As a business major in college, I studied economics. But I didn’t really learn anything about economics. Like many of my classes, my econ classes felt like a waste of time. All I can remember was a dizzying array of mathematical formulas, chart, graphs, and equations. It seemed more like algebra, which I hated. I eventually came to the conclusion that economics was just “over my head.” Then I encountered Thomas Sowell and all of that changed.
Sowell’s book Basic Economics did as much as any book to teach me what economics was really all about. Things like “supply and demand” and “free market capitalism” made sense when Sowell explained it. Just as governmental intervention and manipulation seemed destructive, as Sowell explained it. In addition to Sowell I read Walter Williams and Ron Paul; which lead to Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, Robert Wenzel, and others. After spending a few years immersing myself in these writings, I not only understood economics better; I also understood why some people (the government for example) would rather most people not understand the subject. It’s much easier to manipulate the ignorant than it is the informed. My Bachelor’s degree kept me in the dark. But Sowell helped me kick down the door to knowledge. For this, I am eternally grateful to him.
Sowell has announced that he is retiring from his regular newspaper column. For decades he has written on political and cultural issues from the unique perspective of a black, libertarian-leaning, economist who backed up his strong opinions with pertinent facts and statistics. Some of the greatest YouTube videos available are old “Crossfire” clips of Sowell taking on uppity liberals and intellectually mopping the floor with their “group think” politically-correct ideas. Sowell was a genius in these discussions. Just as he was in later years as well. Whether it was him exposing Charlie Rose’s “diversity flaws” or being interviewed by Hoover Institute fellow Peter Robinson on the program “Uncommon Knowledge” – Sowell never disappointed.
Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin recently wrote a tribute to Sowell and spoke of how she studied his writings in college, even though her professors were not recommending him. I experienced the same thing. And Sowell’s knowledge spread far beyond economics. He wrote on race, education, global warming, war, and just about any other topic that was newsworthy. But rather than burying the reader with jargon, Sowell had the gift of common sense. He was a rare jewel in the cesspool of American intellectualism. Even when you disagreed with his conclusions, you came away understanding his perspective. Even if you thought he was wrong, you came away re-thinking your position. Few columnists have this ability. Sowell did.
If you truly desire to understand economics, read Sowell. Read Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. And read all you can from the aforementioned authors. Go to Mises.org, and the Economic Policy Journal (a website I’ve contributed several articles to), and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. Through these writings you’ll learn what economics is truly all about. You’ll learn why the free market is the best decider of winners and losers. And you’ll learn why the government messes up everything they touch, economically speaking.
I’m sorry to hear that Sowell is retiring; but he has earned the right. He’s fought many a political battle and taught many of us in the process. At the age of 86, he’s decided to slow down and jump out of the fray. Best wishes to you Dr. Sowell. And thanks for all you did to teach economics to a man who wasn’t your student, but saw you as one of his greatest teachers.