Economics is often referred to as “the dismal science,” but few have done more in history to help its reputation than Thomas Sowell.
The 92-year-old economist has authored more than 45 books, including bestsellers such as Basic Economics, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, and Economic Facts and Fallacies. He has also written on politics, sociology, education, race, and much more.
Sowell’s work has been cited extensively. Between 1991 and 1995 he was the most cited black economist and the second most cited between 1971 and 1990.
He started his academic career working as an assistant professor at Cornell University and was mentored by Milton Friedman. In 1976 he was offered a position as a Federal Trade Commissioner by the Ford administration but turned it down because of the political games that came with the position. Sowell, through his experience, found the usual bureaucracy and politics in academia and government to be ineffective and exhausting. You’ll find that sentiment in many of the quotes below.
Since 1980 he has been a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute where you can still find him today.
Without further delay, here are 30 of Thomas Sowell’s best quotes:
- “Some things are believed because they are demonstrably true. But many other things are believed simply because they have been asserted repeatedly—and repetition has been accepted as a substitute for evidence.”
- “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”
- “In other words, evidence is too dangerous—politically, financially and psychologically—for some people to allow it to become a threat to their interests or to their own sense of themselves.”
- “People who pride themselves on their ‘complexity’ and deride others for being “simplistic” should realize that the truth is often not very complicated. What gets complex is evading the truth.”
- “Some things must be done on faith, but the most dangerous kind of faith is that which masquerades as ‘science.’”
- “It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.”
- “Mistakes can be corrected by those who pay attention to facts but dogmatism will not be corrected by those who are wedded to a vision.”
- “There are only two ways of telling the complete truth – anonymously and posthumously.”
- “Open-ended demands are a mandate for ever-expanding government bureaucracies with ever-expanding budgets and powers.”
- “I have never understood why it is ‘greed’ to want to keep the money you have earned but not greed to want to take somebody else’s money.”
- “Back in my old neighborhood, there was a special contempt for the kind of guy who was always trying to get two other guys to fight each other. Today, it is considered a great contribution to society to incite consumers against producers, tenants against landlords, women against men, and the races against each other.”
- “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”
- “The old adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching him how to fish has been updated by a reader: Give a man a fish and he will ask for tartar sauce and French fries! Moreover, some politician who wants his vote will declare all these things to be among his ‘basic rights.’”
- “The real goal should be reduced government spending, rather than balanced budgets achieved by ever rising tax rates to cover ever rising spending.”
- “Competition does a much more effective job than government at protecting consumers.”
- “The big divide in this country is not between Democrats and Republicans, or women and men, but between talkers and doers.”
- “Elections should be held on April 16th- the day after we pay our income taxes. That is one of the few things that might discourage politicians from being big spenders.”
- “If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today.”
- “Those who cry out that the government should ‘do something’ never even ask for data on what has actually happened when the government did something, compared to what actually happened when the government did nothing.”
- “It is not money but the volume of goods and services which determines whether a country is poverty stricken or prosperous.”
- “The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”
- “Capitalism knows only one color: that color is green [the color of money]; all else is necessarily subservient to it, hence, race, gender and ethnicity cannot be considered within it.”
- “The biggest and most deadly ‘tax’ rate on the poor comes from a loss of various welfare state benefits – food stamps, housing subsidies and the like – if their income goes up.”
- “But life does not ask us what we want. It presents us with options. Economics is one of the ways of trying to make the most of those options.”
- “Continuing transactions between buyer and seller make sense only if value is subjective, each getting what is worth more subjectively. Economic transactions are not a zero-sum process, where one person loses whatever the other person gains.”
- “Sometimes it seems as if there are more solutions than problems. On closer scrutiny, it turns out that many of today’s problems are a result of yesterday’s solutions.”
- “The real minimum wage is zero.”
- “If you don’t believe in the innate unreasonableness of human beings, just try raising children.”
- “It doesn’t matter how smart you are unless you stop and think.”
- “When people get used to preferential treatment, equal treatment seems like discrimination.”
As these quotes show, Thomas Sowell is a prolific thinker and writer offering incisive insights into economics, politics, and society. His ability to cut through complexity and articulate timeless truths is a gift we can all continue to learn from. Though Sowell is now retired from writing, his works remain to guide new freedom-orientated generations through the challenges they inevitably will face.
P.S. — If you liked Thomas Sowell’s quotes, you might also like his favorite quotes. Check those out here.