Posted tagged ‘Thomas Sowell Retires’

The Quotable Thomas Sowell

January 5, 2017

Thomas Sowell retired last week from writing his weekly column for Creators Syndicate. I wrote about this earlier in the week in this post ( The Great Tomas Sowell Says Farewell To His Weekly Column ).  Dr. Sowell is my favorite author. I try to read all his stuff, which is difficult because of the staggering amount of material he has written.

Dr. Sowell does two things that are difficult when you write. 1) He makes complex and abstract concepts understandable to regular people like me. 2) He economizes on words while revealing this high degree of insight.

I heard someone say this about a particular writer he admired (I can’t recall who it was). This applies to Dr. Sowell. “I know the same words that he knows, but I can’t put them in the same order that he does“. I am so happy that Dr. Sowell’s mind sees things the way it does. His writing has brought much enjoyment to me over the years.

I have compiled some of my favorite quotes from what he has written. Here are a few.


Here are some questions that Dr. Sowell says should be asked when analyzing a topic or discussing a particular topic with another person.

At What Cost?

Compared To What?

Is What Is Being Compared Comparable?

What Is The Real Question?

And Then What?

Who Is To Make The Decision? Through What Process? Under What Incentives And Constraints? With What Feedback Mechanisms?


Here are some short phrases from Dr. Sowell.

-Economic Problems Don’t Have Political Solutions.

-Perfect Justice Means Perfect Tyranny.

-Virtually Everything Is Foreseeable In Retrospect.

-Every False Diagnosis Of A condition Is An Obstacle to Improvement.

-Feedback Serves To Limit The Impact Of Errors.

-Sober Analysis Seldom Has The Appeal Of Ringing Rhetoric.

-History Is By Definition Tardy.

-Don’t Confuse Causation With Morality.

-It Takes A High I.Q. To Evade The Obvious.

-Many People Have Credentialed Ignorance.

-We Can Only Make Our Choices From Alternatives That Are Actually Available.

-Moderation Is Great, Unless It Is Taken To Extremes.

-What Is True Is Not Always Popular And What Is Popular Is Not Always True.

-Liberalism: Let My Conscience Be Your Guide.

-Everything Is The Same Except For Its Differences; and Everything Is Different Except For Its Similarities.

-The Question Is Not Whether The Glass Is Half Full Or Half Empty. The Question Is, Was The Glass Full Of Empty When You Started?


Here are some longer quotes about economics, freedom and politics.

-The abstract existence of knowledge means nothing unless it is applied at the point of decision or action.

-Knowledge is one of the scarcest of all resources in any economy, and the insight distilled from knowledge is scarcer still.

-Decisions differ because of the internal preferences and the external incentives facing those who make the decisions.

-Results observed at a given point in time may be part of a process that stretches far back in time.

-Envy used to be one of the seven deadly sins before it became one of the most admired virtues under its new name, “Social Justice”.

-The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.

-History is not a record of people’s articulated intentions being realized so much as it is a record of entirely different things happening as a net result of mutual innumerable strivings toward mutually incompatible goals.

-The God like approach to social policy ignores both the diversity of values and the cost of agreement among human beings.

-Just as a poetic discussion of the weather is not meteorology, so an issuance of moral pronouncements or political creeds about the economy is not economics.

-People who are very aware that they have more knowledge than the average person are often very unaware that they do not have one tenth of the knowledge of all of the average persons put together. In this situation, for the intelligentsia to impose their notions on ordinary people is essentially to impose ignorance on knowledge.

-Any attempt to have rational discourse requires that those with different views have a common language in which to discuss their differences.

-The anointed are on their tiny island of knowledge, surrounded by their sea of ignorance.

-The anointed are insulated from the feedback of uncooperative reality.

-The anointed are often wrong, but never in doubt.

-Intellectuals are masters of the world of unverified plausibilities.

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

-When you want to help people you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.

-Wherever we want to go, we can only get there from where we are, not where we think we are. Not where we think we are, or wish we are, or where we want others to think we are, but where we are in fact right now. If we don’t have truth we don’t have anything to start with, and build on. Political spin and pious euphemisms don’t tell us where we are.

-If you have a right to someone else’s approval, than they do not have a right to their own opinions and values.

-The fatal misstep of intellectuals is assuming that superior ability within a particular realm can be generalized as superior wisdom or morality over all.

-The intelligentsia and others always fight phony wars against straw men. Why create a false issue, except to evade the real issue?

-In political competition what is being sold is not an end result, but a plausible belief about a complex process. Ergo accurate knowledge has no such decisive competitive advantage.

-The free market may work vest when there is a level playing field. But politicians win more votes by tilting the playing field to favor particular groups.

-Tests are not unfair. Life is unfair and the test measures the result.

-The test conveys a difference that already exists. It doesn’t create a difference that would not exist otherwise.

-People have to be aware of the dangers in letting economic decisions be made through political processes.

-The argument for Socialism, it sounds great; the argument against it, it doesn’t work.

-Anyone can be wrong about the future. But being wrong about the past is something else.

-If an informed citizenry is the foundation of democratic government, than an uninformed citizenry is a danger.

-Systemically evolved freedom in Colonial America later became intentionally preserved freedom in the Constitution of the United States.

-Constitutional guarantees encumber the state precisely so that the state may not encumber the people.

-More severe penalties that are not enforced are not as good as less sever penalties that are enforced.

-Lowering standards for those unable to meet them only endangers the very benefits those standards produce. Standards do not exist for no reason.

-Freedom has always been embattled where it has not been wholly crushed.

-A border dispute between Ohio and Indiana does not keep us from knowing that Columbus is in Ohio and Indianapolis is in Indiana.

-Each ethnic group tends to trail the long shadow of its own cultural history, as well as reflecting the consequences of external influences.

-Wealth in the U.S. is not distributed at all. People create it, earn it, save it, and spend it.

-Survival in the market often requires recognizing mistakes and changing course, while survival in politics often requires denying mistakes, continuing the current policies and blaming the bad consequences on others.

-Free markets efficiently allocate scarce resources which have alternative uses. This results in higher standards of living for society as a whole, along with unequal rewards to individuals, industries and regions.

-The effectiveness of the market does not depend on Government officials or intellectuals understanding it.

-The biggest difference between economic decisions in the market, and political decisions in Government is that costs are an inescapable factor in economic decisions, while political decisions can ignore costs.

-Voluntary decision-making processes have many advantages which are lost when courts attempt to prescribe results, rather than define decision-making boundaries.

-Nothing is easier than to confuse broader powers with deeper insight. But almost by definition, those with the broadest powers are the most remote from the specific knowledge needed for either deciding or for knowing the actual consequences of their decisions.

-Sometimes the ascribed status to a particular group is preferential, so that sorting and labeling that is biased in the proscribed direction is legal but any bias in a different direction is not.

-The word “crisis” has virtually become a political synonym for “situation” and indicates little more than something that someone wants to change.

-Social crusaders are not forced to confront the consequences of their choices, even in their own minds, or consciences, much less pay a tangible price for he havoc they leave in their wake while feeling noble.

-Many complaints that some basically good Government policy has been applied stupidly may fail to address the Underlying problem of catagorical laws in an incremental world.

-Nothing human has ever achieved perfection. So the fact that intellectuals can always imagine something better than the vest that exists in reality is hardly surprising.

-Justice of any sort, criminal justice as well as so-called “social justice”, implies the imposition of a given standard on people with different standards.

-What is politically defined as economic planning is the forcible superseding of other people’s plans by Government officials.

-The claim that costs are “prohibitive” is to miss the whole point of costs, which is precisely to be prohibitive. Costs transmit inherent limitations of resources compared to the desires for them, but do not create this fundamental disproportionately.

-All costs are prohibitive to some degree, and virtually no costs are prohibitively absolutely.

-Where prices are set by Government fiat, they convey no information as to ever-changing economic trade-offs…. Price changes are virtually instantaneous, while statistics available to planners necessarily lag behind.

-If prosperity could come only from the united efforts of upright and noble-minded people, all of mankind would still be sunk in poverty.

-Everyone must live in the world of reality. To the extent that reality has been filtered to fit a vision, this filtered information is a misleading guide to making decisions in an unforgiving reality, to which we must all adjust because it is not going to adjust to us.

-The same man is not equal to himself on different days, much less at different periods of life.


If this seems like a lot, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you can remember some of these statements by Dr Sowell, especially the questions that should constantly be asked, you will start seeing the world through a different lens.



The Great Thomas Sowell: Says Farewell To His Weekly Column

January 2, 2017

Thomas Sowell

I was out-of-town last week when I heard that my favorite author was retiring from writing his weekly column. I decided to wait until I had time to think, before I wrote anything about Dr. Sowell retiring.

I had never heard of Thomas Sowell until one day in 1995 I was listening to Walter E. Williams guest host for Rush Limbaugh. He said he was going to talk to his friend Dr. Thomas Sowell about his new book titled, “The Vision Of The Anointed”. I had been reading Walter E. Williams columns in the local paper for years and decided to make sure I listened when Dr. Sowell was being interviewed.

The discussion between Dr. Williams and Dr. Sowell about this book captivated me to the point I went out and purchased the book as soon as I could. The clarity in which Dr. Sowell articulated complex issues had me hooked. It was crack cocaine to me. I had to have more.

I read a book he wrote in 1987 titled, “A Conflict Of Visions”. Then I read “Knowledge and Decisions” a book he wrote in 1980. From there I had to get my hands on everything he wrote. I have 34 books by Dr. Sowell. He has laid the foundation for me to read and understand Hayek, Mises, and Rothbard.

I had read F.A. Hayek’s, “Road To Serfdom” before I had read anything by Thomas Sowell. I didn’t know how little I had understood in Road To Serfdom until I reread it after I had read Dr Sowell’s books.

I know Dr. Sowell is retiring from his weekly column, but I hope that he will keep turning out his books. His weekly columns are written for regular people like you and me. They are not written for academics as some of his books are. His weekly columns have been must reads for me for years. I will continue to have his blog archives on my blog roll. They are a great source for information.

Thomas Sowell has published 6 books containing his best weekly essays. I have all 6 of these books. Here is a list, with links to Amazon.

Pink And Brown People, and other controversial essays. 1977-1980.

Compassion Versus Guilt, and other essays.

Is Reality Optional.

Controversial Essays.

Barbarians Inside The Gate.

Ever Wonder Why, and other controversial essays.

Dismantling America. 2010

The most amazing thing when you read these older books of essays, is the fact that nothing has changed. We are still fighting the same ideological battles today as we were in the late 70’s. His essays are as relevant today as they were when they were written.


Here is what he wrote in his last column titled, “Farewell“.

Even the best things come to an end. After enjoying a quarter of a century of writing this column for Creators Syndicate, I have decided to stop. Age 86 is well past the usual retirement age, so the question is not why I am quitting, but why I kept at it so long.”

“Looking back over the years, as old-timers are apt to do, I see huge changed, both for the better and for the worse”……

“We cannot return to the past, even if we wanted to, but let us hope that we can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.”

“Goodbye and good luck to all.”


Here are a few excerpts from essays in his book titled “Pink And Brown People”. These essays were written from 1977 to 1980. You tell me if this is relevant today?

1977 – Who Says Bureaucracy Is Inefficient?

The public has all too many reasons to be unhappy and angry with bureaucrats. But To blame problems in Washington on stupidity and inefficiency among government officials is to misunderstand what is happening. Government employees are better paid than private employees, have lower unemployment rates, and fatter pensions…..The highest income county in the U.S. is in a suburb of Washington…..Bureaucracy is a growth industry. This has been true over the years regardless of which party was in power and regardless of a born-again Christian (Carter) out to reform “the mess in Washington.”

“The bureaucracy, with its financial security and special privileges, is, if anything, far too smart and too efficient in promoting its own interest….how did it happen. In order to know if people are “efficient” or inefficient,” you have to know what they are trying to do. Fan dancing is a very inefficient way of circulating the air in a room, but it is a very efficient way of transferring money from the pockets of the viewers to the pocket of the performer. The government is not fan dancing, but there is a similar emphasis on going through tantalizing motions that promise more than is delivered.”

The crucial mistake is to assume that the government’s purpose is our purpose…..Efficiency means getting the most output with the least input. But bureaucrats are paid according to how many other bureaucrats work under them and how big a budget they administer. This is called being paid for the level of responsibility….To call over staffing and unnecessary paperwork “inefficiency or stupidity in this context is to miss the whole point. What we call bureaucratic delay is someone else’s job protection and his boss’s salary justification.”

“Bungling? When was the last time government workers missed getting their paychecks….? confusion? When was the last time government workers’ unions failed to torpedo reforms that would cost jobs? Few things have been as much criticized as the welfare system and the education system, and yet the only reforms that have any political chance in these areas must first and foremost assure the jobs, power, and appropriations of the existing bureaucrats. Efficient? Very.”

Is it worse or better since 1977?

1979 – “Expert Failures”

“Have you noticed how many disasters follow in the wake of “experts”? The period since WWII has been the great era of experts on raising children. Dr. Spock was only the tip of the iceberg. You couldn’t turn on the radio or television, or open a newspaper of magazine, without encountering an army of experts on how to raise your kid.”

“The first thing these experts emphasized was that laymen were all wrong in their approach. what we needed was the sophisticated, modern way to handle children, not simplistic, traditional methods. What followed was an unprecedented rise in juvenile delinquency, crime, teenage suicide, venereal disease, and pregnancy. The only thing going down was performance in school.”

“Experts took over control of the American money supply even earlier in history. A monetary crisis in the early twentieth century led to the creation of the Federal Reserve system in 1914. With experts in firm control of the money supply, we were supposed to have less sudden reductions in the flow of money, fewer bank failures, and less inflation….The largest number of bank failures ever seen occurred under these experts: one-forth of all the banks in the U.S. failed in one year. As for inflation, there has never been such a long period of inflation as we have had under the Federal Reserve system, especially in recent years.”

“While experts are quick to claim credit for anything good that happens, all disasters are attributed¬† to something else…..The great problem with experts is that they don’t know and can’t know. They may have a lot of theories and second-hand information at their fingertips. but the hard, specific knowledge needed to make decisions is usually scattered among millions of laymen. The layman is the real expert on his own particular situation and has every incentive to change his decision when the results don’t turn out the way he wants. The so-called expert tries to know too much from too far away and has no incentive to admit he is wrong, since someone else pays the price of his mistakes.”

“… expert may know more than one layman. but neither of them knows enough to try to control a whole economy or society of millions of other human beings. The layman at least realizes that his knowledge is inadequate to even attempt such a thing. The expert doesn’t. That is why he is so dangerous.


Their has only been a change in degree not kind. What is going on now is no different than Dr. Sowell’s observations of what was happening in the late 70s. These problems have only expanded in size and scope. We didn’t listen to the warning.

I will be writing about Thomas Sowell over the next week or so. This man opened my eyes to a different world view than the one being pushed by the ruling aristocracy, the main stream media, and the intellectual class. I am convinced that if a person is shown both world views, he will choose the one Dr. Sowell articulates.