Thomas Sowell is a lifetime student of the market force
On free-market economics:
Free-market economics, a legacy of the classical school, is thought of as an old conservative doctrine. But Mr. Sowell explains that it was in fact one of the most revolutionary concepts to emerge in the history of ideas. Moreover, “the thinking of the classical economist was not only a radical break from landmark intellectual figures like Plato and Machiavelli but also from mainstream thinking to this day.” The notion of a self-equilibrating system–the market economy–meant a reduced role for intellectuals and politicians, he says. “And even today many still haven’t accepted that their superior wisdom might be superfluous, if not damaging.”
“My job was to teach them economics, not teach them what I happen to believe,” says Mr. Sowell, who adds that efforts by some today to counterbalance the prevailing liberalism in academia with more right-wing instructors is not only an exercise in futility but a disservice to students. “Even if you succeed in propagandizing the students while they’re students, it doesn’t tell you much [about how they’ll turn out]. I suspect that over half [of the conservatives at the Hoover Institution] were on the left in their 20s. More important, though, let’s assume for the sake of argument that, whatever you’re propagandizing them with on the left or right, every conclusion you teach them is correct. It’s only a matter of time before all those conclusions are obsolete because entirely different issues are going to arise over the lifetimes of these students. And so, if you haven’t taught them how to weigh one argument against another, you haven’t taught them anything“.
On outdated economic notions that don’t expire:
“Has [John Kenneth] Galbraith lost any credibility? I remember ‘The New Industrial State'”–the 1967 book in which Mr. Galbraith famously argued that large corporations were immune to marketplace forces–“but since then, Eastern Airlines has gone out of business. The Graflex Corporation has gone out of business. Similarly with all kinds of big businesses. This hasn’t made the slightest dent in Galbraith’s reputation. We have Paul Ehrlich, who has told us there would be mass starvation in the world in the ’80s, and now we find our two biggest problems are obesity and how to get rid of agricultural surpluses.” Mr. Sowell’s conclusion is a cynical one. “I have a book called ‘The Vision of the Anointed,’ and there’s a chapter in there called ‘The Irrelevance of Evidence.’
Here’s a Thomas Sowell bookshelf:
PS, while you’re at it, you’ll probably enjoy Money, Money, Money: The Grand Illusion. I don’t agree to all of Fran’s points, but it’s a fascinating read.
(technorati tags Thomas Sowell)