the way to out to bolshevism, while friendliness to property and gold plated monocles went all the way out to Ayn Rand in bed with the JBS.

            During that era a “left” Democrat was not much different than a “right” Republican. Both liberals and conservatives (in the American sense) are descended from the same classic liberalism. They bickered only in the details of a common vision. JFK would be despised at a wingnut reactionary today, just as Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan would be called filthy RINOs today.

            Up until the mid to late 90s Republicans and Democrats got along quite well.

            Then something happened around 2000 (Bush? 9/11? Other?) The shift in the political spectrum began. Both sides because collectivist, with both seeking to use the state to enforce cultural norms. The difference was hard to tell for a while, but seems to merely a matter of degree. The spectrum is between two similar yet distinct cultural norms. One side is a neoracist Wokeism that elevates Identitarian over all else, and the other side basically trying to discover its own identity of sorts.

            It’s still shaking out, but I suspect the “right” is going to end up as Post-Racist Pragmatists, but only if they can manage to shut up the Neo-Confederalists in their midst.

            And if we’re lucky as all get out, the silly spectrum will collapse. The real liberals are getting pissed at the Woketarians, and the real conservatives are getting pissed at the White Identitarians.

            1. “The real liberals are getting pissed at the woketarians…..”

              I’m not seeing this. But I’m in Seattle, soooo……

              1. If they don’t see a problem with the wokes, then they aren’t liberals by any meaning I can understand.

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            2. “Up until the mid to late 90s Republicans and Democrats got along quite well.”

              Even when they were impeaching Clinton? Have you forgotten the Clinton days or are you too young to have lived them? I remember it being the same nonsense. The Clintons blamed everything on Bush. Bush II blamed everything on the Clintons. Obama blamed everything on Bush II. And so on, and so on…..

              1. Clinton was impeached in the late 90s.

          2. 8 years? I’ve got Sept 2021 in the Biden-still-in-office pool.

            1. I used the term “assuming” for a reason. Personally, I don’t think he’ll last that long either. It’s just harder to imagine what might happen if he kicks the bucket earlier than that.

          3. Yikes. Frightful vision, noobie.

          4. … a Che Guevara wannabe democrat advocating taking up arms against the rich.

            The Democrats are anti-gun pussies. They’re not going to advocate “taking up arms” against anything.

    2. “Yet we’re still having this stupid conversation.”

      Because women as a group are still paid less than men as a group. This might change when the current gerontocracy (Sowell, Trump, Biden et al) dies off and is replaced by a younger generation.

      1. I see. Question I had below was answered. You are the slow kid.

        1. Women as a group are still paid less than men as a group. You won’t deny it. Instead we get pseudonymous bluster and insults.

          1. Could have something to do with their average preferences on how to live their lives… Taking care of kids for example doesnt make money. But it’s okay. You will understand it in the end, slow kid.

            1. “Could have something to do with their average preferences on how to live their lives… ”

              More to the point is that our society deems the stock broker tapping away at the keyboard more worthy and deserving than the care giver wiping snot from the face of a child. This is bound to change once the socialists take charge.

              1. Yeah, dude. That’s not how it works.

                1. “That’s not how it works.”

                  Not now at any rate. Socialists tend to stress rights of women, so if and when they take power, expect the status quo to change.

                  1. Yea, see, they don’t stress their rights these days, they stress their affirmative advantage and skewing ratios to combat their pathetic white guilt. There’s a difference.

                    1. “Yea, see, they don’t stress their rights these days”

                      Rights are more of a liberal thing. Look at Reason magazine, for example. There are appeals to various rights in just about every article. With radicals, rights are just not as important or central to their ideas. Equality is stressed instead.

                    2. Yea, well, their rights are equal already, smarty. Libs tend to stress the demons of the past so they have something to be militant about. People can’t bear being equal, because being measured by equal standards would reveal their insufficiency. So they like to get back to being the victim. Have fun lol

                  2. Socialists stress whatever they think will bring in more supporters. They sell socialism as a cure for whatever problem is trending. Often religious people use the same strategy.
                    It is also used extensively in product marketing.

                    As for the thing about the stock broker and the snot wiper, the way it works is that jobs where there are fewer qualified people tend to offer higher rewards. As important as mothering is, more than half of all people have the necessary requirements to be one, for at least some of their lifetimes. A stock broker might be an economic parasite, but accurately predicting stock prices is a skill that most people lack.
                    In your socialist utopia, you might not have stock brokers, but you still need people like structural engineers and chemists, and those people are still going to be scarcer and better rewarded than average people.

                    1. “the way it works is that jobs where there are fewer qualified people tend to offer higher rewards.”

                      I doesn’t work that way though. Our society deems a prostitute more worthy and deserving than a child care giver.

                      “and those people are still going to be scarcer and better rewarded than average people.”

                      I’ve met some pretty average structural engineers and chemists.

                    2. Our society deems a prostitute more worthy and deserving than a child care giver.

                      It’s not “society”; it’s the market – supply and demand. Whores are more scarce than child care givers. As to who is more “worthy and deserving”, there’s no absolute answer to that. It depends upon how horney one is. At least dudes fucking whores aren’t bringing unwanted babies into the world (assuming the whore uses birth control). And dudes fucking whores aren’t promising committments they can’t keep thereby breaking chicks’ hearts. So my vote goes to the whores as being more worthy and deserving.

              2. “Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be—or to be indistinguishable from—self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.”
                ― Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

                Troll = flag, refresh.

                1. Women as a group are still paid less than men as a group. You won’t deny it. Instead we get pseudonymous bluster and insults.

                  1. Could have something to do with their average preferences on how to live their lives… Taking care of kids for example doesnt make money. But it’s okay. You will understand it in the end, slow kid.

                    1. “Could have something to do with their average preferences on how to live their lives… ”

                      I don’t think they prefer to be paid less. It’s the employer who sets the wages.

                    2. No, they just still statistically prefer to work less and do other things. Also, unfortunately they gravitate towards subjects that are not in the tech industry and in lower demand. That difference of preference doesn’t stop when they’re made to be super, uber-equal, instead it becomes more pronounced (check Scandinavia, smarty).

                  2. Women as a group are still paid less than men as a group.

                    So what? Groups are irrelevant. Only individuals are important. How many chicks have high paying degrees like engineering,, computer science, math, natural sciences, accounting, law, medicine vs. ghe number of dudes who hold those degrees. Even in the non-intellectual sphere, how many chicks can do hard manual labor like dudes can? Answer those questions and you’ll learn why chicks as a group make less than dudes as a group.

              3. LMAO they won’t take charge, you moron. 😀 Sorry to break it to you, but if you look at the majority of moderates, you realize that “socialism”, even the “democratic” strain of that virus, is really unpopular. And that crosses party lines. Most people grow up at one point. It happens when you make your own money that your perspective changes. So 16 year olds like you have got some lessons to learn. But don’t worry, I won’t hurt that much, because your brain will change. It’s called acquiring maturity.

                1. lol I mean “IT” won’t hurt that much
                  Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you, or anyone in here for that matter.

                2. I understand that as a conservative, you abhor change, and can’t conceive of an alternative. It’s only natural for you to become hostile to someone who dares to question the status quo.

                  1. As a libertarian, I prefer the status quo if it grants more freedom than what the moronic 16 year olds suggest. As a leftist, this nuance is over your head though.

                    (Changed handle)

                    1. Like it or not, moronic 16 year olds are our future. Old people die, things change. Mother nature’s cruel.

                    2. See, that’s what’s wrong with you. You think moronic 16 year olds are our future, because you have no concept of “growing up”.

                      I think you are a perpetual teen or something like that. The rest of us starts to dislike socialism when they realize it’s consequences.

                    3. Like it or not, moronic 16 year olds are our future.

                      Yeah, that’s what they said back in ’68 when I was 16. We all know how that turned out.

      2. And mtrueman comes along to demonstrate just how stupid this conversation is.

        1. Yea, actually mtrueman is a good example of the kinda agents that keep this conversation alive.

  2. Oh, and ANY criticism of Sowell is racism. Straight up.

    1. Sowell’s views are too white to have that perk. Check your DnD character creation manual, it clearly states (page 90): “(3) A player character that has the ability ‘critical thinking’ cannot be assigned the perk ‘race card'”.

      Sorry Paul, but you can’t build him like that. Media says no.

      1. As opposed to the slow kid, I got your obvious sarcasm btw, Paul

    2. Actual bona fide criticism is NEVER racist. Assertions and automatic gainsaying are NOT the same as criticism.

    3. “Oh, and ANY criticism of Sowell is racism.”

      Are you a moron or just posing as one to fit in?

      1. Are you the new kid in class or just the slow one?

        1. Any criticism of Sowell is not racism. I get the impression that, unlike Diane Reynolds (Paul.), your imbecility is not a pose.

          1. I guess youre probably a hybrid between slow and new lol 😀

            1. Are you a moron or just posing as one to fit in?

              1. LOL repeating the same question multiple times is one of the ways the slow kids reveal themselves 😉

              2. Hey, truedude, look up the word “sarcasm”. Here, copy and paste the following terms into a search engine – dictionary definition sarcasm.

        2. He isn’t new, but he is an idiot.

          1. In fact, women as a group are still paid less than men as a group. You won’t deny it. Instead we get pseudonymous bluster and insults.

            1. LOL are you trying to mess with search engine mapping or some shit like that? Repeating your drivel doesn’t make it more true. Adolf Hitler suggested that strategy, so good job, slow kid.

  3. “It’s an adherence to empiricism, to facts and logic…”

    Did not the San Francisco United School District Board deem these things to be white supremacy, just a couple of weeks ago?

    How ironic that a scholar of African American descent would promote these very things, as if they are inherently true.

    1. Just another example of how someone doesn’t need to be white to be a white supremacist.

      1. And Nick is another example of how someone doesn’t need to be Black to be a Sowell man.

      2. I flagged the parent comment of this one for review, but on accident, cuz fucking phones. It’s weird I can’t unflag anything.

  4. But what does The Daily Beast say about him? Oh, this isnt Liz

  5. Thomas Sowell is a national treasure. I’ve followed him since I was in high school–and that was a long, long time ago. Three people I would love to met and speak with: Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill and Thomas Sowell. I read everything he writes. Thank You!!!

    1. Q: Which person, living or dead, would you like to meet?

      A: Living. Because you can talk to them.

    2. Yeah, I used to enjoy his columns when I used to read newspapers.

      Not reading newspapers anymore has nothing to do with his absence, though. I’m sure he backed off on his opinion columns as he got older.

      Paul Krugman 3 times a week as the sowell’s of the world were winding it down had a lot to do with it, though. Hasta la vista, legacy print media. Haha.

  6. “One summer in the government was enough to let me say government is really not the answer.”<–So why did you go on to spend almost 70 years behind the skirts of the biggest government in history? Put your ass where your mouth is. You're perfectly able to flee into the wilderness or head to Somalia etc where government will not follow you.

    It's funny how the first and only black person I'm seeing featured in this right-wing rag is horribly unpopular in the black community, and far more popular among inbreeding-obsessed segregationists who shun and despise black people. No articles here about the maverick genius of Colin Kaepernick.

    1. colin kaepernick? really? the guy had is a fine athlete but the word genius is not one anyone will ever use to describe him. sowell has made a career out of disassembling myths and disabusing errors held by folks that are not fit to shine his shoes.

      genius is a word MOST will use to describe him now and in the future

    2. If I am not mistaken Joe Biden is the only segregationist left in our government. All the other Democrat segregationist have retired or died. Or should I say the Democrats that would admit to the truth?

    3. Haha. “Go to Somalia.” Always a salient point from a serious person.

      You’re an idiot.

    4. Kaepernick? Are you comparing that douche to Sowell?

      LOL.

    5. You had me going there for a minute. Until I got to the Kaepernick part.

    6. So why did you go on to spend almost 70 years behind the skirts of the biggest government in history?

      No, he didn’t. Except for June ’61 to Aug. ’62 where he was a labor economist for the U.S. Department of Labor and September 1970 – June 1972 and July 1974 – June 1980 where he was an Associate Professor or full Professor of Economics at UCLA, a state-supported institution, he’s always been employed in the non-government sector. Here’s a Sowell bio – https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Sowell
      Plus, Sowell has authored 30 very respectable books. All of that is non-government.

      only black person I’m seeing featured in this right-wing rag is horribly unpopular in the black community, and far more popular among inbreeding-obsessed segregationists who shun and despise black people. No articles here about the maverick genius of Colin Kaepernick.

      “maverick genius”? Exactly what has Kaepernick done that qualifies as genius or maverick? Whereas, Sowell has 30 books, many considered classics, many challenging popular preconceptions.

      If Sowell is “horribly unpopular in the black community”, then that is a symptom of some kind of sickness in the black community. Problems in the black community will not be solved until blacks recognize the profound truths in Thomas Sowell’s works and until blacks learn to revere the wisdom and greatness of their best – Thomas Sowell and those like him.

      I respect Thomas Sowell, probably the most profound social scientist of the 20th & 21st centuries. Thomas Sowell gains respect for blacks far more than Colin Kaepernick ever could.

  7. We lost Walter Williams recently, so I’m hoping Thomas Sowell hangs on for many more years.

  8. Watching Prof Sowell smoke welfare-rights apparatchik Francis Fox Piven in Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose videos was oh so very pleasurable. Treat yourself and check it out on Amazon Prime.

    1. And then there was the time microwit Joe Biden tried to outmanouver petawit Thomas Sowell at some congressional hearing in the 70s or 80s…look up the video on YT before it gets deleted

      1. Now that would be a scream to watch, either back then, or even more so now! Corn Pop could never match Thomas Sowell in a battle of wits!

  9. Filip Geljo showed up as Agent Otto in Odd Squad, in November 2014. He included close-by entertainers Dalila Bela, Anna Cathcart, Millie Davis, Sean Michael Kyer, Isaac Kragten, and Olivia Presti.

  10. Treat yourself and check it out on Amazon Prime.

  11. Sowell is a true intellectual giant.

  12. he is a great man, a great thinker and a true scholar. his gifts are our benefits. thanks thomas!

    1. My impression was that Sowell is just another bog standard economist repeating the party line. Did he predict the 2008 economic crisis? Some economists did, though I doubt Reason takes the trouble to interview them.

      1. You are trying to use accidents to outlaw the device. Do that with cars, smarty. 😀

        The 2008 crash happened because top bankers are megalomaniacs and were unable to assume that the system is fallible (which obviously applies to every system, so that shouldn’t be a surprise). It didn’t happen because there is something inherently wrong with capitalism. As you seem to argue in favor of socialism (let’s assume you do), I have to offer you a sip of reality:

        If you want 2008 or 2020 to be a permanent condition, you need to keep supporting socialism.

        Sorry they didn’t tell you this in your macro-economics course 😀

        1. Some economists accurately predicted the crash. I assume Sowell didn’t. I’m not saying Sowell is not a great man. Just saying he’s a mediocre economist.

          1. If Sowell is a “mediocre” economist, then all it takes is a mediocre economist to debunk economically and socially harmful leftist drivel. Which renders them horrendous economists and would have you praying to have more mediocre economists in charge, especially in Commifornia.

            On your general fallacy: Some economists always accurately “predicted” something. But those same people also make mistakes which you don’t hear about, because this is always a game of probabilities. If you say they warned about it, and hypothesized the possibility, yea. Was it bound to happen? If you say yes of course, you are biased because you live in this timeline and no other one. It’s called Captain Hindsights plight.

            1. “Some economists always accurately “predicted” something. ”

              Sowell is not one of them. A great man, to be sure. Though a mediocre economist.

              1. Mediocre, which makes him about 700% better than you and other leftists for economics.

                1. He is a great man. But so was Hitler.

                  1. That just means you do not know the difference between great and impactful. God you are a fucking disgrace. Hitler a “great man”, shit for brains. Probably a monolingual, ahistorical lib arts shitter or not even that.

                    1. There’s a difference between great, good and laudable. Alexander the Great was neither good nor laudable. Same with Napoleon or any number of European pests that history records.

                  2. bookmarked. will expose you with it.

          2. Also, at least you say you “assume” he didn’t predict it. If he did, it would probably be hard to find because the media loves to cancel guys like him. So there is that. Check your bias.

            1. “Also, at least you say you “assume” he didn’t predict it.”

              Of course I’m assuming, unlike other economists, he didn’t predict it. And I’m assuming you agree with me, but for whatever reason are loathe to admit as much in writing.

              1. There you go, wrong assumption already. I don’t agree with you, because I don’t know. You just make assumptions, like the one that I agree with you. Makes your other assumptions so much more credible.

                Exhibit A.

                1. “I don’t agree with you, because I don’t know. ”

                  If you don’t know, maybe you do agree with me, after all. That’s what I’m assuming.

                  1. I’m kinda done babysitting this persistent 16 year old, because he boringly repeats the same bs…

                    No, mwrongman, I don’t agree with you, because you are a dummy that makes assumptions out of thin air based on group extrapolations and tribal classifications like “economists” and “party line”, while I maintain critical thinking skills and therefore say I don’t know if Sowell predicted it. You said you assume he did not. See the difference?

                    1. Save the answer, I won’t respond. You are lamer than Tony, and with him, I occasionally have to use my brain to spot his fallacies.

      2. Thomas Sowell may not have predicted the date of The Great Recession, but as an Economist, he does fully understand incentives, both natural, voluntary, Free-Market incentives and perverse, coersive, tax-and-fiat-money-funded incentives.

        I’m sure he knows that The Community Reinvestment Act, FHA loans, and FDIC underwriting created the housing “bubble” and that it would eventually burst with massive unintended consequences. I’m he knows these ‘Stimulus’ checks are a “bubble” for all kinds of moral hazard shit behavior in the economy.

        The important question is never “if,” but “when.”..and “Will anyone be ready for what comes next?”

        1. “Thomas Sowell may not have predicted the date of The Great Recession,”

          This is also what I’m assuming. The biggest crisis to occur in his lifetime and it took him by surprise. Some genius.

          1. I think it might be better if we stop responding to this idiot trying to troll people by denying Sowells competencies. He is a nazi btw, he called hitler a great man: https://reason.com/video/2021/03/01/thomas-sowells-maverick-insights-on-race-economics-and-society/#comment-8788999

            mwrongman, you are butthurt because Sowell is just plain more successful and important than you. And so is probably every second person you meet. You are an unimportant troll.

            1. I’m just not as impressed by his grasp on economics are you apparently are. His completely missing out on the greatest disaster of his life is not the mark of a genius but of a plodder parroting those around him.

          2. And Lucy Van Pelt also trashed Schroeder’s love of Beethoven because: “He didn’t get to be King, did he? Huh? Huh??”

            Is this what you’d say about Thomas Sowell too?

            1. I’m assuming Sowell was taken by surprise by the biggest economic crisis of his career. Nobody here has refuted this.

      3. Did he predict the 2008 economic crisis? Some economists did, though I doubt Reason takes the trouble to interview them.

        Hey TrueDude, find me anyone who accurately predicted the crash. Here’s someone (the only one) who accurately predicted the ’08 crash, libertarian financial analyst Peter Schiff, interviewed in REASON!!! – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KG-VUYjofes. There’s plenty more just use search terms – Peter Schiff Reason magazine.

        Thomas Sowell is an academic economist not a market analyst like Schiff. They are two different jobs. Academic economists are not in the business of making market predictions, rather discovering general economic principles. Market analysts are the ones who make predictions. Libertarian market analysts have the best records.

  13. Go John! Go Nick!

  14. Oh, just wondering: Does anyone’s mind change about Thomas Sowell because he was a critic of Donald Trump?

    I’ll just stand back and watch Bugs Bunny and Sam Von Schmam the Hessian charge and change forts. 😉

    1. See, voting for Trump as the lesser evil and acknowledging Sowell as great takes like a split second to reconcile. If you like to watch dumb peoples reactions to cognitive dissonance, go to twitter.

      1. Oh, it happens here too. If you’re new here, you just wouldn’t believe… 🙂

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