In the latest five-minute video for PragerU, the Manhattan Institute’s Jason Riley, author of a new biography on Thomas Sowell, talks about the life and significance of economist, philosopher, and all-around intellectual giant, Thomas Sowell.
Although Sowell is known well in conservative circles, not nearly as many people know about him in America at-large, where his notoriety is dwarfed by more institutionally favored left-leaning academics, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram X. Kendi. In fact, argues Riley, Sowell may be “the most important scholar you’ve never heard of.”
Sowell overcame many obstacles early in his life. Born in the Great Depression, he was orphaned at a young age, raised in Harlem, and dropped out of high school. After a stint in a homeless shelter, Sowell was drafted into the Marines during the Korean War.
His time in the Marines, however, taught him discipline, enough so that after leaving he went to college, and found himself studying at Harvard and the University of Chicago.
“He began his intellectual journey as a committed Marxist, but soon reached a life-altering conclusion: Marxism didn’t work,” says his biographer. “After studying the effects of various government regulations, including minimum wage laws, he concluded that free markets were a far better alternative, particularly for disadvantaged groups.”
Later, as his career bloomed, Sowell wrote what many consider to be his best work — A Conflict of Vision — an analysis of the two visions that undergird U.S. policy disputes.
So if Sowell is so great, why isn’t he better known? Riley argues it’s because of the racial controversies that have surrounded his work.
Sowell, a black man, has criticized “liberalism’s misguided efforts” to help poor African Americans escape from poverty, says Riley.
“His targets over the decades have included welfare programs, racial preferences, multiculturalism, and opposition to school choice. Sowell brings the same empirical approach to writing about social policy that he brings to writing about economics,” notes the Sowell biographer. “His focus is on the facts and the evidence.”
“The actual results of a policy matter much more to him than the good intentions of politicians and policy makers. This is perfectly captured in his concept of ‘Stage One’ thinking. Liberal politicians propose expensive policy solutions and never ask the only questions that really matter: what are the long-term costs and consequences? In other words, what happens beyond stage one? By the time these costs and consequences fully manifest themselves—and they’re usually disastrous—the politicians who originally set the policies in motion are long gone. They’ve derived all the political benefit and paid none of the cost,” says Riley.