Thomas Sowell at four score & ten

A happy birthday to Thomas Sowell, who completes his ninetieth year. For about half that time I have been reading him, and much of my own good sense — the soundness of my reasoning in matters social and economic — can be attributed to him. Still, he has written more than I have read, as it were. His three dozen books are a small part of a volume of work that has touched current events through the years, but only as points of departure towards how things work, and why. Beyond journalism, his academic researches — in many prestigious institutions, going back to when their prestige was deserved — have been outstanding. His calm and gently humorous temperament makes him to this day a voice of sanity in public places. He has graced the world by his humility and honesty; by the good faith that has become so rare.

His “backstory” can inspire persons of any race or class. Born into rural poverty in Carolina backwoods, and raised by an aunt with two grown daughters, his luck was to be taken to Harlem during the northward black migration of the Depression years. Abnormally smart, he won a scholarship to an elite high school, but had to quit when the money ran out. From delivery boy, he found his way to a machine shop; athletic, he tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Drafted to be a grunt, he made the Natted States Marines, who noticed his gift for photography during the Korean War.

By his gift for using libraries he then shone his way to Harvard, graduating magnum cum laude; then to a masters at Columbia and a doctorate at Chicago — where he came in contact with some of the world’s finest economic minds, including that of Milton Friedman. His youthful Marxism was tolerated there, and helped him into the labour department at Washington, DC. There he discovered for himself that the minimum-wage bureaucracy seriously impeded the interests of the poor. Too, that progressive bureaucrats did not care what their policies did to poor people, only for their own comfortable positions. His socialism was cured.

The autobiography (A  Personal Odyssey), written when he was still a young man of seventy, will fill in all the rest. I read it craving information on his religious outlook, finding not for the first time a wonderful soul, who seems to lack a religious sensibility — though plainly he was driven by old-fashioned Christian traits. (Praise be to God.)

Today, the man is a senior fellow in the Hoover, at Stanford. He has nominally retired as pundit, but remains a font of creative energy. His recent books on Intellectuals and Race, and drawn from his fascinating delve into Late-Talking Children, prove him mind alive. Each can blow away the tired clichés of our stultifying ignorance.

Sowell’s views, through the years, have stood in bold, direct contradiction to those clichés; they are built on a foundation of demonstrated fact. He reminds, systematically, that our social catastrophes depend upon the “progressive” vanities by which we have been suckered. In his person, Sowell reminds how much can be achieved when a man focuses upon his craft and calling, rather than on worldly “success.” This came to him as a bonus.

He has not stooped or deviated into the sleaze that is required for electoral politics. There has been no peacock display of pretended virtues. He is the genuine article.