Farewell, Thomas Sowell, Thanks for the Memories

Thomas Sowell is retiring his column from Creators Syndicate. If you’re unfamiliar with the man, you’ve been missing out, probably while hiding under a rock.

Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, holding Rose and Milton Friedman chair. He is a National Humanities Medal and Bradley Prize for Intellectual Thought recipient.

Born in North Carolina, and raised in Harlem, N.Y., Sowell is an American economist who has written dozens and dozens of books on economics, education, and race, including two autobiographies reflecting on his life in the Jim Crow South and his travels from poverty to the military to the Ivy League to the Labor Department. He has taught at Howard University, Rutgers, Cornell, Brandeis, UCLA, Stanford, and Amherst. His books have been translated into at least a dozen languages.

As a black conservative, he has faced a barrage of hateful criticism, yet, even at age 86, he remains pithy, resigned, and thoughtful.

To appreciate fully the man’s intellect would take intensive study of him, but to enjoy Sowell wit takes merely a review of some classic commentary. Gathered here are a few of his quotes, some recent, some decades old.


There are words that were once common, but which are seldom heard any more. The phrase “none of your business” is one of these.

Being old-fashioned, I liked to know what the facts were before writing.

It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.

Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.

People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.

There are so many substitutes used in our society — substitutes for eggs, substitutes for wood, substitutes for diamonds — that perhaps we should not be too surprised to find substitutes for morality as well.  One of the most widespread substitutes for morality, especially among intellectuals, is sanctimoniousness.

The first rule of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first rule of politics is to forget the first rule of economics.

The primary purpose of mascots is to symbolize something that makes others feel good.  The well-being of the mascot himself is seldom a major consideration.

This is an era when many people are concerned about ‘fairness’, what is your ‘fair share’ of what someone else has worked for?

One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.

If naval-gazing, hand-wringing, or self-dramatization helped with racial issues, we would have achieved Utopia long ago.