There is a man who is now very old, an intellectual of unique proportions, an economist, sociologist, philosopher and writer, who when he was young was an idealist and a Marxist. He is a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute and is worthy of an introduction to you, the reader.
In our world today, critical events seem to pass us by quickly and leave in their wake new issues almost daily. The result is a myriad and almost overwhelming variety of topics one could address as an op/ed writer. However, it is precisely why I feel it is better to ignore the rush and instead to focus on a rock — a foundation of great thought and study as we find in a man like Dr. Thomas Sowell.
Thomas Sowell was born in Gastonia, North Carolina. Not only was he born into the South’s world of racial segregation, he also came into the world as the Great Depression was getting started. Compounding these trials, his father died before he was born and his mother died in child birth a few years later. Consequently, he was sent to live with his great aunt who raised him, along with the help of her two adult daughters.
Looking to a better and more free life in the north, Sowell’s great aunt moved the family to Harlem, New York. It was there he was introduced to a new friend, Eddie Map, and through Eddie, was introduced to something he initially could not understand: the public library. Thomas wondered why his friend had brought him to a place full of books he obviously couldn’t afford. When Eddie explained to him the concept of a library card and borrowing books, Thomas was skeptical. Overcoming his skepticism, at eight years old, he became an avid reader.
A personal advantage Thomas gained by moving north was the opportunity for a better education. At least that was true while he was in elementary school. It wasn’t as true when it came to the junior high he was assigned to attend. Again, his friend Eddie intervened, and assisted him in applying for an inner-district transfer. The experience would lead to Sowell’s strong, life long advocacy for school choice, whether through vouchers, charter schools — or as he was allowed, through choice within a district.
In 1951, Sowell was drafted into the United States Marines. While a Marine, he joined the Combat Camera Division where he gained a love for photography. It was an art form which provided release from the pressures of teaching and the rigors of writing.
From photography, there was a lesson he learned which today might prove difficult to match. We mostly use our cells phones to take pictures but Sowell, using the technology of the SLR camera, learned to change aperture and lens speed to control depth of focus, saturation of color and shade, etc. The lesson with the camera led him to appreciate the concept of trade-offs, a concept which would inform him later in his studies of societies, culture and politics.
Probably one of the most impactful events of Thomas Sowell’s life was his study at the University of Chicago. It was there he would meet a professor who later would become a friend and peer: Milton Friedman. In 1968, from the Chicago School of Economics, Sowell was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in economics. On the internet, one can find numerous recordings of Friedman and Sowell conversing together or sometimes debating as a team against other economists. They are insightful and educational.
In 2018, Sowell agreed to an interview with Dave Rubin of “The Rubin Report.” Knowing Dr. Sowell had been a Marxist during the time he was taking courses under professor Friedman, Rubin asked him what changed his thinking because obviously, it wasn’t professor Friedman. Sowell’s single word answer was, “facts.” In a separate interview with Peter Robinson, host of “Uncommon Knowledge,” Sowell gave a more storied answer. It was his experience working as an intern one summer at the U.S. Department of Labor.
To show the depth and energy of this man, consider these books he authored and published, all after turning eighty years old: The Thomas Sowell Reader; Intellectuals and Race; Basic Economics; Wealth, Poverty and Politics; Discrimination and Disparities. This, by the way, is an extremely abbreviated list of all Dr. Sowell’s works.
My advice to anyone being taught Critical Race Theory, socialism or Marxism, especially if you are school or college age, read a book or listen to some interviews given by Dr. Thomas Sowell. It will at least offer a counter balance to what your teachers or professors are telling you.
Last Wednesday, June 30, Dr. Sowell turned 91 years old. Happy belated birthday sir and thank you for all your insightful work.
A former member of the San Carlos City Council and mayor, Matt Grocott has been involved in political policy on the Peninsula for 17 years. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.