The following is the second of three excerpts from Jason Riley’s new book, “Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell,” about the iconoclastic economist. The book is available here.
When Thomas Sowell arrived at the University of Chicago in the fall of 1959 to begin his Ph.D. studies, economist Milton Friedman had been on the faculty for more than a decade. But Sowell hadn’t gone there to study under Friedman, and the University of Chicago hadn’t been his first choice.
The original plan was to pursue his doctorate at Columbia University, where he had just earned his master’s degree, and to study under another future Nobel economist, George Stigler.
As an undergraduate at Harvard in a course on the history of economic thought, Sowell had read an academic article by Stigler on the theories of the classical economist David Ricardo. Sowell was so taken by the subject matter, and so impressed by Stigler’s command of it, that he turned his own focus toward the history of ideas and resolved to do his graduate work at Columbia under Stigler’s guidance.
After Stigler left Columbia in 1958 to join the faculty of the University of Chicago, Sowell followed him there.
Friedman and Stigler were hardly the only scholars of future renown that Sowell was exposed to in his student days. His professors also included Gary Becker and Friedrich Hayek, who would both win Nobel Prizes and profoundly impact Sowell’s own scholarship.
Becker did pioneering research on the economics of racial bias, and Sowell told me that “anything that dealt with discrimination on my part was within the framework of what Becker had said.”
Sowell’s book “Knowledge and Decisions,” which he and other economists count among his best professional work, was inspired by a 1945 academic paper by Hayek on how societies function.
Still, there is a case to be made that no one had a greater impact on Sowell’s career path than Stigler and Friedman. They were his instructors and his mentors. They served on his dissertation committee and even helped him with material needs.
When a problem arose with Sowell’s student aid and he contemplated leaving graduate school to find a job, it was Stigler who, without Sowell’s knowledge, secured a generous grant for promising academics from the Earhart Foundation.
Sowell later said that the grant “enabled me to complete the studies that led to my receiving a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago and to having a career as an economist.”
And it was Friedman who, years later, brought Sowell to the attention of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, where he became a senior fellow in 1980 after he left teaching.
Sowell was still a Marxist at the time, but Friedman and Stigler saw something in him early on that led them to nurture his development as a scholar.
Richard Ware, the longtime head of the Earhart Foundation, recalled receiving the grant request for Sowell. The foundation held Stigler and Friedman in such high regard that the Sowell recommendation was basically rubber-stamped.
“When he got nominated, the letter was very short. I don’t know whether Stigler signed it or Friedman or both of them,” said Ware. “They nominated him for the fellowship, and they said he’s a socialist, but he’s too smart to remain one too long.”
According to Sowell, he didn’t abandon socialism because he was bamboozled by his Chicago professors. Rather, what ultimately began his drift to the political right was a summer job at the U.S. Department of Labor in the summer of 1960.
While studying the effects of minimum-wage laws on employment, he began to “rethink the larger question of the role of government in general,” he recalled. “The more other government programs I looked into, over the years, the harder I found it to believe that they were a net benefit to society.”
Sowell came to his free-market beliefs by way of reflection and observation. But then, so did Friedman and Stigler, who both spoke of having liberal political inclinations in their own student days.
Sowell’s readers often express surprise when they discover that he started out as a Marxist, but Sowell said he suspected that at least half of his colleagues at the conservative Hoover Institution were also on the left in their 20s.
That’s certainly true of any number of notable black dissident thinkers, from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and race scholar Shelby Steele to economists Walter Williams and Glenn Loury. Like Sowell, all of them have faced regular attacks from black liberals and other critics often far more interested in questioning their motives than in addressing their arguments.
New Conservative Network Seeks Crowdfunding Help
They say we have to go big or go home. We’re trying to go big and bring the patriotic truth the the nation, but we need help.
Readers may or may not realize that over the past year, we’ve been bringing more conservative news and opinion outlets under our wing. Don’t take our expansion as a sign of riches; all of the “acquisitions” have been through sweat and promises of greater things to come for all involved. As a result, we’ve been able to bring together several independent media sites under a unified vision of preventing America from succumbing to the progressive, “woke,” Neo-Marxist ideologies that are spreading like wildfire across America.
The slow and steady reopening of America is revealing there was a lot more economic hardship brought about from the Covd-19 lockdowns than most realize. While we continue to hope advertising dollars on the sites go up, it’s simply not enough to do things the right way. We are currently experiencing a gap between revenue and expenses that cannot be overcome by click-ads and MyPillow promos alone (promo code “NOQ” by the way).
To overcome our revenue gap and keep these sites running, our needs fluctuate between $3000-$7000 per month. In other words, we’re in the red and hemorrhaging.
The best way you can help us grow and continue to bring the truth to the people is by donating. We appreciate everything, whether a dollar or $10,000. Anything brings us closer to a point of stability when we can hire writers, editors, and support staff to make the America First message louder. Our Giving Fuel page makes it easy to donate one-time or monthly. Alternatively, you can donate through PayPal as well.
As the world spirals towards radical progressivism, the need for truthful journalism has never been greater. But in these times, we need as many conservative media voices as possible. Please help keep NOQ Report and the other sites in the network going.
Thank you and God Bless,
One Sick Day Proves We Need More Voices in Truthful Media
On October 19, I was sick. It crossed my mind that I had finally gotten the ‘rona, but my wife’s cream of chicken soup and a few extra hours of sleep into mid-afternoon had be back up and running after a sleepless night before.
When I finally stumbled over to my computer in the evening, I was met with a deluge of concern from readers. They asked what had happened as only one article had been posted that day. Generally, we post between 10-20 daily between all of the sites, not included curated and aggregated content. Seeing that we’d only posted my super-early morning article before taking the rest of the day off had readers assuming the worst.
We have a wonderful and talented group of writers who volunteer their time for the sites and their readers. Sharing their amazing perspectives has always been a blessing to us because we cannot afford to hire anyone at this time. But having great writers is meaningless if we don’t have great editors, or at least one additional. My wife helps me read and edit stories from time to time, but I’m a one-man show when it comes to getting the stories posted.
Whenever I highlight our desperate need for donations, I note that we do not receive money from Google ads even though most in conservative media are beholden. I often ambiguously note that the money donated will help us grow. Today, I’m highlighting a specific need. We must get an editor to help take some of the load and to expand on our mission of spreading the truth to the world. One sick day proved that.
The great news is that there is no shortage of people who CAN help. I am emailed variations of resumes every week by people who are much smarter than I am. As much as I’d love to hire some of them, we simply cannot. That takes money and as blessed as we’ve been to receive donations and collect ad money (though not from Google or Facebook), we have still fallen short.
Those who have the means, PLEASE consider donating. We have the standard Giving Fuel option and people can donate through PayPal. We are also diving into what we believe is extremely disruptive technology at LetsGo.finance, the world’s first major donation portal for crypto. I’ll be talking a lot more about them in the near future. Those who prefer Bitcoin can send to my address here: 3A1ELVhGgrwrypwTJhPwnaTVGmuqyQrMB8
We can get the voices out there and we’re willing to shine a spotlight on new talent. We just need the resources to make it happen. If you can help, we would be extremely grateful.
Thank you and God bless!