Sowell, Thomas 1930-
Sowell, Thomas 1930-
Born June 30, 1930, in Gastonia, NC; married Alma Jean Parr (divorced); married Mary M. Ash (an attorney); children: John, Lorraine. Ethnicity: "Black." Education: Harvard University, A.B. (magna cum laude), 1958; Columbia University, A.M., 1959; University of Chicago, Ph.D., 1968.
Office—Hoover Institution, Stanford University, 434 Galvez Mall, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6010.
Writer, economist, and educator. U.S. Department of Labor, Washington, DC, labor economist, 1961-62; Douglass College, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, instructor in economics, 1962-63; Howard University, Washington, DC, lecturer in economics, 1963-64; American Telephone & Telegraph Co., New York, NY, economic analyst, 1964-65; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, assistant professor of economics, 1965-69, director of Summer Intensive Training Program in Economic Theory, 1968; Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, associate professor of economics, 1969-70; University of California, Los Angeles, associate professor, 1970-74, professor of economics, 1974-80; Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, senior fellow, 1977, Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow in Public Policy, 1980—. Urban Institute, Washington, DC, project director, 1972-74; American Enterprise Institute, adjunct scholar, 1975-76; Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, CA, fellow, 1976-77; visiting professor, Amherst College, 1977. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1951-53.
Economics: Analysis and Issues, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1971.
Black Education: Myths and Tragedies, McKay (New York, NY), 1972.
Say's Law: An Historical Analysis, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1972.
Classical Economics Reconsidered, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1974.
Affirmative Action: Was It Necessary in Academia?, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (Washington, DC), 1975.
Race and Economics, McKay (New York, NY), 1975.
Patterns of Black Excellence, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Georgetown University (Washington, DC), 1977.
(Editor) American Ethnic Groups, Urban Institute (Washington, DC), 1978.
(Editor) Essays and Data on American Ethnic Groups, Urban Institute (Washington, DC), 1978.
Markets and Minorities, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1981.
(Editor, with others) The Fairmont Papers: Black Alternatives Conference, December, 1980, ICS Press (San Francisco, CA), 1981.
Pink and Brown People, and Other Controversial Essays, Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA), 1981.
Knowledge and Decision, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1983.
Ethnic America: A History, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1983.
The Economics and Politics of Race: An International Perspective, Morrow (New York, NY), 1983.
Compassion versus Guilt, and Other Essays, Quill (New York, NY), 1984.
Marxism: Philosophy and Economics, Morrow (New York, NY), 1985.
Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?, Morrow (New York, NY), 1985.
Education: Assumptions versus History (essays), Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA), 1986.
A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, Morrow (New York, NY), 1987, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Judicial Activism Reconsidered (essays), Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA), 1989.
Choosing a College: A Guide for Parents and Students, Perennial Library (New York, NY), 1989.
Preferential Policies: An International Perspective, Morrow (New York, NY), 1990.
Inside American Education: The Decline, the Deception, the Dogmas, Free Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Race and Culture: A World View (part one of "Cultural Trilogy"), Pennsylvania State University Press (University Park, PA), 1992.
Is Reality Optional? And Other Essays, Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA), 1993.
The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Migrations and Cultures: A World View (part two of "Cultural Trilogy"), Basic Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Late-talking Children, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1997, published as The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late, 2001.
Conquests and Cultures: An International History (part three of "Cultural Trilogy"), Basic Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Race, Culture, and Equality, Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA), 1998.
Barbarians inside the Gates—and Other Controversial Essays, Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA), 1999.
The Quest for Cosmic Justice, Free Press (New York, NY), 1999.
A Personal Odyssey, Free Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2001, third edition published as Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Some Thoughts about Writing, Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA), 2001.
Controversial Essays, Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA), 2002.
Affirmative Action around the World: An Empirical Study, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2004.
Applied Economics: Thinking beyond Stage One, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Black Rednecks and White Liberals: And Other Cultural and Ethnic Issues, Encounter Books (San Francisco, CA), 2005.
Ever Wonder Why? and Other Controversial Essays, Hoover Institution Press (Stanford, CA), 2006.
On Classical Economics, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2006.
A Man of Letters, Encounter Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to anthologies, including Readings in the History of Economic Thought, edited by I.H. Rima, Holt (New York, NY), 1970; and Discrimination, Affirmative Action, and Equal Opportunity: An Economic and Social Perspective, edited by W.E. Block and M.A. Walker, Fraser Institute, 1982.
Contributor to periodicals, including American Economic Review, American Spectator, Commentary, Economica, Education Digest, Ethics, Fortune, New York Times Magazine, Oxford Economic Papers, Social Research, Western Review, and University of Chicago Magazine. Columnist for Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 1978-80, for syndication, 1984-90, for Forbes, 1991-99, and for syndication, 1991—.
African American conservative economist Thomas Sowell has written numerous books about economics, race, and ethnic groups. He is known for his strong support for a laissez-faire economic system with few government constraints and his vocal opposition to most of the social programs and judicial actions favored by other African American spokespersons. Steven E. Plaut of Commentary called Sowell "one of America's most trenchant and perceptive commentators on the subject of race relations and ethnicity." Sowell "writes eloquently about how policymakers should gather convincing empirical data, analyze experience with care, and possess a knowledge of what's possible given the imperfect nature of the world before making social programs of any kind," commented Stephen Goode in an Insight on the News interview. "But perhaps Sowell's most characteristic trait is the clarity of word and thought that he invariably brings to his many books and columns," Goode mused. National Review critic Jay Nordlinger offered an equally enthusiastic assessment of Sowell's work and thought: "Typical in a Sowell book are a raft of facts, a cold bath of logic, and myth-destruction. He has a quality that is priceless to a writer, or scholar: fearlessness. Sowell cares not a fig about popularity, and he does no jockeying whatever to affect his status. Reputation is unthought of. He says what he finds to be true, the consequences be damned. Many people claim to operate this way; precious few do." Goode concluded that "there is no contemporary writer of greater importance to American conservatism than Thomas Sowell."
A senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace since 1980, Sowell has done extensive research into the economic performance of racial and ethnic groups throughout the world, trying to determine the factors that make some groups more successful than others. He has presented both his research and his conclusions in such books as Ethnic America: A History, The Economics and Politics of Race: An International Perspective, and Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality? These and other of Sowell's books have attempted to disprove a number of beliefs while bringing new and potentially valuable information to light. As George M. Fredrickson noted in the New York Times Book Review, "Sowell is engaged in a continuing polemic against the basic assumptions of liberals, radicals, and civil rights leaders. But the quality of his evidence and reasoning requires that he be taken seriously. His ideological opponents will have to meet his arguments squarely and incisively to justify the kind of policies currently identified with the pursuit of racial equality and social justice."
Sowell's own life story seems to illustrate many of the values he now expounds. Born in North Carolina, Sowell attended a segregated high school where he graduated at the top of his class. A graduate of Harvard University, Columbia University, and the University of Chicago, Sowell went on to hold a number of positions in government and academia before joining the Hoover Institution in 1980.
At least one critic perceived personal influences in some of Sowell's writing. Scott McConnell of the Wall Street Journal found The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy to be an "uncompromising and often angry book." McConnell explained: "Mr. Sowell—a black intellectual whose prose seldom sends out even the faintest glint of ethnic references—draws from a well of both sorrow and anger when he reflects on some remarkable facts"; these facts point out that blacks either were bettering their own lives without the help of twentieth-century social policy or have actually suffered more under the auspices of social changes designed to help people, such as the pro-defendant Miranda decision.
In his 1983 work, The Economics and Politics of Race, Sowell cites several examples of minority groups around the world that have fared well despite prejudice against them in their adopted country, as well as groups faced with little discrimination who have done poorly. The Chinese minorities in Southeast Asian countries, despite intense resistance from the native populations, have done very well economically, and often dominate their local economies. European Jews have faced long-term opposition from majority population groups, yet they too have performed outstandingly well and enjoy a high level of economic success. On the other hand, Plaut explained, in The Economics and Politics of Race, Sowell shows that "in Brazil and other parts of South America blacks face less racism than do American blacks…. Yet for all this tolerance, Brazil shows a larger gap in black-white earnings, social position, and education than does the United States."
According to Sowell, an ethnic or racial group that emphasizes hard work, saving money, and acquiring an education will generally do well regardless of the political or social climate. Newsweek contributor David Gelman, dubbing Sowell's approach "conservative," explained: "Essentially, it is that diligence, discipline, and entrepreneurial drive can overthrow the most formidable barriers of poverty and bigotry." Yet, according to National Review contributor Jacob Cohen, in Race and Culture Sowell "has produced a book that will compel every careful reader, and not just those on the Left, to rethink their most confident views on matters of race and culture"; Race and Culture challenges both sides to rethink the effect of individual effort on economic performance.
Because of his belief in human capital, Sowell argues against continued efforts by the federal government to end racial discrimination, a problem he believes was largely eliminated during the civil rights struggle. Instead he calls for a greater emphasis on free-market economics. A healthy, growing economy, Sowell believes, does the most good for minority groups who suffer from poverty. Sowell points out in Civil Rights that "the economic rise of minorities preceded by many years [the] passage of the Civil Rights Act" and that "this trend was not accelerated either by that legislation or by the quotas introduced during the seventies."
Sowell dismisses much of what black civil rights leaders believe necessary for the betterment of African Americans. He questions, for example, the value for black students of integrated public schools, called for by the Warren court in Brown vs. Board of Education. Sowell, in fact, finds grave fault with the U.S. educational system in terms of what it offers to many children other than black children. According to New Republic reviewer Alan Wolfe, "American students, like their textbooks, have been ‘dumbed down.’" In Inside American Education, Sowell makes the claim that "it is not merely that Johnny can't read, or even that Johnny can't think. Johnny doesn't even know what thinking is." As explained by Wolfe, Sowell further rails against the "therapeutic" ideology in education today—that "all should be taught to appreciate themselves, even if they don't know a thing." Sowell claims that, to protect their jobs, educators simply advance "unprepared children" through the system.
Students who diverge from the academic norm are particularly at risk, according to Sowell. In Inside American Education: The Decline, The Deception, the Dogmas, he enumerates two such groups: bilingual students and athletes. Bilingual students cause an inflow of federal money for special-education classes, a situation that, in the opinion of Wall Street Journal contributor Michael Schwartz, "creates an incentive for keeping as many students as possible in such programs for as long as possible." In the case of athletes, the demands of the game may be what prevents learning. Combined with his or her already "sub-standard academic background," the athlete, writes Sowell, "usually finds himself out on the street with no skills, no degrees, and perhaps no character."
Government programs such as affirmative action racial quotas and public welfare also come under Sowell's fire, particularly in Inside American Education. Here the economist maintains that African-American students who would excel at second-tier educational institutions such as many state universities may instead find themselves near the bottom of the class at Harvard, or even become a college dropout. In analyzing this problem, Schwartz explained: "The administrators of these institutions … can cheerfully pat themselves on the back for having proved numerically that they provided educational ‘opportunity’ to minority students." Sowell quotes a Harvard dean as saying: "If we're driven exclusively by academic qualities, we would have a much less interesting student body." As Schwartz termed it: "It is a case of ideology over education."
Some critics of Sowell's position on education have protested that his rhetoric is overinflated. John Brademas, in a review for the New York Times Book Review, maintained that in Inside American Education, the author's "generalizations are so extravagant and his tone so self-righteous and bombastic that he undermines his case. He is his own worst enemy." With regard to the challenges facing American education, Sowell "offers little constructive counsel on how to deal with them," according to Brademas. Peter Schrag, writing in the liberal Nation, called this book "a near-perfect inventory of what the far right is saying about our schools and colleges, some of it true enough but much of it exaggerated." Many others, however, found this same work coherent and exact. Schwartz found that Inside American Education "demonstrates an impressive range of knowledge and acuity of observation." Chester E. Finn, Jr., in the National Review, called it a "splendid new book."
In Preferential Policies: An International Perspective, Sowell argues against equal opportunity hiring and admissions policies, which mandate that employers and school officials judge minority applicants by different, more relaxed, criteria than they use to judge other applicants. Sowell believes such policies result in less-qualified candidates gaining preferential treatment over better-qualified candidates and eventually lower the standards by which all individuals are measured. Citing examples from such countries as Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and India, as well as the United States, he contends that preferential policies can be found around the globe.
Adolph L. Reed, Jr., reviewing Preferential Policies in the Washington Post Book World, found Sowell's thesis unconvincing, stating that "the relation between his examples and his underlying argument—that preferential policies undermine their own objectives and cause more problems than they resolve—is tortured and unconvincing." Andrew Hacker expressed a more favorable assessment in the New York Times Book Review, noting that Sowell does make an important point about the effects of these policies, namely that "those who lose out [to preferential policies] are generally lower-middle-class candidates, who adhered to the rules and find themselves displaced by others deemed entitled to exemptions." Hacker added, "Whether in fire departments or on campuses, groups at the end of the queue are being played off against one another—hardly the best way to promote racial amity."
In fact, Nathan Glazer wrote in New Republic, Sowell is convinced "that hardly anything government will do can help blacks and other minorities with high levels of poverty and low levels of educational and economic achievement, and that almost anything government will do will only make matters worse." In a Choice review of 1985's Civil Rights, R.J. Steamer noted that "Sowell's revolutionary view—that government programs such as affirmative action, forced busing, and food stamps will not bring the disadvantaged black minority into the economic and social mainstream and might better be abandoned—will anger many." Sowell states the view that government programs and those who advocate them are part of a self-destructive mind-set.
The impasse between Sowell and many other African-American commentators—as well as the differences between the political left and right—moved the economist to examine the underlying assumptions creating this dichotomy. In 1987's A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggle he describes "two divergent views of man and society that he convincingly contends underlie many of the political, economic, and social clashes of the last two centuries and remain very much with us today," according to New York Times contributor Walter Goodman. Sowell posits the unconstrained and the constrained views of man. "The unconstrained see human beings as perfectible," Otto Friedrich wrote in Time, "the constrained as forever flawed." Sowell writes in the book that "the constrained vision is a tragic vision of the human condition. The unconstrained vision is a moral vision of human intentions."
Daniel Seligman wrote in Fortune that these two visions are "the mind-sets that originally made [intellectuals] gravitate to some ideas instead of others."
Those with an unconstrained view of man, for example, tend to believe that social problems can be ultimately solved, and that man will usually act rationally. Such beliefs lead to social engineering efforts to correct perceived societal ills. Those with a constrained view of man see him as imperfect and human nature as unchanging. They often call for a limited government, a strong defense, and strict criminal penalties.
Sowell admits that not all people hold to one or the other vision consistently; for example, ideologies like Marxism and fascism are compounds of both constrained and unconstrained visions. Yet critics saw much of value in Sowell's thinking. Goodman found that A Conflict of Visions "does lay out styles of thinking that we can readily recognize today in the divisions between left and right." And Michael Harrington, who in his Washington Post Book World review rejected "the basic assumptions and the very intellectual framework" of Sowell's book, nonetheless concluded that "its insights and apercus reveal a serious mind honestly and fairly … trying to grapple with those visionary premises on which our supposedly objective data are so often based and ordered."
Sowell further expands upon the idea of the liberal vision in The Vision of the Anointed. The "anointed," Sowell here argues, are those who view the world as a place where "criminals can be ‘rehabilitated,’ irresponsible mothers taught ‘parenting skills,’ and where all sorts of other social problems can be ‘solved.’" Sowell contrasts this liberal vision with the view of conservatives "that liberal schemes to eradicate these evils a) never work, and b) inevitably impose huge social costs of their own," noted Robert P. George in his National Review article. Sowell maintains that the anointed have, in fact, caused damage to the social fabric of America, in particular because their "prevailing vision" is taken as true without empirical evidence to prove it so.
Richard Epstein, writing in the New York Times Book Review, pointed out that The Vision of the Anointed was published in 1995, prior to political shifts occurring during the Clinton presidency that appeared to draw power away from the liberals. "Sowell … surely has given voice to many of [the new American political majority's] long-standing frustration," wrote Epstein. "It is too bad that he has overstated his case and failed to suppress his obvious enmity toward his intellectual and political targets. Mr. Sowell has written an important and incisive book, even with its flaws. But with a bit more moderation at the margin, he could have written a better one still."
In Conquests and Cultures: Military Expansion and the Making of Civilization, Sowell concludes a trilogy that began with Race and Culture: A World View and continued in Migrations and Cultures: A World View. As in the earlier volumes, Conquests and Cultures: An International History makes the case that, throughout history, certain nations have successfully conquered others by virtue of the excellence of their cultures, rather than merely through oppression or theft of foreign ideas or technology. Sowell uses examples that range from ancient China and Islam to nineteenth-century England and France, as well as the Plains Indians of North America. National Review contributor John Keegan admitted that "This is a thesis with which it is difficult to disagree," but added that Sowell's thesis nonetheless offers no illumination on why England surpassed France economically in the nineteenth century, when material factors would seem to have made them contenders and, indeed, when France was the undisputed cultural, if not economic, capital of the world. "It is at this point that one begins to doubt whether Thomas Sowell's painstaking geographical and economic analysis really provides answers to the questions he raises," Keegan concluded. Booklist reviewer Philip Herbst similarly found that the path of Sowell's argument occasionally took unorthodox turns in order to support one or another of his conservative ideals. "Thoughtful history, if you don't mind it slanted," was this critic's conclusion. For others, however, Sowell's insights into the mysterious give-and-take relationship between conquered and conqueror nations, in which both sides gain and lose in the exchange, was enlightening. For Library Journal contributor Norman Malwitz, the "readable style and impressive scope [of Conquests and Conquerors] make it suitable for all libraries."
In 1999's The Quest for Cosmic Justice Sowell attacks what he considers to be one of the most dangerous liberal convictions: the idea that the causes of inequality must be addressed in pursuit of justice, a notion the author dubs "cosmic justice." Against this ideal Sowell posits the rectitude of "traditional justice," the idea that laws should be clearly written and applied equally to all citizens. The author bolsters his complaints against the liberal pursuit of "cosmic justice" with cautions about the costs of pursuing it, even for the intended beneficiaries. He cites as an example the implementation of bilingual education, which he argues has irrevocably damaged a generation of Latino students in the United States. Underlying his argument is the conservative's mistrust of big government. Reviewers have noted that Sowell's strongest statements in The Quest for Cosmic Justice concern the dire consequences of continuing to pursue this ideal at the expense of traditional justice. "Sowell is undoubtedly correct that the utopian agenda of a major strand of contemporary liberalism has been misguided and anti-democratic, and has had and continues to have deleterious consequences for American society across the board," commented Arch Puddington in Commentary. However, Puddington continued, the economist himself seems to doubt the American people and the ability of democracy itself to right the wrongs committed by the liberals. "If conservatives have learned anything from recent history," the critic continued, "it is that success requires confidence in the American people and in the functioning of American democracy, a lesson that applies to the war of ideas no less than to electoral politics." Jack Forman, a reviewer for the Library Journal, remarked: "As Sowell does so well in his other books … he presents his case in clear, convincing, and accessible language."
In 2000 Sowell published his autobiography, A Personal Odyssey, in which he recounts incidents from his own life that exemplify how the conservative values of hard work and self-determination brought him success. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that although Sowell is "known for his attention to detail and the nuance of his theoretical writings," his memoir does not always display these same attributes, for he skips over large periods in his life, "offering only a controlled, muted look at the author's inner world." For James W. Michaels of Forbes, A Personal Odyssey offers an opportunity to get to know "this splendid, witty character. … It's a warm memoir, tinged with humor and considerable indignation. Do yourself a favor: Read it."
In an interview Sowell gave to American Enterprise, he stated: "There's a lot to get riled up about these days, and I would say that half or more of the things I've written were written, one, because I thought they needed to be said, and two, because I thought most people had better sense than to believe what the experts were claiming." Sowell approached his 2001 book Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy with exactly those ideas in mind. In her review of the book for Booklist, Mary Whaley wrote that "the target audience for this introduction to economics includes highly intelligent people who want to understand the workings of their country's economy." Attempting to break down the underpinnings of economic thought, Sowell discusses what economies are founded upon and what affects them. At the core of his thesis is the concept that instead of expressing dire emotion over what appears to be inherent inequalities in financial systems, people need to approach economic issues with more applied logic that could be used to systematically solve problems.
In 2004, Sowell concentrated once again on affirmative action. In Affirmative Action around the World: An Empirical Study, Sowell examines countries that have applied affirmative action programs in an attempt to promote equality in their societies. In most cases these policies conversely resulted in further civil unrest. After discussing policies in the United States, Nigeria, India, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka, Sowell lists what he believes aggressive equality programs have—and have not—achieved; he also addresses what he believes to be the repercussions of such measures, which tend to be negative. The author points out that affirmative action policies often put more money and power in the hands of those groups that had already been in a position of social control. Bernard Boxill, reviewing the work for Ethics & International Affairs, argued, "Sowell leaps to conclusions without adequate evidence and oversimplifies complex issues, although he frequently lectures the advocates of affirmative action for committing these same mistakes." However, in his review for Booklist, Ray Olson argued that with this work, Sowell never fully rejects the concept of affirmative action as an idea; rather, he focuses on evaluating its effects. Olson found that this approach makes the book "more accessible than usual for Sowell."
Sowell combines personal experience and social science in Late-talking Children, a book in which he examines the phenomenon of children who are late to develop verbal skills but who are often highly intelligent and even precociously advanced in other areas of physical and intellectual development. Sowell's own son, John, now an adult, was one such child. John began speaking at about four years old, and even then his language progress was not normal. However, he displayed an excellent memory, early talent for music, and an affinity for mathematics and related activities, such as chess. As a parent, Sowell was concerned about his son's development. He was encouraged by a few encounters he had had with other parents of late-talking children, but he was unable to find much information on the phenomenon. Sowell put together a network of parents who shared material and insight on their children. He also developed a questionnaire designed to delve into the issue and identify some characteristics common among late-talking children. Among other things, he found that late talkers often demonstrate heightened abilities in memory, mathematics, and music. He also found that such children are often incorrectly diagnosed with autism. In his book, he reports on the findings of his questionnaire, relates stories of late-talking children, describes the phenomenon in depth, and offers advice and guidance for parents. Booklist reviewer Ray Olson called the book "engrossing, inspiriting, and lovely to read."
With Applied Economics: Thinking beyond Stage One, Sowell again approaches the often complex subject of economics with the goal of making economic concepts more accessible to the general reader. Applied Economics is a "spirited and controversial examination of how economic choices in public policy often result in unforeseen consequences," commented Lawrence R. Maxted in the Library Journal. In major areas of economic activity, including medical care, labor, and housing, policymakers often make decisions that, initially, seem to be quite beneficial and reasonable. It is only after the new policies are in place that their shortcomings become obvious, Sowell notes. For example, rent controls at first seem a logical method for making affordable housing available. However, Sowell points out that in practice, rent controls reduce the available stock of low-rent housing and result in the deterioration of existing low-rent housing. This is because property owners have little reason to make rental units available when rents are low, and because landlords have equally limited motivation to maintain and repair low-rent units. Sowell encourages careful consideration not only of the intended goals of any particular policy, but also of possible unforeseen, unintended outcomes that may result when the policy is put into action. "As a basic primer for the economically perplexed, this volume serves very well," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Sowell takes on a number of controversial areas pertaining to race, ethnicity, economic fairness, slavery, and history in his essay collection Black Rednecks and White Liberals: And Other Cultural and Ethnic Issues. Among his topics, he considers why slavery is often thought of as a specifically American institution when slavery has existed throughout human history and, in fact, still exists today in some African and Asian countries. "Slavery is and always was a great evil, Sowell stoutly affirms. But Westerners were not its only perpetrators. And they were its only abolitionists," commented Michael Barone in the Weekly Standard. Sowell looks at the reasons why African-American children often perform poorly in school, but in some instances and in some schools, even those that serve the most disadvantaged, they do well. The schools in which African-American children do well, Barone notes, "insist on hard work. They insist that students can meet the standards of the larger society." In the book's title essay, Sowell asserts that current problems in African-American ghettos and disadvantaged communities can be traced to the transmission of a southern "cracker culture," with its origins in Europe, to black communities in the north. "According to Sowell, the white immigrants who settled in the South had an aversion to work, were prone to violence, neglected education, were sexually promiscuous, lacked entrepreneurial acumen, were improvident, enjoyed lively music and dance, were given to drunkenness, and engaged in religious oratory that was strident, emotional, and flamboyant," remarked Robert L. Harris, Jr., in the Journal of African American History. These cultural attitudes "still permeate large segments of our society and hold back those (especially blacks from disadvantaged backgrounds) from the achievements of which they are capable. Against this, Thomas Sowell brings to bear his wide learning and fierce powers of argumentation. May he prevail," Barone concluded. In his National Review critique, Jay Nordlinger commented that, with Black Rednecks and White Liberals, Sowell "has written another brilliant book."
As a leading African-American economist, Sowell has frequently spoken out on assumptions made about the lives of African Americans in the United States. As Glazer noted: "One has the impression that increasingly he is heeded, that this unbending analyst is having a greater influence on the discussion of matters of race and ethnicity than any other writer of the past ten years." Puddington remarked of Sowell's effect on U.S. conservatism: "After all, it is thanks in no small measure to Thomas Sowell's carefully reasoned and impassioned arguments over the years that we have made as much progress as we have." Harrington, a socialist who admits he is "utterly at odds" with Sowell's political beliefs, nevertheless dubbed him "one of the few conservative thinkers in America today who is interesting as a theorist."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Sowell, Thomas, A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, Morrow (New York, NY), 1987.
Sowell, Thomas, A Personal Odyssey, Free Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Sowell, Thomas, Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?, Morrow (New York, NY), 1985.
Alberta Report, September 21, 1998, review of Late-talking Children, p. 39.
American Enterprise, September, 2004, interview with Thomas Sowell, p. 14.
American Spectator, February, 2000, Joseph Shattan, "Tocquevillian Sowell," profile of Thomas Sowell, p. 71.
Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, July, 2000, Jean W. Sedlar, review of Conquests and Cultures: An International History, p. 212.
Booklist, August, 1997, Ray Olson, review of Late-talking Children, p. 1863; April 15, 1998, Philip Herbst, review of Conquests and Cultures, p. 1401; September 1, 1999, Ray Olson, review of The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 46; March 1, 2001, Mary Whaley, review of Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy, p. 1213; February 15, 2004, Ray Olson, review of Affirmative Action around the World: An Empirical Study, p. 1031; March 1, 2006, Mary Whaley, review of On Classical Economics, p. 51.
Business Library Review, Number 4, 1997, review of The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy, p. 335.
Choice, September, 1984, R.J. Steamer, review of Civil Rights; January, 1999, review of Conquests and Cultures, p. 944.
Commentary, December, 1983, Steven E. Plaut, review of The Economics and Politics of Race: An International Perspective; January, 2000, Arch Puddington, review of The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 77.
Economic Geography, October, 1997, review of Migrations and Cultures, p. 445.
Daily Record (Kansas City, MO), October 22, 2004, Donald Croysdale, "Commentary: Construction and the American Dream."
Ethics & International Affairs, October, 2004, Bernard Boxill, review of Affirmative Action around the World, p. 114.
Forbes, October 2, 2000, James W. Michaels, "Practicing What He Preaches," profile of Thomas Sowell, p. 216.
Foreign Affairs, Volume 70, number 3, 1991; July-August, 1998, Francis Fukuyama, review of Conquests and Cultures, p. 122.
Fortune, March 16, 1987, Daniel Seligman, review of A Conflict of Visions.
Insight on the News, March 15, 2004, Stephen Goode, "Sowell Reaches beyond Rhetoric; Economist and Writer Thomas Sowell Is on a Crusade to Make Politicians Move beyond Stage-one Thinking and Consider the Consequences of the Policies They Advocate," interview with Thomas Sowell, p. 43.
Journal of African American History, spring, 2006, V.P. Franklin, "Commentary: On Right-wing Conspiracies," review of Black Rednecks and White Liberals: And Other Cultural and Ethnic Issues, p. 209; summer, 2006, Robert L. Harris, "On Thomas Sowell and African American Life and Culture," p. 328; fall, 2006, James B. Stewart, "Thomas Sowell's Quixotic Quest to Denigrate African American Culture: A Critique," p. 459.
Journal of Social History, fall, 1999, review of Migrations and Cultures, p. 209.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1997, review of Late-talking Children, p. 862; April 1, 1998, review of Conquests and Culture, p. 482; September 1, 1999, review of The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 1397.
Library Journal, May 1, 1998, Norman Malwitz, review of Conquests and Cultures, p. 116; October 15, 1999, Jack Forman, review of The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 88; March 15, 2001, Norm Hutcherson, review of Basic Economics, p. 92; February 1, 2004, Lawrence R. Maxted, review of Applied Economics, p. 104.
Nation, May 10, 1993, Peter Schrag, review of Inside American Education: The Decline, the Deception, the Dogmas, p. 638.
National Review, February 15, 1993, Chester E. Finn, Jr., review of Inside American Education, p. 49; November 7, 1994, Jacob Cohen, review of Race and Culture: A World View, p. 69; October 23, 1995, Robert P. George, review of The Vision of the Anointed; June 2, 1998, John Keegan, review of Conquests and Cultures, p. 50; October 25, 1999, Jay Nordlinger, "Sowell's Plain Truths," profile of Thomas Sowell, p. 62; December 31, 2003, Richard A. Epstein, "How Economics Works," review of Applied Economics, p. 37; August 29, 2005, Jay Nordlinger, "Chewing Nails," review of Black Rednecks and White Liberals, p. 45; December 19, 2005, "Thomas Sowell: Seeing Clearly," p. 114.
New Republic, November 21, 1983, Nathan Glazer, review of The Economics and Politics of Race; February 8, 1993, Alan Wolfe, review of InsideAmerican Education, p. 25; November 16, 1998, review of Conquests and Cultures, p. 36.
Newsweek, August 24, 1981, David Gelman, review of Ethnic America: A History.
New York Times, January 24, 1987, Walter Goodman, review of A Conflict of Visions.
New York Times Book Review, October 16, 1983, George M. Fredrickson, review of The Economics and Politics of Race; July 1, 1990, Andrew Hacker, review of Preferential Policies: An International Perspective, p. 90; March 28, 1993, John Brademas, review of Inside American Education, p. 11; July 30, 1995, Richard Epstein, review of The Vision of the Anointed, p. 6; June 2, 1996, Thurston Clark, review of Migrations and Culture, p. 9; January 16, 2000, Allen D. Boyer, review of The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, July 21, 1997, review of Late-talking Children, p. 198; April 6, 1998, review of Conquests and Cultures, p. 68; September 20, 1999, review of The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 61; August 14, 2000, review of A Personal Odyssey, p. 335; November 3, 2003, review of Applied Economics, p. 66.
Reason, December, 1998, review of Conquests and Cultures, p. 70.
Reference & Research Book News, November, 1998, review of Conquests and Cultures, p. 22; November, 2006, review of Black Rednecks and White Liberals; February, 2007, review of Ever Wonder Why? and Other Controversial Essays.
Society, May, 1997, review of The Vision of the Anointed, p. 84; September, 1997, review of Migrations and Cultures, p. 92.
Time, March 16, 1987, Otto Friedrich, review of A Conflict of Visions.
Voice Quarterly Review, summer, 1998, review of Migrations and Cultures, p. 564.
Wall Street Journal, February 12, 1993, Michael Schwartz, review of Inside American Education; July 22, 1994, Joel Kotki, review of Race and Culture; July 28, 1995, Scott McConnell, review of The Vision of the Anointed, p. A9; October 20, 2000, Jason L. Riley, review of A Personal Odyssey, p. W10; August 25, 1997, review of Late-talking Children, p. A16; May 19, 1998, John Lehman, review of Conquests and Cultures, p. A20; October 6, 1999, Donald J. Silver, review of The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. A20.
Washington Post Book World, January 4, 1987, Michael Harrington, review of A Conflict of Visions; September 9, 1990, Adolph L. Reed, Jr., review of Preferential Policies; August 17, 1997, review of Late-talking Children, p. 9; September 5, 1999, review of The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 5; October 10, 1999, review of The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 6.
Weekly Standard, August 8, 2005, Michael Barone, "Handing down Misery: A Dissenting View on Cultural Decline," review of Black Rednecks and White Liberals, p. 29.
Salon,http://www.salon.com/ (November 10, 1999), Ray Sawhill, "Black and Right."
Thomas Sowell Home Page,http://www.tsowell.com (August 10, 2007).