As many of you know, Thomas Sowell is my favorite economist and one of my favorite people in the world. He is also, in my view, one of the greatest thinkers of the past century.
His life is the American dream. Born in rural poverty in Gastonia, North Carolina in 1930, he was raised by his aunt and grandmother in Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City, and served our country in the Marine Corps during the Korean War.
After military service he studied at Howard University before transferring to Harvard where he received his undergraduate degree. He earned his masters degree from Columbia, and his PHD in economics from the University of Chicago.
Sowell has published over 40 books that have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Their subjects cover an eclectic range from Basic Economics to Late Talking Children.
Harvard linguist and best-selling author Steven Pinker said this of Sowell:
"A beautiful mind. I consider him among the most brilliant scholars I've ever read or met. Fearless, erudite, insightful on a vast range of topics...."
On June 30th this beautiful mind will turn 93 years old, and I would like to be the first to wish him a happy birthday.
To honor the day, I am including my favorite quotes from the man himself. I hope you enjoy them as much as I. Please note, some of this post has been reprinted from portions of my March 2020 post “Uncommon Wisdom.”
“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 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.”
“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.”
"One of the painful signs of years of dumbed down-education is how many peole are unable to make a coherent argument. They can vent their emotions, question other people's motives, make bold assertions, repeat slogans- anything except reason."
“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.”
“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.”
“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 we can plan more effectively.
If the concept 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 May 31st, 2023
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