From his base at California’s Stanford University Hoover Institution, Thomas Sowell authored a series of thoughtful books, wrote a nationally syndicated column, and often appeared on television. In a 2016 column headlined “Farewell,” the 86-year-old economist pledged to “spend less time following politics and more time on my photography.”
Back in 2016, Sowell endorsed Ted Cruz and blasted Donald Trump as an “overgrown spoiled brat.” But when Sowell reemerged in 2019, it wasn’t President Trump he found alarming.
“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.”
Sowell 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 fellow 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, and Affirmative Action Around the World. Sowell’s conservative economics and criticism of affirmative action have drawn vicious attacks from the left.
Columnist Carl Rowan compared Sowell to Norwegian traitor Vidkun Quisling. Lani Guinier, a Clinton nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, even questioned Sowell’s blackness. The economist, raised in Harlem, does not generally respond in kind, but this time he shot back, “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. 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, Sowell explains, 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, their client states in Eastern Europe and Cuba, and now in formerly prosperous Venezuela.
Asked about democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sowell said, “If they go by rhetoric, she’s a rising star.” With willful ignorance about socialism again 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” column, “let us hope that we can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.”
Readers can learn from the past in Sowell’s many books, including the 1985 Marxism: Philosophy and Economics. And as Sowell explained on Fox Business, everybody needs to “test ideas against facts.”