Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Thomas Sowell's retirement and legacy

Quite a career for Dr. Sowell-- as a research economist, a teacher, and a popularizer of economics. Really good stuff on public policy-- particularly in his areas of culture and race. An interesting background-- from a late-reader to his photography as a vocation. And it's been great to have another Libertarian make inroads into the public realm. 

A funny story about one of his powerful books, The Vision of the Anointed on what he calls the constrained and unconstrained visions. (The constrained recognizes limits and constraints-- human, budget, etc.-- and is generally "conservative" and realistic. The unconstrained struggles to understand limits and constraints-- and tends toward utopianism.) I had a "readings" course where students read a half-dozen books on public policy-- general books on what we're trying to accomplish (e.g., Sowell's book and Murray's In Pursuit...) and then some books on particular policy areas. I had a student who loved all of the books except Sowell's. I was really surprised and confused-- and at first, she couldn't enunciate the problem. Eventually, she said "I've already heard all of it in your other courses". And then I realized how much the book had influenced me without me noticing!

I have 16 blog posts that mention Sowell-- most of which are his articles and only two of which are otherwise significant: my review of Race and Culture and linking The Vision of the Anointed with Christian (political) theology.

I've gathered a bunch of good articles-- with a few excerpts-- from those discussing his legacy, as he leaves his syndicated column behind at age 86. Here is Sowell's last column. Note in particular the joy he gets from friendship and photography; the gain in material standards of living in his lifetime; and the legacy of the many lying presidents we've had since JFK.

From Jason Riley in the WSJ: "Mr. Sowell writes in 'plain English,' as he likes to put it, which in and of itself distinguishes him from most intellectuals, who seem allergic to accessible prose. He wants you to understand what he’s saying, not to be impressed with his vocabulary. He trained in economics at the University of Chicago..."

From Mark Perry with AEI-- a summary of ideas on various topics with a great quote from Sowell: "Socialism has a record so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it." #EconDeniers

Michelle Malkin cites Sowell's influence on David Mamet (see here and here) and notes something similar for herself: "At the majority of America's institutions of "higher learning," reading Thomas Sowell was a subversive act in the early 1990s when I was a student. It remains so today. Why? Because the prolific libertarian economist's vast body of work is a clarion rejection of all the liberal intelligentsia hold dear."

From Anthony Bradley at Acton: Bradley praises the influence of Sowell; notes that Sowell and other scholars avoided abortion (for Sowell and Walter Williams, an easy call since they're economists and that's not exactly our field...then again, they did a lot with social policy too); and wonders whether other black conservative scholars will emerge. (See also: what about the more public aspects of jurisprudence after Clarence Thomas.)

Six quotes from Joe Carter at Acton: Here's a fun one: “Elections should be held on April 16th—the day after we pay our income taxes. That is one of the few things that might discourage politicians from being big spenders.”

From Marvin Olasky at World:  Olasky mentions The Vision of the Anointed and summarizes it by saying "Sowell showed how liberals believe they can find solutions by removing perceived cultural negatives, but conservatives believe 'there are no solutions; there are only trade-offs'.” Olasky also notes: "The Sowell writings I’ve read show no evidence of Christian belief, but his distinction between the utopian versions of the left and the constrained versions of conservatives fits alongside the Christian understanding of original sin."


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