As I mentioned last month in an homage to one of his regular features, my intellectual hero is Thomas Sowell. Today is Dr. Sowells 89th birthday. Since turning 80, he has published Intellectuals and Race, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics (with a second revised edition coming a year later), a couple of new editions of his Basic Economics, and Discrimination and Disparities. I read Sowells memoir, A Personal Odyssey, in one sitting when it came out, and Ive never read a Sowell book and thought it a poor use of my time.
The essence of Sowells approach to the world is evident in this clip from Milton Friedmans Free to Choose series:
Consider what hes saying here: I think were talking at cross purposes. On the one hand, were talking about results that were hoping for. On the other hand, were talking about processes that were setting in motion. Its the essence of the Conflict of Visions he would write about in his 1987 book of that title, republished in 2007. He explains the conflict of visions here:
Conflict is part of an (informal) trilogy that includes The Quest for Cosmic Justice and the book with the best subtitle Ive ever read, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. These books had a profound effect on me as a graduate student and young faculty member in the 2000s. They hold up well even after several decades, and, I think, they should be studied carefully by every social scientist and commentator.
While he retired from writing his regular column several years ago, he remains an active participant in the Great Conversation. In addition to his books, he is a regular guest on the Hoover Institutions Uncommon Knowledge, where he is usually discussing a new book or a new edition of one of his older books, as in the video below where he discusses Discrimination and Disparities. Its not a bad record for someone who is turning 89.
Sowells work continues to challenge me. This is obviously true in the case of issues like immigration on which I disagree with him and other issues like cultural practices and individual prosperity where I dont want to agree with him, but its also true even when were talking about old standbys like basic economic ideasprice controls, for example, where he writes with clarity and insight few authors can match.
Happy birthday, Dr. Sowell, and may you have many more.