Thomas Sowell turns ninety

Happy 90th birthday (June 30) to Thomas Sowell, one of the greatest living economists, which begins:

One of my two all-time most favorite economists — Thomas Sowell — turns 90 tomorrow, he was born on June 30, 1930. Here is Thomas Sowell’s webpage and here is his Wikipedia entry. Milton Friedman (my other all-time favorite economist) once said, “The word ‘genius’ is thrown around so much that it’s becoming meaningless, but nevertheless I think Tom Sowell is close to being one.”

In my opinion, there is no economist alive today who has done more to eloquently, articulately, and persuasively advance the principles of economic freedom, limited government, individual liberty, and a free society than Thomas Sowell. In terms of both his quantity of work (49 books and several thousand newspaper columns) and the consistently excellent and crystal-clear quality of his writing, I don’t think any living free-market economist even comes close to matching Sowell’s prolific record of writing about economics.

And while no one else unfortunately understands how he was able to become the economist he became, let me point out that his PhD was on Say’s Law and two of his earliest books were on Say’s Law and Classical Economic Theory. Nor was that just an early part of his career, but he came back to Classical Theory again in 2006.

Sowell, Thomas (1972), Say’s Law: A Historical Analysis, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-04166-7.

——— (1974). Classical Economics Reconsidered. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691003580.

——— (2006). On Classical Economics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-12606-8.

And on this, let me add to what Currency Lad has already written on it’s always our money, via Adam Creighton. Money is a metaphor – probably actually a synecdoche – for the word resources. If you use the word “money” you can be deceived by government spending since a government can always print more of the stuff. Resources, actual labour and capital, are much harder to come by. Here is the point made by Adam Smith in 1776:

Great nations are never impoverished by private, though they sometimes are by public prodigality and misconduct. The whole, or almost the whole public revenue, is in most countries employed in maintaining unproductive hands.

That, by the way, is from the chapter “On the Accumulation of Capital, or of Productive and Unproductive Labour”. There is more sense in that chapter than in the whole of a modern economics text. It is Thomas Sowell amongst a very few others who is keeping that tradition alive.

If you are looking for a modern discussion of classical economic theory, and amongst other things a discussion of productive and unproductive labour, might I recommend my own Classical Economic Theory and the Modern Economy which has just been published.

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