Thomas Sowell (/sl/; born June 30, 1930) is an American economistsocial theoristpolitical philosopher and author.

He is currently Senior Fellow at the Hoover InstitutionStanford University. Sowell was born in North Carolina, but grew up in HarlemNew 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 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 libertarian perspective, advocating free market economics and has written more than thirty books. He is a National Humanities Medal winner.


 [hide*1 Early life and education

Early life and education[edit]Edit

Sowell was born in Gastonia, North 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.[1] In his autobiography, A Personal Odyssey, he said his childhood encounters with white people were so limited that he did not believe blond was really a hair color.[2] When Sowell was nine, his family moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to Harlem, New York City. He attended Stuyvesant High School, 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.[1] He worked at a number of jobs, including at a machine shop and as a delivery man for Western Union,[3] and tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948.[4] Sowell was drafted in 1951, during the Korean War, and was assigned to the United States Marine Corps. Because of his experience in photography, he became a Marine Corps photographer; he also trained Marines in .45-caliber pistol proficiency.[1]


After his discharge, Sowell worked a civil service job in Washington, D.C. and attended night classes at Howard University, admitted on the basis of his General Education certificate. 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.[1][5] He received a Master of Arts from Columbia University the following year, and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago in 1968.[5]

Sowell had initially chosen Columbia University to study under George Stigler (who would later receive the Nobel Prize in Economics). When he learned that Stigler had moved to the University of Chicago, he followed him there.[6]

Sowell has taught economics at Howard University, Rutgers, Cornell, Brandeis UniversityAmherst 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.[5][7]

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."[8]

Sowell has stated 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] He witnessed and opposed the violent takeover by black Cornell students of Willard Straight Hall in 1969. Thirty years later, Sowell characterized them as "hoodlums" with "serious academic problems [and] admitted under lower academic standards", and defended the university and surrounding area from allegations of widespread racism.[11]

He is currently the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute, Stanford University. In the opinion of Larry D. Nachman in Commentary magazine, he is considered a leading representative of the Chicago school of economics.[12]

In addition, Sowell appeared several times on William F. Buckley's show Firing Line, during which he discussed the economics of race and privatization.[13]


Sowell is both a syndicated columnist and an academic economist. 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, and considers himself more libertarian than conservative.[14] He is a regular contributor to GOPUSA, a conservative web and email newsletter run by Endeavor Media Group, LLC. He primarily writes on economic subjects, generally advocating a free market approach to capitalism.[15] Sowell opposes the Federal Reserve, pointing out that it has been unsuccessful in preventing economic depressions and limiting inflation.[16]

Sowell also writes on racial topics and is a critic of affirmative action and race-based quotas.[17][18] 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."[19] 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."[20]


Sowell's bestselling books include:

Books on economics[edit]Edit

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 also 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 hardly unique in terms of American ethnic groups, nor in terms of a rural proletariat swept by disruption as it became urbanized, discussed in his bookBlack Rednecks and White Liberals.

In Affirmative Action Around the World[21] Sowell holds that affirmative action covers most of the American population, particularly women, and has long since ceased to be directed towards blacks.

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

Sowell also favors decriminalization of all drugs.[22]

Books on other subjects[edit]Edit

In Intelligence and Ethnicity, 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 particular ethnic white groups in years past.

In another departure from economics, 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 includes famous late-talkers such as physicists Albert EinsteinEdward Teller and Richard Feynman; mathematician Julia Robinson; and musicians Arthur Rubenstein and Clara Schumann. The book and its contributing researchers make a 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. The book 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 appears in such publications as Forbes MagazineThe Wall Street Journal, and major newspapers, as well as online on websites such as Townhall,WorldNetDailyOneNewsNow and the Jewish World Review.[23]

Sowell comments on issues he considers to be problematic in modern-day society, which include liberal media bias;[24] judicial activism (while staunchly defending originalism);[25][26][27][28][29] partial birth abortion;[30] the minimum wagesocializing health care; government undermining of familial autonomy; affirmative action; government[31] bureaucracygun control;[20] militancy in U.S. foreign policy; the U.S. war on drugs, and multiculturalism.[32]

Sowell in a Townhall editorial, "The Bush Legacy," assessed President George W. Bush, deeming him "a mixed bag," but "an honorable man."[33]

In November 2011, a column fiercely critical of "Obama's America" and falsely attributed to Sowell was circulated on the Internet.[34]

Critical reception[edit]Edit


In 1990, he won the Francis Boyer Award, presented by the American Enterprise Institute. In 1998 he received the Sydney Hook Award from the National Association of Scholars.[35] 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.[36] In 2004 he was given a Lysander Spooner Award for his book Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One.[37] In 2008, getAbstract awarded his book Economic Facts and Fallacies with its International Book Award.


Patricia Roberts Harris, who was an official in the Carter Administration, once said that Sowell and Walter E. Williams "don't know what poverty is." Sowell called her position "a pathetic sign of intellectual bankruptcy," saying that he "was almost 9 years old before [he] lived in a home with [hot] running water" and that she "was a campus social leader in an 'exclusive sorority'—meaning that it was for middle-class (light-skinned) women" while he worked full-time and went to the same college at night.[38]


In 2004, The Economist magazine praised Sowell's books Affirmative Action Around the World as "terse, well argued and utterly convincing" and "crammed with striking anecdotes and statistics"[39] and Economic Facts and Fallacies: "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."[40]

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 like law and engineering because of the heavy responsibilities of marriage such as childrearing and other household work: "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."[41] Sowell since then has written on affirmative action in an international context to address such criticisms in two books (Preferential PoliciesAffirmative Action Around the World) and has written about pay differentials and occupational segregation in Economic Facts and Fallacies.

Career highlights[edit]Edit

  • 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[11]
  • 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[edit]Edit

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