Gary North on current economic affairs and investment marketsGary North -- Specific Answers
HomeContact MeTell a FriendText SizeSearchMember Area
Gain immediate access to all of our current articles, the question-and-answer forums, dozens of free books, and article archives. Click here for details on how to join.

About This Site
Academic Gaps
Capitalism and the Bible
Christian Economics
Clichés of Protectionism
College Finances
Debt Management
Ellen Brown: Critique
Federal Reserve Charts
Gary North's Free Books
Get Published Here!
Gold Price & My Report
Keynes Project
One Lesson
Price Index (U.S.A.)
Questions for Jim Wallis
Remnant Review
Social Security/Medicare
Sustained Revival
Tea Party Economist
U.S. Debt Clock
Yield Curve
Your YouTube Channel
Gary North's Miscellany
Budgeting for Wealth
Business Start-Up
Career Advancement
Digital Tools
Education That Works
Evernote: Free Notes
Federal Reserve Policy
Fireproof Your Job
Goal-Setting for Success
Great Default
Inheritance Strategies
International Investing
Investment Basics
Job and Calling
Keynesian Economics
Marketing Case Studies
Precious Metals
Real Estate
Safe Places
State of the Economy
Stocks and Bonds
Study Habits
Video Channel Profits
Members' Free Manuals
Our Products
Contact Me
Tell a Friend
Text Size
Your Account
My 100% Guarantee
Privacy Policy
Terms of Use

This site powered by MemberGate
home | Tea Party Economist | Thomas Sowell: The World’s Gre . . .

Thomas Sowell: The World's Greatest Living Economist

Gary North - March 09, 2013
Printer-Friendly Format

I first encountered his name in 1967, when I was writing the chapter on Marx's economics in my first book, Marx's Religion of Revolution (1968).

Sowell had written an article for the American Economic Review in 1960. I did not know at the time that he had written it while he was in graduate school, which is unheard of for any author of an AER article. He received his Ph.D. in 1968, the year my book was published. I also did not know that Sowell was a Marxist. In 1960, the year the article was published, he got a job as a summer intern in a federal bureaucracy. He began to abandon his Marxism.

I was not overly impressed by the article. I cited it in a footnote: "Thomas Sowell, "Marx's 'Increasing Misery Doctrine'," American Economic Review, L (1960), pp. 111-20. Sowell argues that Marx did hold to the absolute increasing misery doctrine before 1850 or so, but in the context of this chapter, I have tried to indicate that he also wrote in terms of it after 1850." Little did I suspect what was to come.

There is no Sowell theorem in economic theory. There is no Sowell movement. Nobody has publicly identified himself as a Sowellist. Then why do I regard him as the greatest living economist? This:

1. He applies simple but fundamental concepts of economics to real-world problems, which are often problems that are not widely perceived as being heavily influenced by economic categories.

2. He relies exclusively on verbal communications, not graphs or equations, to explain these concepts and their applications. This keeps his expositions firmly within the realm of historical cause and effect.

3. He never begins his economic analyses with this phrase: "Let us assume. . . ." The only time he ever uses "let us assume," is when it is followed by "for the sake of argument," which is in preparation for a lambasting of some conventional political assumption.

4. He writes in well-honed English that is the product of over 30 years of writing newspaper columns: clear, precise, and rhetorically persuasive -- in short, efficient.

5. He is the most creative economist in our era -- or perhaps in any era -- in implementing the division of labor in his writing. He hires astoundingly productive research assistants, and then he incorporates their remarkable but diverse discoveries into a single coherent narrative.

6. He is a better historian than he is an economist. Other economists have made observations similar to his. But no other historian matches him in his chosen specialty: economic motivations that have prompted the international migration and subsequent economic successes of modern racial, national, and religious groups.

7. His commitment to discovering historical applications of economic theory, which keeps his theories from straying into the realm of irrelevant mathematical precision, where most academic economists prefer to dwell in safety -- preferably tenured safety.

8. He does not suffer fools gladly. He takes no prisoners.

9. He writes editorials with such regularity that he warrants a permanent Drudge Report link. This volume of output, written under the pressure of deadlines, gives him ample opportunities to make wrong-headed, off-the-cuff statements. He has kept these to a minimum, usually confined to areas in which he claims no expertise.

Features 1-7 are guaranteed to keep him from winning a Nobel Prize.

He was not an overnight sensation. It was two decades between that article on Marx and his breakthrough book. In 1974, he hit conceptual pay dirt. He began working on a project that resulted in a specialized monograph. He began the simplest theorem of economics, scarcity -- "at zero price, there is greater demand than supply" -- and applied it to a key economic resource, which is arguably the central economic resource: accurate knowledge. For 400 pages, he mined his unregistered claim for all it was worth. It turned out to be the mother lode. Why? Because knowledge is widely regarded as a free good. Even when it is not so regarded, it is regarded as a good that ought to be free. Sowell showed in ten cogent, carefully argued chapters that accurate knowledge is never free. Any attempt by the state to make knowledge free will backfire, he argued. The digital counter-culture's slogan -- "information wants to be free" -- is nonsense. It is a variant of the ancient quest of something for nothing, which always ends badly.

Then he hit publishing pay dirt. The manuscript was accepted by Basic Books, the leading publisher of academic books on the Right. It published Knowledge and Decisions in 1980. I regard that book as the most important one-volume monograph in economics that I have ever read. I thought so in 1980, and I still do. Why? Because there are so many areas of life in which we have ignored or discounted the cost of accurate and applicable information. Unless you have given a great deal of thought to this, you have missed most of them.

Also in 1980, he went on the payroll of the Hoover Institution. Hoover decided to trade a guaranteed salary in exchange for Sowell's future output. This was a deal for Hoover comparable to Red Auerbach's trade in 1956 of Cliff Hagen and "Easy" Ed McCauley for a newly drafted and untried rookie, Bill Russell.

In 1986, I offered to pay him $3,500 to fly an hour to Los Angeles, give a speech, and fly back to Palo Alto. That was worth about $7,300 in today's money. That was over three times what I had ever offered anyone to speak at one of my conferences. I knew that he normally asked $10,000 per speech. So, I tried the old trick I use when dealing with used car salesmen. I sent him the check. He sent it back, but he thanked me for making the offer. He thereby proved to me that his time was an economic good. At zero price, there was way too much demand for my budget. He clearly placed a high price on his time. Over the next quarter century, he justified this price in terms of the value of his output.

I must now issue a warning. Four of his books, which were written for his academic peers, are second rate. Why do I say this? Because they violated the criteria that I apply to his later work. They are unclear, without rhetorical power, dishwater dull, made no impact on the economics profession, and sank without a trace. First is his monograph, Say's Law, published by Princeton University Press in 1972. Second is Classical Economics Reconsidered (1974), also published by Princeton University Press. It was much better than Say's Law, because it was 90 pages shorter. Third, there is his book on Marxism, published in 1985. As of today, you can buy a hardcover used copy of his book on Marxism on Amazon. You can pay $191.37, $318.18, or $318.20, plus $3.99 for shipping. Don't.

His original economic textbook, Economics (1971), was unmemorable. It had a lot of graphs, which conveyed no useful theoretical knowledge beyond the text, and which made reading the book far more laborious. It was a conventional textbook. It was therefore boring. Its main benefit was that it was short: 340 pages, not the standard 1,000 pages of a college-level textbook. It therefore had this advantage: it is better to bore captive collegiate readers out of their skulls for 340 pages than for 1,000. The proof of how mediocre his textbook was is this: his 2004 non-textbook, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy. It was written for a non-captive audience: readers who are not enrolled in college. It contains no graphs or equations. It is intensely real-world focused, as are all of the books that he wrote for the general public.

This is his great contribution. With a few exceptions, which I regard as youthful indiscretions, he has written for the general public. No Nobel Prize for him!

There is one other thing. Sowell in his dust jacket photos has always looked at least ten years younger than he is. I like to think they were Photoshopped, but Photoshop is too recent. This has annoyed me for over three decades. (My solution: I never put my photo on my dust jackets. I don't want to be reminded.)

Printer-Friendly Format

 Tip of the Week
Sign up for my free
Tip of the Week
Verification Characters:    Type     B  N  K  3  7     here   

Tip of the week archives
On what this icon
means, and how it
can help you,
click here
 Q & A Forums
General Q&A Forum
Advertising and Resumés
American History Topics
Backyard Food Gardening
Banking and Politics
Blog Sites and Web Sites
Books Worth Reading
Bumper Sticker Slogans
Business Forum
Buying Smart
Christian Service Forum
College -- The Cheap Way
Education Alternatives
Food Storage
For Women Only
GNC Benefits
GNC Testimonials
Gold and Silver
Great Default Forum
Health and Diet
Health Insurance
Investments Forum
Iran War
Job, Calling, and Career
Leadership Development
Legacy Building
Less Dependent Living
Local Political Action
Non-Retirement Forum
One Good Idea
Police State
Public Speaking
Real Estate Forum
Remnant Review Forum
Safe Places Forum
Taxation Policy
Typographical Errors
Video Production Basics

Reality Check
 Discussion Forum
Search Discussion

Recent Forum Posts
• Cashing in 401k??
• Rare Coins vs. Gold
• ETrade Dumping Global Trading
• The New World Order Just Got a Wake-Up Call
• Are rates rising or falling ?
• The Next Market Crash article
• Gary, what IS your long term investment outlook?
• Trailer parks as a sound investment
• Prices for US treasuries headed south?
• Copper
• Negative interest rates
• Looking for educational material
• Safe currencies to hold
• Benjamin Graham?
• A Motif masochist investor asks
• Buy or Rent for a Young Family
• Raising Rent
• Financing vehicles
• Sell or Rent with Recession on the Horizon
• VA Home Loan
• House flippers are back with Wall St help
• Is there a large brokerage you recommend.
• Ever hear of Exit Realty?
• What commission do you think a broker should get?
• Capital gains
• Developing a mobile home park
• Word press plug in
• Rent controls in mass inflation:where to go?
• How to calculate ROI for a rental property?
• How should I sell a house?
• Let's not make a deal!
• US Pop update: 78% pop decline by 2025 !
• Price Book- End of America
• Time to leave America while you still can ?
• Impact Fees for New Florida Residents
• New Hampshire and Florida
• Ecuador and PR
• Survivor library
• Missle Silo converted to Condos
• Does the South suck?
• Moving TO the US?
• No City for Old People
• Will you die getting to your bug out location?
• teaching English overseas - some questions
• The state with the most Liberty
• Kurzweil on Financial Times
• Why is this fantasy world stuff?
• One change could help saving for retirement
• Forced retirement - lump sum - legal work
• Moving Retirement Funds
• Sudden Wealth Advice
• Sudden Wealth Advice
• Question on Traditional Pensions
• advice on how do I interact with my older parents?
• Do You Sincerely Want to Be Rich? Why?
• Req. For No 401(k)/Other Pensions via Relocatio
• Cashing out 401K to pay student debt?
• SS @ 62 and still working
• Desolation or Prosperity?
• I take it Retirement Armageddon is not available
• Someone argues that God sustains without job
• State deficits
• Bank pays you for Mortgage
• The Changing World of Agriculture
• Overpaying Workers=Biblical & Business Sense ?
• Discipline begins with Dad...published!
• Alkaline water
• Sun City
• advance in vision technology-60/20!
• Osama bin Laden read Antony Sutton?
• Start with Why
• Krugman right - it's a miracle
• Bank charging to hold deposits
• Top 10 Bank Gives Graduates Hope
• Googles' Plan
• Loyalty
• Small business loans
• Metrics for growth of online education?
• How to best build email list of High Net Worths
• Competing where no one wants to
• A Low-Cost Weekend Business to Retire Into
• Questions for small business owners
• Leasing Question
• New Motor Technbology
• MBA programs that get you where you want to go
• a different marketing - using academia
• Video Interview Equipment
• Beginner Business Structure
• Apply 80/20
• Good Recruiting wins Championships = $$$