Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Sowell, Thomas from Economic Thinkers: A Biographical Encyclopedia

Born: June 30, 1930, in Gastonia, North Carolina; American; political economy, economics, author; Major Works: Race and Economics (1975), Inside American Education (1993), Basic Economics (2007), The Housing Boom and Bust (2009).

Thomas Sowell is an economist, author, professor, and syndicated columnist. He currently serves as the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. He has served as faculty at various institutions including Cornell University and University of California, Los Angeles. He has written extensively about politics, education, ethnic relations, and child development, and is the author of 40 books and numerous articles. He has a syndicated column that appears in numerous newspapers around the United States.

Thomas Sowell was born on June 30, 1930, in Gastonia, North Carolina. At the age of nine, he moved to Harlem, New York, with his family. He dropped out of high school as a teenager and began working various jobs. Sowell was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War and served as a photographer. After his service, he attended classes at Howard University in Washington, DC, receiving high marks and earning him acceptance into Harvard University on recommendations from professors. At Harvard, much of Sowell's study was on German philosopher Karl Marx on whom he wrote his senior thesis. He received his bachelor's degree in economics in 1958. Sowell received his master's degree from Columbia University in 1959. In 1968, Sowell obtained his doctorate degree from the University of Chicago, studying under George Stigler and Milton Friedman.

Sowell's economic career began when he became a labor economist for the U.S. Department of Labor from 1960 to 1961. He taught at Howard University and Rutgers before accepting a position as an economic analyst at AT&T from 1964 to 1965.

From 1965 to 1970, Sowell was on the faculty at Cornell and Brandeis University. In 1972, Sowell was affiliated with the Urban Institute till 1974. He served on the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles, and has served as a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution since 1980. When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, he offered Sowell a cabinet position to assist in bringing a conservative voice among African Americans, but he declined. He served on the White House Economic Advisory Board for a one-meeting stint for Reagan, but quit because of the difficulty in traveling to Washington, DC, from California.

Sowell's writings span a range of topics including economics, political ideology, race relations, affirmative action, education, and child development. Known for his conservative and libertarian viewpoint, Sowell's writings have drawn criticism from liberal counterparts. Sowell's position on race and income is the theme of his 1975 publication, Race and Economics. In this book, he analyzed the relationship between blacks and wealth, drawing on factors from slavery, contrast to other ethnicities, as well as criticizing government policies directed toward blacks.

Also a strong critic of affirmative action, Sowell's 1990 book, Preferential Policies: An International Perspective, criticized the use of quotas in college admissions and employment. He asserted that such policies led to degraded standards and did not allow individuals to reach their full potential. In his 2004 publication, Affirmative Action around the World: An Empirical Study, compares the policy in recent U.S. history to those of other nations. His concluding arguments are that affirmative action policies have negligible effects on their intended groups and lower incentives for achievement. His work received critical reception, some arguing that affirmative action had gone too far beyond its purpose.

Aside from his writing on economics and policy, Sowell has taken to writing on child development and education. In his book The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late investigates the phenomenon of late-talking children, a follow-up to his earlier book Late-Talking Children. The research in his book argues that these children are misdiagnosed as autistic or with a disorder, but theorizing instead that they are developing other areas of the brain and not using functions of the brain for language development. In Sowell's book Inside America's Education, he is highly critical of the American educational system. He argues that the standards, practices and programs used in the educational institutions lack credibility and he calls for reform.

Sowell detailed his life story in his book A Personal Odyssey, published in 2001. He writes about his childhood and stages of life, as well as his education from growing up in the poor South, moving to Harlem, and eventually into the Ivy League at Harvard. He also accounts for the vast differences of wealth that he has experienced in his life in this personal story.

In addition to Sowell's books, he is a regularly syndicated columnist, writing for mass media. His column focuses on issues in the economy, affirmative action, government policy, and social issues, with a free-market viewpoint. It appears in over 150 newspapers in the United States and has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal. His conservative opinions often draw criticism from liberals. Some of his essays were published in his work Ever Wonder Why?: And Other Controversial Essays in 2006.

Sowell was a recipient of the Francis Boyer Award, given by the American Enterprise Institute in 1990. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2002 and the Bradley Prize in 2003.

Sowell serves as Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.

See also: Friedman, Milton; Stigler, George

Selected Works by Thomas Sowell
  • Sowell, Thomas. Affirmative Action around the World: An Empirical Study. Yale University Press New Haven CT, 2004.
  • Sowell, Thomas. Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy. 4th ed. Basic Books New York, 2011.
  • Sowell, Thomas. The Housing Boom and Bust. Basic Books New York, 2009.
  • Sowell, Thomas. Inside American Education: The Decline, The Deception, The Dogmas. Free Press New York, 1993.
  • Sowell, Thomas. Preferential Policies: An International Perspective. Morrow New York, 1990.
  • Sowell, Thomas. Race and Economics. McKay New York, 1975.
  • Selected Works about Thomas Sowell
  • Quartey, Kojo A. A Critical Analysis of the Contributions of Notable Black Economists. Ashgate Burlington VT, 2003.
  • Sowell, Thomas. A Personal Odyssey. Free Press New York, 2000.
  • Thomas Sowell.” tsowell.com. http://tsowell.com (accessed July 2012).
  • Sara Standen
    Copyright 2013 David A. Dieterle

    Related Credo Articles

    Full text Article SOWELL, Thomas
    Biographical Dictionary of Modern American Educators

    b. June 30, 1930, Gastonia, North Carolina. Married to Alma Jean Parr. Children: two. In an era when most African Americans who achieved...

    Full text Article Sowell, Thomas (1930–)
    Culture Wars in America: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints, and Voices

    An African American economist who favors laissez-faire policies, Thomas Sowell has studied race, politics, and economics from an international persp

    Full text Article Sowell, Thomas
    Government and the Economy: An Encyclopedia

    Born: June 30, 1930, in Gastonia, North Carolina; American; political economy, economics, author; Major Works: Race and Economics (1975), Inside Ame

    See more from Credo