Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Happy (Belated) Birthday to Thomas Sowell

(Via Powerline, I would like to convey a happy birthday and warmest regards to Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Thomas Sowell, who on June 30th celebrated his life on this earth for three quarters of a century with a column for

In my personal life, I can remember a time when our family had no such frills as electricity, central heating, or hot running water.

Even after we left the poverty-stricken Jim Crow South and moved to a new life in Harlem, I can remember at the age of nine seeing a public library for the first time and having to have a young friend explain to me patiently what a public library was. . . .

I should mention that after hearing Jimmy Akin and company recommend Sowell's textbook Basic Economics: A Citizens Guide to the Economy (Basic Books, 2004), I decided to pick it up . . . and I'm sure glad I did.

Beginning with British economist Lionel Robbins's classic definition: "Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses", Sowell embarks on a substantial explanation of basic economic concepts (scarcity, price control, profit and loss, free trade) and their manifestation in everyday life. If you're the sort of person who typically found economics boring and/or mystifying and is usually tempted to bypass the business section altogether when reading the newspaper, this is a welcome resource, easily accessible to students as well as the general public.

I know some of my left-leaning readers may be inclined to dismiss it out of hand. After all, Sowell is a columnist for and a conservative think-tank. His book carries endorsements by the dreaded neocon Michael Novak, The American Spectator and The Claremont Review. To the skeptics, all I can say is read it before you judge. Common sense and realistic analysis can be appreciated regardless of one's ideological leaning. (To get a taste for the book, check out pages 21-30 on "the politics of rent control" to understand why government regulation actually increases the cost of living in the city. Want to know why San Francisco and New York are so darn expensive?).

As one reviewer put it: "Everyone needs to understand basic economics. There isn't a subject that has more fallacies than economics" -- or, one might add, more damaging long-term consequences, when shoddy economic policies are applied by idealistic yet muddle-headed politicians. To quote Sowell directly: "The desire to help the less fortunate may be especially strong, but whether a particular policy will in fact have that effect is not an easy one to answer -- except for those who simply want to "do something" to express their sympathy and solidarity, without regard to the consequences." My one regret is that I didn't encounter Basic Economics in college -- it would have spared me a year or two of naive radical posturing.

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