On December 27, 2016, exceptional economist, educator, writer and columnist Thomas Sowell published his last column. At 86 he decided to “hang it up” in favor of his hobby -- photography (http://www.tsowell.com). Sowell has written dozens of books and thousands of columns. His columns were carried regularly by Creators Syndicate, Forbes magazine and Scripts-Howard. (As such, his column was carried in The Minot Daily News.) Occasional pieces have also been published by the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, Newsweek, and The Times (London) among others.
Thomas Sowell grew up black and poor in Harlem. After a stint in the US Marine Corps he graduated from Harvard Law School. Soon after that he earned his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago. It was there that he learned the folly of Marxism as articulated in one of his earlier books, “Marxism: Philosophy and Economics.”
Thomas Sowell, along with his friend Walter E. Williams, inspired my own economic thinking immensely. Any person could acquire a sound and substantial economic education just by reading Sowell’s columns. I have saved a small collection of his columns for my own edification and reference over the years. Together with discontinuing his columns, it would be a fair assumption to conclude that Sowell will not be writing any new books, either. That is okay. He has already done a great service in what he has already written and published.
“Basic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy” by Sowell offers the first of two important economic works for the lay reader.
To use Sowell’s words, “All sort of economies--capitalist, socialist, feudal, etc.--must determine in one way or another how the available resources are directed toward their various uses. But how well they do it can lead to poverty or affluence for a whole country. That is what the study of economics is all about and that is what makes it important”.
Sowell’s forte is his ability to explain basic economics in plain English for the common man. Using neither graphs nor charts nor equations he achieves his goal in “Basic Economics.” That can be attributed to his collective experience in teaching economics at leading universities. He knows how to bring economics to life in a way that is easy to absorb. At the end of the book a bibliographic essay contains references for those who wish to check his facts or who desire to explore further subjects they find intriguing.
Those who appreciate Thomas Sowell’s “Basic Economics” will find his companion book, “Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One,” equally compelling. Whereas “Basic Economics” discusses economic principles, “Applied Economics” examines economic policies not simply in terms of their immediate effects but also in terms of their later consequences which are typically very different and last much longer in their effect.
It is one thing to grasp economic principles, but quite another to evaluate the application of those principles. “Applied Economics” deals in depth with real world issues: housing, medical care, discrimination and the economic development of nations. This book intends to help those with no knowledge of economics to understand key issues in public discourse and policies. As with his other books, Sowell provides a bibliographical essay at the end of the book dissecting each chapter for those desiring to explore further.
Sowell’s last book, “Wealth, Poverty and Politics,” is a classic which he enlarged and revised. The foundation of the book is based on a quote from Alexander Hamilton. “The wealth of nations depends upon an infinite variety of causes.” Through 16 chapters Sowell applies Hamilton’s understanding to domestic as well as international variations in wealth.
thomas Sowell’s writings have sparked many readers across the nation and around the world to think independently and to challenge the visions imposed by governments.
Thank you Professor Thomas Sowell. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement.