Thomas Sowell

Would that all God’s pundits were like Thomas Sowell. My paraphrase of Moses is a little awkward. God made people, but pundits make themselves, with or without God’s help. They might nevertheless be prophetic, in a tightly limited way. Sowell being an exquisitely trained economist, from the glory days of the Chicago School, his prophecy took the form of economic reasoning. Both from “theory” and a broad experience of the world, he at least knew which economic policies had (and will always have) a one hundred percent failure rate; and he had the gift to explain why this is so to readers of average intelligence and modest attention spans; along with some aphoristic flair. (See here, for instance.)

Yet his opposition to socialism (or “liberalism” or “progressivism”) was founded not upon some mysterious professional or aesthetic dislike of dysfunctional bureaucracies, per se. Rather, the tyranny of statist micromanagement animated his resistance. Consistently through the decades, he has been one of those stubborn American champions of human liberty: most notably against the entrapment of blacks, other minorities, and all materially poor, in the cat’s cradle (-to-grave) of the Nanny State.

Born in the rural poverty of North Carolina, raised in Harlem, he remained personally acquainted with the fate of his race. A disciplined and unexciteable controversialist, he rose closest to exhibiting passion when discussing, for instance, the destruction of the black family by the Great Society of Lyndon Baines Johnson — how it arrested the social and economic advancement blacks had been making by their own efforts to overcome the monstrous history of slavery. By its “helping hand” the government rewarded unwed motherhood, punished enterprise, and promoted crime. In addition to family, it undermined religion, and finally helped instal the abortion mills which disproportionally reduce the black population. And all of this by legislation drumrolled from the start with pseudo-Christian moral posturing.

Sowell could understand this through the economic analysis of moral hazard. Reward people for making irresponsible life choices, for discarding prudence and embracing victimhood and dependency — the result may be predicted. The question whether the policies were the product of invincible stupidity or demonic inspiration is moot: for stupidity is among the devil’s excavating tools. He is a master policy analyst, to whom men are merely statistics to be crunched; and to the stupid man he proposes the job-ready shovel, by which to dig his own grave.

But this is my view; Sowell proceeded in the fixed habit of ignoring the diabolical intention, taking the enemy at his own self-flattering conceit, and accusing him of no more than ignorance and hypocrisy. In person, a true kindly gentleman. In thousands of newspaper columns, and thorough books, he expounded only natural causes and consequences. He has retired from that, and in his farewell column mentions that he will now turn his attention to the happier pursuit of photography. (Examples here.)