Thomas Sowell is an economist who’s been around quite a long time and is best known (among non-economists) for his book Basic Economics, but I had sadly not read any of his work until lately.
Let me start with why one would not read Sowell. Clearly, he is a right-leaning political and economic philosopher, conservative with some libertarian leanings, and I generally am careful about reading anything with an obvious political bent. Sowell has a noticeable ideology he stands by. I’m not sure he’s the best for easily swayed audiences, because you need to read him carefully and with your mind guarded.
However, Sowell is also a very clear, very logical, very empirical thinker and writer. He’s an economist who doesn’t fall for false rigor, the mathematically driven physics envy common to so much of modern economic thought. His ideas are rooted, rather, in common sense, comparative history, basic economic tenets like incentives and opportunity costs, and most of all, sound data. His work is enjoyable to read – it lacks the weighty academic denseness you’re used to in serious political and economic writing.
His approach leads him to a lot of unpopular stances. To give you an idea, Sowell, an African-American who grew up in Harlem in the 1940’s, doesn’t believe in affirmative action, multiculturalism, or a host of other popular cultural ideas. Wherever you stand on those issues, agree or disagree, Sowell has a well thought out take.
This particular book is about what Sowell calls “cosmic justice” – the idea that humanity has any shot at fair, just, equal outcomes. It’s not that he disagrees with the ideals of fairness, equality, or justice. He simply disagrees with the mindless implementation of them, the quasi-religious pursuit of them at all costs. How he arrives at that conclusion makes an interesting read. It’s as much a work of practical philosophy as socioeconomics.
This one isn’t for everyone. If you have a strong ideology of your own, you may struggle to reconcile it with Sowell’s. So enter with a guarded open mind. But prepare to learn, be challenged, and be forced to clear up the cobwebs of your thinking. I plan to read more of his work.