Thomas Sowell is an American economist who was born in North Carolina. He grew up in Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City. After enlisting in the Marine Corp and serving our country during the Korean War, Sowell enrolled at Harvard, where he graduated magna cum laude. He received his master’s degree from Columbia and his doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago.
My first introduction to Thomas Sowell was by way of a column he had, which appeared sporadically in the 1990s in the New York Post. I immediately found his combination of logic and lucidity extraordinary. He has the rare ability to explain complex things, in simple, easy to understand language.
And it was a good thing for me that he did. Growing up the youngest of nine children in working class Bayonne, New Jersey, words like economics and
politics meant almost nothing to me.
In my family, we did not have “economic” discussions, we talked about money. Those conversations, on the rare occasions they did take place, skewed towards how to keep food on the table and keep the lights on!
Dr. Sowell gave me my start in understanding how the economic machine works and how and why that machine intersects with politics. Here are some of my favorite quotes from my favorite economist. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
“One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.”
“What is history but the story of how politicians have squandered the blood and treasure of the human race?”
“What can we be certain of from history? That human beings have been wrong innumerable times, by vast amounts, and with catastrophic results. Yet today there are still people who think that anyone who disagrees with them must be either bad or not know what he is talking about.”
“One of the most pathetic—and dangerous—signs of our times is the growing number of individuals and groups who believe that no one can possibly disagree with them for any honest reason.”
“It is bad enough that so many people believe things without any evidence. What is worse is that some people have no conception of evidence and regard facts as just someone else's opinion.”
“You can’t stop people from saying bad things about you. All you can do is make them liars.”
“Virtually every stupid idea in vogue today was thought of by somebody in the past — and has led to disaster, again and again. That is why it is dangerous to neglect the study of history, so that we have to keep on learning what is wrong with clever ideas the hard way.”
“You can see the agenda behind the rhetoric when profits are called “unconscionable” but taxes never are, even when taxes take more than half of what someone has earned, or add much more to the prices we have to pay than profits do.”
“Politics allows people to vote for the impossible, which may be one reason why politicians are often more popular than economists, who keep reminding people that there is no free lunch and that there are no 'solutions' but only trade-offs.”
“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.”
“Those who disdain wealth as a worthy goal for an individual or a society seem not to realize that wealth is the only thing that can prevent poverty.”
“Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.”
“The fact that so many successful politicians are such shameless liars is not only a reflection on them, it is also a reflection on us. When the people want the impossible, only liars can satisfy.”
“Whatever we wish to achieve in the future, it must begin by knowing where we are in the present- not where we wish we were, or where we wish others to think we are, but where we are, in fact.”
“No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems—of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.”
“The only people I truly envy are those who can play a musical instrument and those who can eat anything they want without gaining weight.”
“Reality does not go away when it is ignored.”
“In short, numbers are accepted as evidence when they agree with preconceptions, but not when they don’t.”
For me, the strength of Thomas Sowell is seeing right through to the heart of things. Even, or perhaps especially, when those things are unpleasant to see in the world or in ourselves.
I endeavor to see the world as it is and not as I would like it to be. By doing so, I believe that I can plan more effectively.
If this kind of reality and evidence based planning appeals to you, consider working with a financial planner who has earned your trust, in order to formulate a plan and take action.
Scott R. McGimpsey February 29th, 2020
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