Thomas Sowell's has a large reputation, but not large enoughby Jay Nordlinger / February 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
Thomas sowell has a large reputation, but not large enough. As a black, conservative intellectual in the US, he wears many hats. He writes a syndicated column, full of punchy libertarianism. He writes books on history, social policy and philosophy, almost all for the general public. And he has several academic works to his name, too-Sowell is an economist.
He is nearly 70 now. He grew up in North Carolina and Harlem, and studied at Howard, Harvard, Columbia and Chicago. At this last institution, he was a student of Milton Friedman and George Stigler. One of his more remarkable books is Ethnic America (1981), a history of immigration and social relations among Americans. If it is not yet a standard text, it should be. Marxism (1985) is a useful treatment of that critical ideology. Sowell’s trademark, in all his writing, is clarity of thought, which leads to clarity of language and an illuminating reading experience. He is a destroyer of cant, a cutter through the fog.
Consider a sample from his recent columns. After yet another school shooting, Sowell wrote: “First of all, these are not ‘senseless’ shootings. They are expressions of hatred which disregard morality and common decency, but they are very rationally planned and executed.” After a George W Bush speech on school vouchers, he wrote: “Let’s go back to square one. [Sowell is forever going back to square one; it is possibly his favourite place.] What is the money there for? To educate students. And if 10 per cent of the students leave the public school system and take 10 per cent of the money with them, how does this make any less money available per student among those remaining in the public schools?” In a column on Pat Buchanan, Sowell fulminates against the sloppy use of terms: “It does no good to scare people with bogeyman words like ‘trade deficit’ and ‘debtor nation.’ The benefits of international trade do not depend on whether you have more imports or exports… The US has been a debtor nation for most of its history-and it has had the highest standard of living in the world for most of its history.”
His latest book offers just over 200 pages, but is the burnished product of a lifetime of thinking, arguing, refining and getting it straight. The book takes the form of four essays; its opening piece, “The Quest for…