Other than Ayn Rand, there’s a very special person who has greatly influenced my thinking and writing. That person is none other than the economist I frequently refer to- Thomas Sowell. This article is based on The Man of Letters which is a pun for great scholar but it is also a collection of his letters.
Thomas Sowell was born in 1930, he was adopted as an infant and lived in Harlem. He left his home when he was 16 and found a job at Washington at the age of 19. He was later drafted to participate in the Korean War, his status as a former marine allowed him to study in college thanks to the G. I. Bill. He initially studied at Howard University while he worked but he was later admitted to Harvard to study economics. He then went on to study his masters at Columbia and his PhD at Chicago.
Sowell was a Marxist before he started his PhD, he was fortunate enough to be taught under George Stigler and Milton Friedman but he remained Marxist until the civil rights movement began. His experience working in Washington and seeing the direction of civil rights movement to affirmative action slowly changed his former belief:
As a Negro, I feel that the Urban League’s Whitney M. Young is tragically wrong in his scheme for special treatment for Negroes, wrong not only tactically and morally, but wrong in terms of its probable effect on Negroes themselves. How can anyone seriously expect to develop initiative, respect for work and responsibility among people who are sought for good jobs, who receive ‘conscious preferment’ and other semantic evasions meaning special privileges? – October 6, 1963
At the same time, his former girlfriend, Audrey, who he kept in contact with became a leftist. They met up again and he triggered her when he asked “where the NAACP lawyers sent their own children to school?” They remained as frienemies even when Sowell was married in 1964. In 1968, Rockefeller Foundation created programmes to bring African students to elite colleges but their academic ability was way below other students. Seeing this disastrous phenomena, Sowell wrote to economist Bronfenbrenner at Carnegie:
White liberals are busy supplying the black community with corrupted individuals carrying false credentials- the kind of thing you do to your enemy in wartime. Just as no one is surprised when college athletes are over-represented in cheating scandals, because their very recruitment and maintenance are fundamentally dishonest and certainly non-intellectual, no one should be surprised when Negro students who are corruptly manoeuvred through college turn out to be corrupt college administrators and a major disaster to the interests of their students- June 8, 1968
The failure/reluctance to remove a disruptive student from his course ultimately led to Sowell resigning from Cornell. 1969 was the climax of the anti-intellectual movement, armed African students stormed the campus taking hostages and Cornell caved in. This made Sowell doubt if he wants to remain in academia but a new opportunity opened up at Brandeis, Sowell later wrote a letter to be published at New York Times, giving him and other African critics of Cornell to testify against the PC president, the race card was discarded for a while.
At 1970, Sowell met another great economist- Walter E. Williams, who looks up to him because they share the same view on the state of race relation in the country. In the same year, Sowell moved to California to teach at UCLA. He continued his teaching while planning for his first book Race and Economics. He also received an attractive offer at Stanford University but he ultimately turned down the offer due to his fear of being dragged into the violence protests on campus. One thing he did worthy of note was that he protested the preferential treatment of African students at Harvard Medical School:
What sort of grotesque situation have we talked ourselves into when promising pre-med students are passed over in favor of “high risk” student? The term “high risk” has particularly grim overtones in a field where today’s student will tomorrow have lives in their hands. Would you want your children to be operated on by the people you are accepting or the people you are rejecting for having outstanding qualifications? – June 4, 1973
Sowell moved back to California and divorced his first wife. He became an influential force in the academic world with frequent trips to the White House, but with very little actual influence on the policies of the Ford administration. In 1976, Sowell published one of his most important book Knowledge and Decision on the negative effect of the intelligentsia affecting the government. The success of the book gave him the recognition and funding he needed to advance his career.
In 1981, Sowell remarried and took on a part time job writing bi-weekly column for Washington Post. Sowell wrote his famous controversial columns on “colourism” within the African communities which caused progressives to explode. This was later reiterated in his other works such as Black Rednecks and White Liberals. In the meantime, Sowell has been planning a “Black Alternative” conference to unite the people who are against affirmative actions, though the attacks by the intelligentsia proved successful to prevent the conference from taking place. Progressive attacks grew strong and rhetoric is becoming common discourse, Sowell wrote some witty response to these intelligentsia:
Dear Ms. ******: I would be fascinated to see the “clear proof ‘ that “exploitation” (meaning what?) both exists and is responsible for the poverty of the Third World. For years I have looked in vain for this
evidence, reading reams of Marxist rhetoric and liberal moralizing in hopes of finding some factual needle in the verbal haystack. You can save an old man a lot of needless work if you will send me the “clear proof ‘ you have found.- May 27, 1981
Sowell published his book Ethnic America the same year, he went on various TV shows to promote the book, but he also experienced the irresponsibility of the media in misinforming the facts and misinterpret him. They even harassed his secretary Beverly as a way to sabotage him, though his strategy was to provide an answering to filter the calls.
1984 was the year when Sowell published his major work Conflict of Visions which discussed how two types of views are employed by people to view the world. He gave yet another amazing interview for his work in the same year:
In 1987, Sowell published his essay on a woman named Leanita McClain who committed suicide in 1984 due to criticism from race leaders for being independent of racially segregated organisations and condescension from the progressive Caucasians, which was something that remained as one of his regrets for not reaching out to her sooner to let her know she was not alone.
The Anita Hill scandal came out in 1991 which saddened Sowell, but nonetheless he was proud of how Clarence Thomas handled the situation. It however, brought him to the attention of judicial activism which distorted justice as in the case of Roe V. Wade and Plannaed Parenthood V. Casey. On immigration, Sowell is wary of the militancy of the Hispanic movement which failed to let the people integrate thus remain in poverty for generations, but nonetheless, immigration could be good. Occasionally readers would write to Sowell to ask him to run for public office but he would always decline politely.
In the 2000s, Sowell retired but more issues happened such as the September 11th terrorist attack, housing regulations, gun control and misconceptions about pharmaceutical companies kept him working at home. Sowell received a Humanities Medal in 2003 as well as an award from the Bradley Foundation. Sowell also grew wary of publications such as The Economist deteriorating as well as Republicans jumping on the Democratic bandwagon of attracting minority votes. Thomas Sowell continues to publish books and his memory is sharp as a sword. The world was a better place now thanks to him. He will continue to help us get through the tough times.
Other facts about Sowell:
- He can read German and French
- He is interested in photography
- He is a Dallas Cowboys fan
His amazing quotes:
- Scratch an ultra-liberal and you’ll find a bigot underneath
- Envy plus rhetoric equals social justice
- Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.
- I have never understood why it is “greed” to want to keep the money you have earned but not greed to want to take somebody else’s money.
- When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.
- Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.
- The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.
- The problem isn’t that Johnny can’t read. The problem isn’t even that Johnny can’t think. The problem is that Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.
- Can you cite one speck of hard evidence of the benefits of “diversity” that we have heard gushed about for years? Evidence of its harm can be seen — written in blood — from Iraq to India, from Serbia to Sudan, from Fiji to the Philippines. It is scary how easily so many people can be brainwashed by sheer repetition of a word.
- Since this is an era when many people are concerned about ‘fairness’ and ‘social justice,’ what is your ‘fair share’ of what someone else has worked for?
- Rhetoric is no substitute for reality.
Official Website: www.tsowell.com/