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Personal background, education, and career
Born into poverty 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." 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. 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."
He later completed his master's in the same subject at Columbia University and doctorate at the University of Chicago. 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.
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. In 1980, Sowell walked away for good from teaching, to become a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, having previously served in this position in 1977. He also was 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.
In 2002, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded Sowell with the National Humanities Medal.
The blacks are stupid because Celts
Sowell has taken an approach that is
racist against both black and white people empirically dubious about the history of 'black' culture in the USA. 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 - rather than, say, slavery and all the wonderful things that have happened since. He particularly condemns the efforts of the US government to keep the "black rednecks" alive through e.g. giving them food and educating them, since he regards this as having worsened their Celtic-inspired laziness and violence.
Everybody I don't like is Hitler
Being a hardcore libertarian, Sowell has felt it necessary to compare Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, saying that the similarities were obvious when Barack Obama created a relief fund for the BP oil spill. This was obviously socialism, since it involved the extraction of "vast sums of money from a private enterprise." Another comparison he made between the two is that they were both supported by the sheeple (he calls them "useful idiots," much in the way Marxists use "false consciousness"), another sign the United States was slipping towards totalitarianism.
In another article Sowell outright labels Obama a fascist, citing Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism in the process. An example he gives of Obama's fascist 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". He judges Sarah Palin to be intelligent.
Being a libertarian, Sowell supported the War in Iraq along with the notion of preemptive strikes, and believes that Obama and Congress' supposed weakness in dealing with Iran could inspire Iran to develop nuclear weapons. But where he goes from typical right-wing pundit to batshit crazy is when he expresses the belief that Iran could nuke America, which would result in the US surrendering to Iran. Yes, really, to Iran.
Sowell is also a global warming denier, believing it to be a manufactured controversy set up in part by academics who want research grants. 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. 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."
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. 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. 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.
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).
Sowell's 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.
Sowell has written a column appearing to support segregation in public schools, saying black kids do better in their own schools. You know, separate but equal, right? We're not making this up. He gave an example of one black high school in Washington, D.C., that was forced by the evil 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 commitment to empiricism, as Sowell is basically saying "this one school had higher graduation rates before integration, therefore segregation isn't a bad thing!"
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. 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.
Sowell is also strongly critical of racialism. 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). 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.
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. 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.
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.
Opposition to Donald Trump
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. 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. 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."
"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. Sowell also blamed the "Republican establishment, whose serial betrayals of their supporters created the setting for a Donald Trump to arise."
- Indeed, his official title at the Hoover Institution is the "Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy." See their Thomas Sowell bio.
- Sawhill, Ray. "Black and right." Salon.com: November 10, 1999.
- Curriculum vitae of Thomas Sowell
- Graglia, Lino A. "Profile in courage." Hoover Institution Newsletter, Winter 2001.
- "Say's law and the general glut controversy." University of Chicago library catalog. Accessed 2015-11-26.
- Thomas Sowell. Natl. Endowment for the Humanities. Accessed 20 Sept. 2015.
- Isenberg, Nancy, White Trash - The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (London, 2016) p.308
- Because a $50 billion bill for a company with an annual revenue of nearly $400 billion is "vast sums of money." (Ignoring externalities, eh?)
- Go ahead, reason with fractal wrongness
- It's not quite that easy Tom
- 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?)
- Sowell, Thomas. "Dunbar High School after 100 years." Creators Syndicate: October 4, 2016.
- Sowell, Thomas. "Trickle Down" Theory and "Tax Cuts for the Rich". Hoover Institution: 2012.
- Coomber, Ross. The Control of Drugs and Drug Users: Reason or Reaction? CRC Press: 1998. p. 108.
- Sowell, Thomas. "Ethnicity and IQ." American Spectator: Feb. 1, 1995.
- Sowell, Thomas "Intellectuals and race." March 12, 2013.
- Sowell, Thomas. Measles, Vaccines and Autism. Feb. 10, 2015.
- Sowell, Thomas. "An Internet fraud." Creators Syndicate. July 9, 2008.
- Snopes.com, "Thomas Sowell." November 27, 2011.
- See many examples at: http://myrightwingdad.blogspot.com/
- "Conservatives against Trump." National Review, Feb. 15, 2016.
- Sowell, Thomas. Dangerous Donald Trump. April 5, 2016.
- Sowell, Thomas. "Conservatives for Trump?" April 26, 2016.
- Sowell, Thomas. "Winners or Whiners?" April 19, 2016.
- Sowell, Thomas. "Grim choices." May 17, 2016.