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The World’s Greatest Living Economist

Written by Gary North on March 11, 2013

. . . . is Thomas Sowell.

I first encountered his name in 1967, when I was writing the chapter on Marx’s economics in my first book, Marx’s Religion of Revolution (1968).

Sowell had written an article for the American Economic Review in 1960. I did not know at the time that he had written it while he was in graduate school, which is unheard of for any author of an AER article. He received his Ph.D. in 1968, the year my book was published. I also did not know that Sowell was a Marxist. In 1960, the year the article was published, he got a job as a summer intern in a federal bureaucracy. He began to abandon his Marxism.

I was not overly impressed by the article. I cited it in a footnote: “Thomas Sowell, “Marx’s ‘Increasing Misery Doctrine’,” American Economic Review, L (1960), pp. 111-20. Sowell argues that Marx did hold to the absolute increasing misery doctrine before 1850 or so, but in the context of this chapter, I have tried to indicate that he also wrote in terms of it after 1850.” Little did I suspect what was to come.

There is no Sowell theorem in economic theory. There is no Sowell movement. Nobody has publicly identified himself as a Sowellist. Then why do I regard him as the greatest living economist? This:

1. He applies simple but fundamental concepts of economics to real-world problems, which are often problems that are not widely perceived as being heavily influenced by economic categories.2. He relies exclusively on verbal communications, not graphs or equations, to explain these concepts and their applications. This keeps his expositions firmly within the realm of historical cause and effect.

3. He never begins his economic analyses with this phrase: “Let us assume. . . .” The only time he ever uses “let us assume,” is when it is followed by “for the sake of argument,” which is in preparation for a lambasting of some conventional political assumption.

4. He writes in well-honed English that is the product of over 30 years of writing newspaper columns: clear, precise, and rhetorically persuasive — in short, efficient.

5. He is the most creative economist in our era — or perhaps in any era — in implementing the division of labor in his writing. He hires astoundingly productive research assistants, and then he incorporates their remarkable but diverse discoveries into a single coherent narrative.

6. He is a better historian than he is an economist. Other economists have made observations similar to his. But no other historian matches him in his chosen specialty: economic motivations that have prompted the international migration and subsequent economic successes of modern racial, national, and religious groups.

(To read the rest of my article, click the link.)

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20 thoughts on “The World’s Greatest Living Economist

  1. G. Kuhns says:

    If true, I would say Walter Williams runs a close second.

  2. Mr. Sowell has always been one of my heroes. The secret to his success is common sense.

  3. I have read a few of Thomas Sowell's books and all of his columns. His classic, "Basic Economics," was a page-turner for me. Sowell and Professor Walter Williams are true American Patriots. It's too bad that they are not held up as role-models in the Black community.

  4. karel Eekels says:

    Amen to that!

  5. karel Eekels says:

    Wouldn't it be nice f we could see more of these two brilliant people on the Sunday morning's "liberal entertainment" programs?!

  6. I buy all of Thomas Sowells hard cover books, he is the only Economist making sense in America today, Walter Williams is another of my favorites, both are worth reading for a well balanced picture.

  7. Gill O’Teen says:

    I agree. Especially when considering that both Doctors Sowell and Williams address in no uncertain terms the major reason there is high unemployment in the inner cities. Hint: last year’s Republican presidential nominee wanted to index it to inflation, and the current White House occupant wishes it raised to $10 an hour.
    Both men should be given detention and kept after school until they read all both good Doctors have written on that topic. I first read Doctor Sowell when my local variation of main street daily print media began publishing his column. I think they were attracted by his youthful dabbling in marxism. Upon someone in the press room actually bothering to read a column, Sowell’s regular dose of wisdom was discontinued. Fortunately, both Sowell’s and Williams’ work is widely available on the ‘net.

  8. justAnAmerican says:

    OMG! he is a black MAN!! Am sure the white house will never listen to him!! )I align myself with Tea Party beliefs, so I guess I don't like him either according to the idiot left)… Love Thomas Sewell.

  9. He's brilliant. I cited him heavily in a speech I gave in high about affirmative action as reverse discrimination.

  10. James Collins says:

    This is a great summary. I must admit I didn't know about Dr. Sowell's communistic background. But that served to solidify his ultimate opinions about government and economics.,not to mention his common sense. Mr. North's next to last paragraph summed it all up for Dr. Sowell…he writes for the "general public," which means his writings are always loaded with common sense that everyone can understand. That is which made me a sowell mate!
    I also agree with, and second, all comments posted thus far including those about Mr. Williams. If this country's Black, close-minded leaders, most of whom are men of the cloth, would allow their people to absorb some of this common sense this country would be enjoying much better race relations. The same may be said for many White folks in leadership or teaching positions. Kudos again to Gary North. A Fellow Tar Heel

  11. I love Thomas….he didn't blame anything on skin color, he made the most of himself, successful, common sense, and believable, not like that failure that the American people put in the WH. Wish there were more Thomas around to even out the score. He is God given and may God protect him from the evils of Obummer.

  12. I agree with that, I like them both; oh and I'm one of those hated white racists. Ha!!!

  13. These men have so much to give, as role models for black youth, but the black race baiters will not let this happen. They don't want them to flee the government plantation. Since the days that blacks voted Republican, and worked hard to support their families, some running a successful business, big government found a way to lure them back to the plantation, with taxpayer dollars. As both Dr. Sowell and Dr. Williams writes about, there are far to many black youth that don't break free from the slave mentality. This is one of the reasons I hate politics, but spend many hours fighting for the principles, and the liberty our Republic was founded on.

  14. Dr. Sowell wrote about his Marxist beliefs in one of his columns, and said it didn't take him long to become a Capitalist, after working in a government position. Yes, Gary North is a smart man; I've attended five conferences, in the nineties, where he spoke, one in St. Louis, and four in Costa Rica.

    MY first encounter with Sowell was in Forbes Magazine where he wrote a column. His English and grammar impressed me and also his common sense. At first, I was not aware he was a Negro (this is correct word) and then wondered why he had not become an icon for his people. HE is the very best and I would sooner listen to him that KRUGMAN who I think is a bore.
    I also thought he was a philospher rather than an economist.
    In any case, he is one of my favourites and hope he gets more exposure to the people who need him rather than the numbskulls who currently cry out for the 'victims' Jackson, et al.

  16. I agree. I consider Krugman a fool at best, a liar at worst. Who made Krugman an "expert"?

  17. MetaCynic says:

    I'm not sure where Sowell stands today on the American government's interventionist foreign policy, but not too many years ago, both he and Walter Williams seemed to be in alignment with the neo-cons on that topic. I can't imagine that Williams would have been allowed to host the Rush Limbaugh show during Limbaugh's absences if he wasn't a foreign policy neo-con.

    As an aside, Sowell has a page on his web site devoted to photographs he had taken over the years. He is a highly accomplished amateur photographer with a rare eye for composition and lighting.

  18. You expressed my position better than I would have.

  19. I have been reading and following Thomas Sowell for many years now and I fully agree with you on his stature as BOTH an economist AND a historian , but mostly on his devotion to capitalism and American values , I don't know his age but he would make a great president of the United States , but alas , he will never suck up to anyone to get their support .

  20. Maybe the "esteemed" Mr. Krugman could learn a thing or two from the good Dr. Sowell, although he thinks he already knows everything. Typical liberal!!!