Return of the Sowell Man
The best economist is black, and he’s back in the battle.
“Even the best things come to an end,” wrote Thomas Sowell in a December, 2016, column headlined “Farewell.” At the age of 86, the great economist had decided to stop writing his column and “spend less time following politics and more time on my photography.” Since then, Sowell has been rather quiet, but current political trends have prompted him to re-emerge.
“Socialism is a wonderful sounding idea,” Sowell recently told Fox Business. “It’s only as a reality that it’s disastrous.” A former Marxist, Sowell began to see the difference between reality and rhetoric. “When you see people starving in Venezuela and fleeing in the neighboring countries and realize that this is a country that once had the world’s largest oil reserves, you realize that that’ve ruined a really good prospect with ideas that sounded good but didn’t turn out well.”
Those who wonder who this guy is might take a cue from NBA great Charles Barkley, who in 2000 quipped that “the best rapper out there is white and the best golfer is black.” As it happens, the best economist is also black, and his name is Thomas Sowell. He dropped out of high school and served as a photographer in the Marines during the Korean War. He was the first in his family to attend college and earned a BA from Harvard, a master’s from Columbia and a PhD from the University of Chicago.
The Hoover Institution scholar has probed the world of ideas in books such as Basic Economics, Economic Facts and Fallacies, and Wealth, Poverty and Politics. He is also the author of The Economics and Politics of Race, Ethnic America, Affirmative Action Around the World, and the 1985 Marxism: Philosophy and Economics. Sowell’s conservative economics and criticism of affirmative action have drawn vicious attacks from the left.
Columnist Carl Rowan compared Sowell to Vidkun Quisling and NAACP general counsel Thomas Atkins called him one of the “house niggers” on the plantation. Lani Guinier, a Clinton nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, even questioned Sowell’s blackness. The economist, who was raised in Harlem, does not generally respond in kind, but he was justified to say “I don’t need some half-white woman from Martha’s Vineyard telling me about being black.” Sowell also kept on writing thoughtful, well-researched books such as the 2013 Intellectuals and Race, more relevant than ever with leftists smearing all rivals as racists.
Sowell shows how supposedly “progressive” intellectuals championed eugenics out of fear of the “inferior” races. For progressive sociologist Edward Ross, black Americans were “several million of an inferior race.” Madison Grant, a progressive activist educated at Yale and Columbia, penned The Passing of the Great Race, which Hitler called his “bible.” Author Jack London, a socialist, held that “the inferior races must undergo destruction, or some humane form of economic slavery is inevitable.”
On the correlation between skin color and intelligence, Sowell quotes a tenth-century Muslim scholar who charged that Europeans grow paler the farther north you go, and that the “farther north the more stupid, gross and brutish they are.”
In the view of the current “race industry,” whites who outperform blacks are simply unjust beneficiaries of past discrimination. Likewise, Asians who outperform blacks and Hispanics are beneficiaries of “privilege.” Sowell shows how diversity dogma generally ignores discrimination against Asians and Jews, high achievers despite centuries of persecution in many countries.
At the same time, the intellectuals of the left “pay no price for being wrong, no matter how wrong, or with what catastrophic consequences for millions of other people.” That dynamic was on display in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, where socialist Bernie Sanders chose to celebrate his honeymoon, and the Soviet client states in Eastern Europe and Cuba, an all-white Stalinist dictatorship. The American left championed them all, and they now keep the faith as Venezuela’s socialist regime starves and oppresses the people, who flee by the millions.
Sowell, who turns 89 this year, knows that socialism is guaranteed to wreck America. He is troubled by the fathomless ignorance of “rising star” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow Democrat socialists. The great economist may be back in the fight, like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, but unlike Victor Laszlo, Sowell is not sure we will win this time.
With willful ignorance, intolerance and bad ideas on the rise, Sowell has “a great fear that, in the long run, we may not make it.” On the other hand, as he said in his 2016 “Farewell” article, “let us hope that we can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.”
To that end, everybody should get to know Thomas Sowell, whose books on economics, race and affirmative action, should be part of high-school and college curricula across the nation. If we are going to have a better present and future, as Sowell explained on Fox Business, everybody will have to “test ideas against facts.”