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Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
Born (1930-06-30) June 30, 1930
Gastonia, North Carolina, U.S.
Nationality American
School or tradition
Chicago School of Economics
Alma mater
Military career
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch  U.S. Marine Corps
Battles/wars Korean War

Thomas Sowell (; born June 30, 1930) is an American economist, social theorist, political philosopher, and author.

He is currently Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Sowell was born in North Carolina, but grew up in Harlem, New York. He dropped out of high school and served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War. He received a bachelor's degree, graduating magna cum laude[3] from Harvard University in 1958 and a master's degree from Columbia University in 1959. In 1968, he 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 for think tanks such as the Urban Institute. Since 1980, he has worked at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He writes from a conservative and classical liberal perspective, advocating free market economics, and has written more than thirty books. He is a National Humanities Medal recipient.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career 2
  • Writings 3
    • Books 3.1
    • Books on economics 3.2
    • Books on other subjects 3.3
    • Columns 3.4
  • Reception 4
  • Legacy and honors 5
  • Personal life 6
  • Career highlights 7
  • Books by Sowell 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12

Early life and education

Sowell was born into an African-American family in Gastonia, North Carolina, near the border with South Carolina. His father died shortly before he was born, and his mother, a housemaid, already had four children. A great-aunt and her two grown daughters adopted Sowell and raised him.[4] 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.[5] When Sowell was nine, his family moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to Harlem, New York City as part of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North for greater opportunities. 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.[4]

Sowell held a number of positions, including one at a machine shop and another as a delivery man for Western Union,[6] and he tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948.[7] He was drafted into the military in 1951, during the Korean War, and was assigned to the United States Marine Corps. Because of his experience in photography, Sowell became a Marine Corps photographer; he also trained Marines in .45 pistol proficiency.[4]


After his discharge, Sowell worked a civil service job in Washington, D.C. 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.[4][8] He earned a Master's degree from Columbia University the following year.[8]

Sowell has said that he was a Marxist "during the decade of my 20s"; one of his earliest professional publications was a sympathetic examination of Marxist thought vs. Marxist–Leninist practice.[9] 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.[10]

Sowell received a Nobel Prize in Economics). When he learned that Stigler had moved to the University of Chicago, he followed him there.[12]

In 1969 Sowell was teaching at Cornell University. He witnessed the violent takeover by black Cornell students of Willard Straight Hall, an action which he opposed. Thirty years later, Sowell characterized the students as "hoodlums" with "serious academic problems [and] admitted under lower academic standards", and defended the university and surrounding area from allegations of widespread racism.[13]

Sowell has taught economics at Howard University, Rutgers, Cornell, Brandeis University, Amherst College, and UCLA. 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.[8][14] In addition, Sowell appeared several times on William F. Buckley's show Firing Line, during which he discussed the economics of race and privatization.[15]

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 judicial activism, a concept that Bork opposed, "has not been beneficial to minorities."[16]

Sowell is the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute, Stanford University. In a review of a 1987 book, Larry D. Nachman in Commentary magazine described Sowell as a leading representative of the Chicago school of economics.[17]


Sowell is both a syndicated columnist and an academic economist, whose column is distributed by Creators Syndicate. Themes of Sowell's writing range from social policy on race, ethnic groups, education and decision-making, to classical and Marxist economics, to the problems of children perceived as having disabilities.

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".[18] He primarily writes on economic subjects, generally advocating a free market approach to capitalism.[19] Sowell opposes the Federal Reserve, arguing that it has been unsuccessful in preventing economic depressions and limiting inflation.[20]

Sowell also writes on racial topics and is a critic of affirmative action and race-based quotas.[21][22] On the topic of affirmative action, Sowell has stated it's "one of the few policies that can be said to harm virtually every group in a different way … Obviously, whites and Asians lose out when you have preferential admission for black students or Hispanic students—but blacks and Hispanics lose out because what typically happens is the students who have all the credentials to succeed in college are admitted to colleges where the standards are so much higher that they fail."[23] 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.

Sowell occasionally writes on the subject of gun control, about which he has stated: "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."[24]


Sowell's bestselling books include:

  • Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy
  • Black Rednecks and White Liberals (2005), a collection of essays challenging stereotypes about race and education.[25]
  • Intellectuals and Society (2010), defines intellectuals as influential but unaccountable "idea workers".
  • Intellectuals and Race (2013)

Books on economics

Sowell has also written a trilogy of books on ideologies and political positions, including A Conflict of Visions, where he speaks about the origins of political strife; The Vision of the Anointed, where he compares the conservative/libertarian and liberal/progressive worldviews; and The Quest for Cosmic Justice, where, like in many of his other writings, he outlines his thesis of the need for intellectuals, politicians and leaders to fix and perfect the world in utopian, and ultimately he posits, disastrous fashions. Separate from the trilogy, but also in discussion of the subject, he wrote Intellectuals and Society, where he discusses what he argues to be the blind hubris and follies of intellectuals in a variety of areas, building on his earlier work.

Sowell challenges the notion that black progress is due to progressive government programs or policies, 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 book Black Rednecks and White Liberals.

In Affirmative Action Around the World[26] Sowell holds that affirmative action covers most of the American population, particularly women, and has long since ceased to favor blacks.

Sowell described his serious study of Karl Marx in his autobiography. He opposes Marxism, providing a critique in his book Marxism: Philosophy and Economics.

Sowell also favors decriminalization of all drugs.[27]

Books on other subjects

In Intellectuals and Race, Sowell argues that IQ gaps are hardly startling or unusual between, or within, ethnic groups. 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.

Sowell wrote The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late, a follow-up to his Late-Talking Children. This book investigates the phenomenon of late-talking children, frequently misdiagnosed with autism or pervasive developmental disorder. He includes the research of—among others—Professor Stephen Camarata, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University and Professor Steven Pinker, Ph.D., of Harvard University in this overview of a poorly understood developmental trait. It is a trait which he says affected many historical figures. He discusses late-talkers who developed prominent careers, such as physicists Albert Einstein, Edward Teller and Richard Feynman; mathematician Julia Robinson; and musicians Arthur Rubenstein 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. Sowell disagrees with Simon Baron-Cohen's speculation that Einstein may have had Asperger syndrome (see also people speculated to have been autistic).


Sowell has a nationally syndicated column distributed by Creators Syndicate that is published in Forbes magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and major newspapers, as well as online on websites such as Townhall, WorldNetDaily, OneNewsNow and the Jewish World Review.[28]

Sowell comments on current issues he considers to be problematic, which include liberal media bias;[29] judicial activism (while defending originalism);[30][31][32][33][34] partial birth abortion;[35] the minimum wage; socializing health care; government undermining of familial autonomy; affirmative action; government[36] bureaucracy; gun control;[24] militancy in U.S. foreign policy; the U.S. war on drugs, and multiculturalism.[37]

In a Townhall editorial, "The Bush Legacy," Sowell assessed President [38]


Reviewing Sowell's 1984 book Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?, University of Chicago sociologist William Julius Wilson said that Sowell did not explore "reasonable alternative explanations and hypotheses" in his critiques of affirmative action. For instance, regarding Sowell's theory that women are underrepresented in fields such as law and engineering because of the heavy responsibilities of marriage (such as childrearing and other household work), Wilson wrote: "A plausible alternative to Mr. Sowell's hypothesis on women's pay differentials and occupational segregation is that women are virtually excluded from many desirable positions and therefore crowd into obtainable occupations."[39]

Sowell since has written about affirmative action in an international context to address such criticisms in his books Preferential Policies and Affirmative Action Around the World. He has discussed pay differentials and occupational segregation in Economic Facts and Fallacies.

In 2004, The Economist magazine praised Sowell's book Affirmative Action Around the World as "terse, well argued and utterly convincing" and "crammed with striking anecdotes and statistics"[40] and his Economic Facts and Fallacies by the following: "Mr Sowell marshals his arguments with admirable clarity and authority. There is not a chapter in which he does not produce a statistic that both surprises and overturns received wisdom."[41]

Legacy and honors

In 1990, Sowell won the Francis Boyer Award, presented by the independent American Enterprise Institute. In 1998 he received the Sydney Hook Award from the National Association of Scholars.[42] In 2002, Sowell was awarded the National Humanities Medal for prolific scholarship melding history, economics, and political science. In 2003, he was awarded the Bradley Prize for intellectual achievement.[43] In 2004 he was given a Lysander Spooner Award for his book Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One.[44] In 2008, getAbstract awarded his book Economic Facts and Fallacies with its International Book Award.

Personal life

Sowell kept secretive about his personal life. Very little is known about his family today. His first wife is Alma Jean Parr and the couple later divorced. He married again in the 1980s.[45] Allegedly he has at least two children.[46][47]

Career highlights

  • Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, September 1980–present
  • Professor of Economics, UCLA, July 1974 – June 1980
  • Visiting Professor of Economics, Amherst College, September–December 1977
  • Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, April–August 1977
  • Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, July 1976 – March 1977
  • Project Director, The Urban Institute, August 1972 – July 1974
  • Associate Professor of Economics, UCLA, September 1970 – June 1972
  • Associate Professor of Economics, Brandeis University, September 1969 – June 1970
  • Assistant Professor of Economics, Cornell University, September 1965 – June 1969[13]
  • Economic Analyst, American Telephone & Telegraph Co., June 1964 – August 1965
  • Lecturer in Economics, Howard University, September 1963 – June 1964
  • Instructor in Economics, Douglass College, Rutgers University, September 1962 – June 1963
  • Labor Economist, U.S. Department of Labor, June 1961 – August 1962

Books by Sowell

  • 1972. Say's Law: A Historical Analysis. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04166-0
  • 1975. Race and Economics. David McKay Company Inc, ISBN 0-679-30262-X
  • 1980. Knowledge and Decisions. Basic Books.
  • 1981. Markets and Minorities. Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-04399-2
  • 1981. Ethnic America: A History. Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-02074-7
  • 1983. The Economics and Politics of Race. William Morrow, ISBN 0-688-01891-2
  • 1984. Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality? William Morrow, ISBN 0-688-03113-7
  • 1985. Marxism: Philosophy and Economics. Quill, ISBN 0-688-06426-4
  • 1986. Education: Assumptions Versus History. Hoover Press, ISBN 0-8179-8112-8
  • 1987. Compassion Versus Guilt and Other Essays. William Morrow, ISBN 0-688-07114-7
  • 1987. A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. William Morrow, ISBN 0-688-06912-6
  • 1990. Preferential Policies: An International Perspective, ISBN 0-688-08599-7
  • 1993. Inside American Education, ISBN 0-7432-5408-2
  • 1993. Is Reality Optional? ISBN 978-0817992620
  • 1995. Race and Culture: A World View. Description & chapter previews. ISBN 0-465-06796-4
  • 1995. The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation As a Basis for Social Policy. Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-08995-X
  • 1996. Migrations and Cultures: A World View, ISBN 0-465-04589-8 OCLC 41748039
  • 1998. Conquests and Cultures: An International History, ISBN 0-465-01400-3
  • 2002. The Quest For Cosmic Justice, ISBN 0-684-86463-0
  • 2002. A Personal Odyssey, ISBN 0-684-86465-7
  • 2002. Controversial Essays, ISBN 0-8179-2992-4
  • 2002. The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late, ISBN 0-465-08141-X
  • 2003. Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One, ISBN 0-465-08143-6
  • 2004. Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy, revised and expanded ed. Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-08145-2 (1st ed. 2000)
  • 2004.  
  • 2005.  
  • 2006. On Classical Economics. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press. 2006.  
  • 2006. Ever Wonder Why? And Other Controversial Essays. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.  
  • 2007. A Man of Letters. San Francisco: Encounter Books.  
  • 2007. Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy (3rd ed.). Cambridge, Mass: Perseus Books Group.  
  • 2007. Economic Facts and Fallacies. Basic Books.  
  • 2008. Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One (2nd ed.). Basic Books.  
  • 2009.  
  • 2010.  
  • 2010. Dismantling America. Basic Books.  
  • 2010. Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy (4th ed.). Cambridge, Mass: Perseus Books Group.  
  • 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. 

See also


  1. ^ Phaneuf, Emile (December 5, 2013). "Sowell's Visions".  
  2. ^ Sailer, Steve (2002-10-30). "Q&A with Steven Pinker, author of The Blank Slate".  
  3. ^ "Thomas Sowell Articles – Political Columnist & Commentator". 
  4. ^ a b c d Graglia, Nino A. (Winter 2001). "Profile in courage". Hoover Institution Newsletter. Hoover Institution. Archived from the original on September 9, 2005. 
  5. ^ Sowell, A Personal Odyssey, p. 6.
  6. ^ Sowell, A Personal Odyssey, pp. 47, 58, 59, 62.
  7. ^ Nordlinger, Jay (February 21, 2011), "A lion in high summer: Thomas Sowell, charging ahead" (PDF), National Review: 43–45 
  8. ^ a b c d Sowell, Thomas. "Curriculum vita". Retrieved January 6, 2011. 
  9. ^ Sowell, Thomas (1963). "Karl Marx and the Freedom of the Individual", Ethics 73:2, p 120.
  10. ^ Elizabeth, Mary (1999-11-10). "Black and right". Retrieved 2010-04-06. 
  11. ^ Sowell, Thomas (1968), Say's Law and the General Glut Controversy (Ph.D. dissertation), University of Chicago 
  12. ^ "Charlie Rose – September 15, 1995". Retrieved 2010-04-06. 
  13. ^ a b Sowell, Thomas (1999-05-03). "The Day Cornell Died". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved February 25, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Thomas Sowell". Hoover Institution. Retrieved January 6, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Sowell on Firing Line". Hoover Institution. 
  16. ^ Greenhouse, Linda (September 26, 1987). "Legal Establishment Divided Over Bork Nomination". The New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2011.  Video of Sowell's testimony at C-SPAN
  17. ^ Larry D. Nachman, " 'A Conflict of Visions,' by Thomas Sowell", Commentary, March 1987.
  18. ^ Sawhill R. (1999) "Black and Right: Thomas Sowell Talks About the Arrogance of Liberal Elites and the Loneliness of the Black Conservative." Accessed May 6, 2007.
  19. ^ "Thomas Sowell". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  20. ^ "Thomas Sowell: Federal Reserve a ‘Cancer’". Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  21. ^ "". Retrieved 2010-04-06. 
  22. ^ "". Retrieved 2010-04-06. 
  23. ^ Beamon, Todd. "'"Thomas Sowell to Newsmax: GOP Outreach to Blacks 'Most Unpromising. Newsmax. Retrieved 4 December 2013. 
  24. ^ a b "Do Gun Control Laws Control Guns?". Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  25. ^ "Black Rednecks & White Liberals". Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  26. ^ Sowell, Thomas (2004-10-30). "Affirmative Action around the World | Hoover Institution". Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  27. ^ Sowell, Thomas (1987); Compassion Versus Guilt, and Other Essays; ISBN 0-688-07114-7.
  28. ^ "Thomas Sowell". 2009-11-06. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  29. ^ "Thomas Sowell, Conservative, Political News". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  30. ^ "Judicial Activism Reconsidered". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  31. ^ "Thomas Sowell, Conservative, Political News". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  32. ^ "Thomas Sowell, Conservative, Political News". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  33. ^ "Conservative Columnists and Political Commentary". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  34. ^ "Thomas Sowell, Conservative, Political News". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  35. ^ Sowell, Thomas. "Thomas Sowell : 'Partial truth' abortion". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  36. ^ "getAbstract International Book Award". getAbstract. Retrieved July 22, 2011. 
  37. ^ "The Cult of Multiculturalism". National Review Online. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  38. ^ Thomas Sowell (16 January 2009). "The Bush Legacy". 
  39. ^ Wilson, William Julius (June 24, 1984). "Hurting the Disadvantaged". The New York Times. Retrieved January 5, 2011. 
  40. ^ "Advantages for the advantaged". The Economist 371 (8380): 83. June 19, 2004 
  41. ^ "A black and white case". The Economist. January 3, 2008. Retrieved July 22, 2011. 
  42. ^ Jim Nelson Black (2004). "Freefall of the American university". Nashville WND Books.
  43. ^ Thomas Sowell. "Hoover Institution – Fellows – Thomas Sowell". Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  44. ^ Hoover Fellow Thomas Sowell Receives Lysander Spooner Award for Applied Economics".""". Manta. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  45. ^ "Thomas Sowell Facts". Retrieved 2015-10-20. 
  46. ^ "Thomas Sowell Facts, information, pictures | articles about Thomas Sowell". Retrieved 2015-10-20. 
  47. ^ "Sowell, Thomas, 1930- - Credo Reference". Retrieved 2015-10-20. 

Further reading

  • Kwong, Jo (2008). "Sowell, Thomas". In  

External links

  • Thomas Sowell's home page
  • Thomas Sowell Features at Creators Syndicate
  • Column archive at
  • Archive of Articles by Thomas Sowell at
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
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