Thomas Sowell

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If you believe in equal rights, then what do ‘women's rights,’ ‘gay rights,’ etc., mean? Either they are redundant or they are violations of the principle of equal rights for all.
—Thomas Sowell, civil rights expert[1]

Thomas Sowell (born 1930) is an American libertarian economist and advocate of supply-side economics. A senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Sowell studied under Chicago school economist Milton Friedman.[note 1] Sowell is also well known for his commentaries and analysis on politics, education, culture, and other topics in the humanities. His sharp, no-punches-pulled rhetoric has gained him a cult-like following in conservative and libertarian circles. Expect to see YouTube videos of his interviews and commentary posted in comments sections.

Personal background, education, and career[edit]

Born into a poverty-stricken black family during the Great Depression, Sowell became sympathetic to Marxism as a young adult. In a 1999 interview with Salon.com, Sowell said: "Through the decade of my 20s, I was a Marxist."[2] After serving in the U.S. Marines during the Korean War, he became a civil servant for the U.S. federal government while attending night classes at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C. With good recommendations from professors, Sowell transferred to Harvard University and completed a bachelor's in economics there.

After graduating from Harvard, Sowell was a labor economist at the U.S. Department of Labor from 1961 to 1962.[3] Sowell says that his economic position began to move towards laissez-faire around 1960, after he studied minimum wage laws in Puerto Rico as an intern for the federal government: "It was painfully clear that as they pushed up minimum wage levels, which they did at that time industry by industry, the employment levels were falling."[2]

He later completed his master's in the same subject at Columbia University and his doctorate at the University of Chicago.[4] At Chicago, Sowell studied under George Stigler and Milton Friedman, who are known for being in the Chicago school of economics. Sowell's doctoral thesis is titled Say's law and the general glut controversy.[5]

Sowell taught economics at various colleges and universities in the '60s and '70s, including Howard, Cornell, Brandeis, UCLA, and Amherst. He has described his experiences in academia as having clashes with administration over grading policies and affirmative action.[4] In 1980, Sowell stopped teaching economics to become a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, having previously served in this position in 1977. He was also an executive at the Urban Institute from 1972 to 1974, and a fellow at Stanford's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences from 1976 to 1977.[3]

In 2002, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded Sowell with the National Humanities Medal.[6]

Viewpoints[edit]

Criticism of Black Culture in America[edit]

Sowell has often blamed black subculture in America (e.g., "gangster rap") for the disadvantages that black Americans currently face. He has asserted that black Americans are marked by "laziness, promiscuity, violence, bad English", and that this comes primarily from imitating rednecks and their degenerate Celtic (Scots-Irish) culture.[7] Sowell claims that these cultural problems and the emergence of the 'welfare state' explain modern black disadvantages better than appeals to historical injustices like slavery, segregation, and so on.

Sowell has also regularly condemned the efforts of the US government to support the so-called "black rednecks" through, for example, the provision of food and education, since he regards this as having increased their dependency on government, whilst eliminating any incentive for black people in America to improve themselves and their culture.[8] Sowell has also criticised Affirmative action policies toward black people in America along similar lines, though also arguing that they have failed to deliver the results anticipated by advocates.[9]

Hitler-Obama Comparison[edit]

Sowell has compared Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, saying that the similarities were obvious when Barack Obama created a relief fund for the BP oil spill.[10] He claimed that this was symptomatic of socialism, since it involved the extraction of "vast sums of money from a private enterprise."[note 2] Another comparison he made between the two is that they were both supported by the sheeple, another sign the United States was slipping towards totalitarianism.

In another article Sowell labels Obama a fascist. An example he gives of Obama's allegedly fascistic economics is that under Obama a law passed that would "arbitrarily force insurance companies to cover the children of their customers until the children are 26 years old".[11][12]

Iraq war[edit]

Despite his libertarian leanings, Sowell supported the War in Iraq along with the notion of preemptive strikes.[13] Despite covering military interventionism favourably in his book Intellectuals and Society, Sowell neglected to address the 2003 Iraq War.

Sowell also believes that Obama and Congress' supposed weakness in dealing with Iran could inspire Iran to develop nuclear weapons. More controversially, Sowell has expressed the belief that Iran could launch nuclear attacks against America in the future, which would likely result in the US surrendering to Iran.[14]

Global warming[edit]

Sowell is also a global warming denier, believing it to be a manufactured controversy set up in part by academics who want research grants.[15] Some anti-environmentalist snarl words show up in his writings as well, such as "green crusaders." Another anti-environmentalist trope shows up in his writing when he expresses the nutty belief that Rachel Carson's criticisms of DDT led to bans on DDT that killed millions because it couldn't be used to fight malaria, even though there were exceptions to the "bans" explicitly for fighting malaria.[16] Despite this he claims that "there has not been a mass murderer executed in the past half-century who has been responsible for as many deaths of human beings as the sainted Rachel Carson."[17]

Pseudohistory[edit]

For years now Sowell has been a leading activist in "New Deal denialism," believing it worsened the economy and that the stock market crash didn't cause as high unemployment as government intervention in the economy.[18] Sowell is also critical of the Federal Reserve, minimum wage and the Great Society, accusing the latter of being a conspiracy to encourage welfare dependency amongst blacks.[note 3] He has danced around the idea of reinstituting the gold standard, not opposing it (so as to not upset libertarians) but not outright supporting it either (as to not be discredited by sane economists), though just the fact that he treats it like a credible idea makes it difficult to take him seriously as an economist.[19]

Utter inanity[edit]

And as if all that isn't enough he's published some borderline insane articles about how "half-educated teachers" engage in "soul raping" children into becoming "true believers" (though he was invoking the specific words of Eric Hoffer with the last two quotes, though in a twisted way that served his hard-right beliefs).[20]

Segregation[edit]

Sowell has written a column appearing to support segregation in public schools, saying black kids do better in their own schools. He gave an example of one black high school in Washington, D.C., that was forced by the government to integrate after the Brown v. Board decision. He said in the article that "Dunbar High School was a living refutation of that assumption" that racially segregated schools were inherently unequal. This reeks of cherrypicking and correlation does not equal causation, despite Sowell's alleged commitment to empiricism, as Sowell is basically saying "this one school had higher graduation rates before integration, therefore segregation isn't a bad thing!"[21]

The reasonable[edit]

Sowell has done some important critiques of Marxist economics and trickle-down economics, the latter of which he considers a poor representation of supply-side.[22] Some of the more legitimate critiques he made of Keynesianism (along with Friedman and Friedrich Hayek) helped Keynesian economists adjust their policies in a more efficient way. He also supports the decriminalization of drugs.[23]

Sowell is also strongly critical of racialism.[24] Of course, he goes on to say that it was only the left that was pushing the notion of genetic superiority (in the Progressive Era, specifically).[25] This is essentially ignoring most of American history, as well as blatant instances of right-wing uses of scientific racism, such as by the nativist movement, the Nazis, and the segregationists.

Sowell has also criticized the anti-vaccination movement: "In a categorical sense, nothing on the face of the earth is 100 percent safe — including going unvaccinated. But the claim that vaccines cause autism has been discredited by evidence." In the same article, Sowell alleged that the definition of autism was manipulated because of "financial incentives" for children to receive government-subsidized treatment, citing the work of Vanderbilt professor Stephen Camarata, author of the book Late-Talking Children.[26]

In 2008, Sowell wrote a column titled "An Internet fraud", in response to a chain email mis-attributing to him an essay that accused Barack Obama of not being a U.S. citizen. "Making something up is a confession of both intellectual and moral bankruptcy," Sowell concluded.[27][28] That chain email is merely part of a longtime phenomenon that advances conservative ideology through spreading hoax information via chain emails, a topic Sowell could have easily tackled in his column further in depth.[29]

Having played baseball in his youth, Sowell sometimes writes about the sport in his columns and even uses baseball analogies when discussing political or economic topics.[28]

Opposition to Donald Trump (February-November 2016)[edit]

In the 2016 presidential election, Sowell opposed the Republican candidacy of Donald Trump. Sowell wrote, for a special issue of National Review on February 15, 2016: "...after seven years of repeated disasters, both domestically and internationally, under a glib egomaniac in the White House, so many potential voters are turning to another glib egomaniac to be his successor." Sowell also snuck in a comparison to Hitler.[30] Two months later, Sowell said that Trump's "constantly spouting off with irresponsible rhetoric" would reduce international confidence in the U.S. presidency in dealing with terrorist threats.[31] Later that month, Sowell wrote: "A smorgasbord of political positions — none of them indicating any serious thought about complicated issues — is not a principle. Nor is cheering for himself and boasting about all the great things he is going to do as President."[32]

"Partly this was due to the media's obsession with Donald Trump. But the public shares responsibility for the triumph of glitter over substance, because polls repeatedly showed that the public was far more attracted to the glitter," said Sowell in explaining the popularity of Trump.[33] Sowell also blamed the "Republican establishment, whose serial betrayals of their supporters created the setting for a Donald Trump to arise."[34]

Defence of Donald Trump (October 2016-present)[edit]

Two weeks before the 2016 election, Sowell said that Trump was the lesser of two bad choices: "Neither the media nor Congressional Republicans would automatically spring to his defense if he overstepped the line. His impeachability may be his most important asset in a year of painful choices."[35] (That statement aged poorly in 2019.) In contrast, Sowell said that Hillary Clinton would not be as impeachable because "any criticism of her, much less any impeachment, would bring loud howls from the media across the country that ugly sexist bias was behind any opposition to anything she did — no matter how awful."[35] (Without regard to what happened to the other Clinton or the fact that The New York Times published numerous stories raising FUD about Hillary Clinton in the years leading up to the election.)[36] In a column published on election day, Sowell wrote: "...neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump has the qualifications, the track record or the personal character to be President of the United States." Sowell also called Trump "a 70-year-old adolescent" and criticized Trump's position on eminent domain: "Donald Trump seems to think that it is OK for the government to seize someone else's home and turn the property over to him, so that he can build something — without having to pay what it would cost him to buy the home." Yet he went on to defend Trump as having "no...ideological agenda" regarding Supreme Court nominees and predicting (again, only half right) that Trump "can be impeached if he oversteps the bounds, without either the Republicans or the media screaming loud protests."[37]

In 2018, when asked on his thoughts of Trump's presidency, Sowell replied "I think he's better than the previous president." [38][dead link] In March 2019, Sowell commented on the public's response to mainstream media's allegations that Trump was a "racist": "What's tragic is that there's so many people out there who simply respond to words rather than ask themselves "Is what this person says true? How can I check it?" And so on." [39] One month later, Sowell again defended Trump against media charges of "racism"."I've seen no hard evidence,” Sowell said of the racism complaint lobbed at Trump. “And, unfortunately, we’re living in a time where no one expects hard evidence. You just repeat some familiar words and people will react pretty much the way Pavlov’s dog was conditioned to react to certain sounds."[40]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Indeed, his official title at the Hoover Institution is the "Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy." See their Thomas Sowell bio.
  2. Because a $50 billion bill for a company with an annual revenue of nearly $400 billion is "vast sums of money." (Ignoring externalities, eh?)
  3. Yes, providing the same benefits that whites have had for 100+ years for the first time, then gutting them over the course of 30 can give that impression. (Blame the victim much?)

References[edit]

  1. Twitter[a w]
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sawhill, Ray. "Black and right." Salon.com: November 10, 1999.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Curriculum vitae of Thomas Sowell
  4. 4.0 4.1 Graglia, Lino A. "Profile in courage." Hoover Institution Newsletter, Winter 2001.
  5. "Say's law and the general glut controversy." University of Chicago library catalog. Accessed 2015-11-26.
  6. Thomas Sowell. Natl. Endowment for the Humanities. Accessed 20 Sept. 2015.
  7. Sowell, T. (2006). Black Rednecks and White Liberals. New York, United States: Encounter Books.
  8. Sowell, T. (2012). Intellectuals and Society. NY, United States: Ingram Publisher Services
  9. Sowell, T. (2005). Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study. New Haven, United States: Yale University Press
  10. https://web.archive.org/web/20151023202328/http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials-on-the-right/062110-537967-is-us-now-on-slippery-slope-to-tyranny-.htm
  11. Go ahead, reason with fractal wrongness
  12. It's not quite that easy Tom
  13. http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2003/03/25/who_is_pro-war/page/full
  14. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/348312/two-world-wars-and-nuclear-iran
  15. http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2007/03/15/global_warming_swindle/page/full
  16. http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/228903/dangerous-minds/thomas-sowell
  17. http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell060701.asp
  18. http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/226599/another-great-depression/thomas-sowell/page/0/1?splash=
  19. http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2010/09/28/politics_versus_gold/page/full
  20. http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2003/06/19/the_legacy_of_eric_hoffer_part_ii/page/full
  21. Sowell, Thomas. "Dunbar High School after 100 years." Creators Syndicate: October 4, 2016.
  22. Sowell, Thomas. "Trickle Down" Theory and "Tax Cuts for the Rich". Hoover Institution: 2012.
  23. Coomber, Ross. The Control of Drugs and Drug Users: Reason or Reaction? CRC Press: 1998. p. 108.
  24. Sowell, Thomas. "Ethnicity and IQ." American Spectator: Feb. 1, 1995.
  25. Sowell, Thomas "Intellectuals and race." March 12, 2013.
  26. Sowell, Thomas. Measles, Vaccines and Autism. Feb. 10, 2015.
  27. Sowell, Thomas. "An Internet fraud." Creators Syndicate. July 9, 2008.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Snopes.com, "Thomas Sowell." November 27, 2011.
  29. See many examples at: http://myrightwingdad.blogspot.com/
  30. "Conservatives against Trump." National Review, Feb. 15, 2016.
  31. Sowell, Thomas. Dangerous Donald Trump. April 5, 2016.
  32. Sowell, Thomas. "Conservatives for Trump?" April 26, 2016.
  33. Sowell, Thomas. "Winners or Whiners?" April 19, 2016.
  34. Sowell, Thomas. "Grim choices." May 17, 2016.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Sowell, Thomas (October 25, 2016). "Turnout time." Creators Syndicate. Accessed June 13, 2020.
  36. https://www.vox.com/2017/12/7/16747712/study-media-2016-election-clintons-emails
  37. Sowell, Thomas (November 8, 2016). "Painful choices." Creators Syndicate. Accessed June 13, 2020.
  38. "Interview with legendary Thomas Sowell" 23 April, 2018.
  39. "Sowell: Politicians using race as their ticket to whatever racket they're running" March 6, 2019.
  40. Sowell, Thomas - "No Hard Evidence Trump is a racist" https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/03/22/thomas_sowell_no_hard_evidence_that_trump_is_a_racist.html. March 22, 2019