Working Past 90: Thomas Sowell

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“You know, doing what is right is easy. The problem is knowing what is right.”

Lyndon B. Johnson

“We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much of what we have done was very foolish.”

F. A. Hayek

These quotes are among the favorites of Dr. Thomas Sowell, as stated on the website www.tsowell.com

After growing up in Harlem, dropping out of high school, and a stint in the Marines, Thomas Sowell graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, and later obtained a PhD in Economics from the storied University of Chicago. Ideologically a Marxist in his youth, he has been an outspoken advocate of more libertariean economics for much of his career, and a relentless seeker of economic and political truth. He is an exceptional writer, with the ability to interpret the complexities of economic thought for the lay reader.

In 2020 Thomas Sowell turned 90 and published another book. He has published over 40 books, beginning in 1971, on economics, social policy, and race. Since 1980 he has been a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, where Condoleezza Rice is now the chief executive.

In 2016, at age 86, Dr. Sowell retired from writing his newspaper column, but continues to conduct research and write books. For a summary of many of his ideas, check out this article written in 2016:

https://fee.org/articles/the-brilliance-of-thomas-sowell-on-his-retirement-from-journalism/

In his book A Man of Letters (2007), which is comprised a selection of excerpts from correspondence throughout his life, Dr. Sowell speaks of challenges to his health limiting his travel, and well as his ongoing efforts to exercise within his limitations, especially bicycling and swimming. The letters referring to these health issues were written in 2003, when he was 73. In his Christmas letter that year he states, “The sad story of [Justice Oliver Wendell] Holmes resignation for the High Court in his nineties, at the request of the Chief Justice, speaking on behalf of his colleagues, reminds me to use what abilities I have left while I still have them to finish up the writings that remain unfinished on my computer.”

He has certainly done that. His book The Housing Boom and Bust (2009), published at age 79, is perhaps the single most comprehensive history of that debacle. It is an academically researched, footnoted tour de force published within a year of the meltdown, a stunning achievement. It covers both the culpability of misguided (as opposed to lack of) government regulation and the greed of Wall Street as the leading contributors to the subprime financial crisis.

His most recent book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies (2020), was published in his 89th year.

There is a familiar pattern here. Dr. Sowell is what Peter Drucker called a knowledge worker. While he seems to be facing the usual physical challenges of aging, decreased capacity for work and physical ability, his mind and his wit remain fully intact. While moving at a slower pace, he remains fully engaged in his life’s work. It will be inspiring to see how long he continues to research and publish.

If you would like to know more about Dr. Sowell’s thought, and perhaps have some assumptions challenged, consider these books:

A Personal Odyssey (2000) a memoir about his life to age 70.

A Man of Letters (2007) Also in the memoir genre.

Basic Economics 5th Edition (2015) A great introduction for the lay reader.

The Vision of the Anointed: Self Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy (1995)

Discrimination and Disparities, 2nd Edition (2019)

If you have the interest and time, here is a link to a documentary of his life and work,

“Thomas Sowell: Common Sense in a Senseless World”

Russ Kyncl may be reached at russ@strategicexit.com or www.strategicexit.com