13 Quotes By Thomas Sowell Which Obliterate Progressivism

by | Sep 26, 2022


The very same people who say that government has no right to interfere with sexual activity between consenting adults believe that the government has every right to interfere with economic activity between consenting adults.

– Thomas Sowell, Ph.D., “Looking for That Elusive Escalator to Success,” Sun Sentinel, Jan. 2000.


In reality, most of the great fortunes in American history have resulted from someone figuring out how to reduce costs, so as to be able to charge lower prices and therefore gain a mass market for the product. Henry Ford did this with automobiles, Rockefeller with oil, Carnegie with steel, and Sears, Penney, Walton and other department store chain founders with a variety of products.

Basic Economics (p. 165)


Competition does a much more effective job than government at protecting consumers.

– Thomas Sowell


But the number of blacks in professional, technical, and other high-level occupations more than doubled in the decade preceding the Civil Rights Act of 1964.38 In other occupations, gains by blacks were greater during the 1940s—when there was practically no civil rights legislation—than during the 1950s. In various skilled trades, the income of blacks relative to whites more than doubled between 1936 and 1959…


Affirmative action hiring pressures make it costly to have no minority employees, but continuing affirmative action pressures at the promotion and discharge phases also make it costly to have minority employees who do not work out well. The net effect is to increase the demand for highly qualified minority employees while decreasing the demand for less qualified minority employees or for those without a sufficient track record to reassure employers.”

Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?


The University of Michigan study found that, among working Americans who were in the bottom 20 percent in income in 1975, approximately 95 percent had risen out of that bracket by 1991— including 29 percent who had reached the top quintile by 1991, compared to only 5 percent who still remained in the bottom quintile…

     The IRS found that between 1996 and 2005 the income of individuals who had been in the bottom 20 percent of income tax filers in 1996 had increased by 91 percent by 2005, and the income of those individuals who were in the top one percent in 1996 had fallen by 26 percent….

     Even among the truly rich, there is turnover. When Forbes magazine ran its lrst list of the 400 richest Americans in 1982, that list included 14 Rockefellers, 28 du Ponts and 11 Hunts. Twenty years later, the list included 3 Rockefellers, one Hunt and no du Ponts. Just over one fifth of the people on the 1982 Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans inherited their wealth. By 2006, however, only two percent of the people on the list had inherited their wealth….

     When the incomes of people making $50,000 or less fell by 2 percent between 2007 and 2009, the incomes of people making a million dollars or more fell by nearly 50 percent. 

– Basic Economics


One of the great non sequiturs of the left is that if the free market doesn’t work perfectly, then it doesn’t work at all — and the government should step in.

– Thomas Sowell, Ph.D., Professor of Economics at Cornell University.


The first lesson of economics is scarcity. There’s never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.

– Thomas Sowell


The reason so many people misunderstand so many issues, is not that these issues are so complex, but that people do not want a factual or analytical explanation that leaves them emotionally unsatisfied. They want villains to hate and heroes to cheer — and they don’t want explanations that don’t give them that.

– Thomas Sowell


What all these moral crusades have in common is their moral exaltation of the anointed above others, who are to have their very different views nullified and superseded by the views of the anointed, imposed via the power of government. Despite the great variety of issues in a series of crusading movements among the intelligentsia during the twentieth century, several key elements have been common to most of them:

Assertions of a great danger to the whole of society, a danger to which the masses of people are oblivious.

An urgent need for action to avert impending catastrophe.

A need for government to drastically curtail the dangerous behavior of the many, in response to the prescient conclusions of the few.

A disdainful dismissal of arguments to the contrary as either uninformed, irresponsible, or motivated by unworthy purposes.

– Thomas Sowell, Ph.D., The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulations as a Basis for Social Policy (1995, Basic Books), p. 5.


The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.
– Thomas Sowell
…voluntary economic transactions— whether between employer and employee, tenant and landlord, or international trade— would not continue to take place unless both parties were better off making these transactions than not making them….Eventually, however, the fact that many once-poor places like Hong Kong, South Korea, and Singapore achieved prosperity through freer international trade and investment became so blatant and so widely known that, by the end of the twentieth century, the governments of many other countries began abandoning their zero-sum view of economic transactions. China and India have been striking examples of poor countries whose abandonment of severe international trade and investment restrictions led to dramatic increases in their economic growth rates, which in turn led to tens of millions of their citizens rising out of poverty. Another way of looking at this is that the zero-sum fallacy had kept millions of very poor people needlessly mired in poverty for generations before such notions were abandoned.
– Thomas Sowell, Economic Facts and Fallacies, p. 3, 6

Innumerable studies, going back for decades, have shown that women do not average as many hours of work per year as men, do not have as many consecutive years of full-time employment as men, do not work in the same mix of occupations as men and do not specialize in the same mix of subjects in college as men.

Back in 1996, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that young male physicians earned 41 percent higher incomes than young female physicians. But the same study showed that young male physicians worked over 500 hours a year more than young female physicians.

When the study took into account differences in hours of work, in the fields in which male and female doctors specialized and other differences in their job characteristics, “no earnings difference was evident.” In other words, when you compare apples to apples, you don’t get the “gender gap” in pay that you get when you compare apples to oranges.

– Thomas Sowell, On the “Pay Gap” Between Men and Women, 2015


For centuries before, Europeans had enslaved other Europeans, Asians had enslaved other Asians and Africans had enslaved other Africans. Only in the modern era was there both the wealth and the technology to organize the mass transportation of people across an ocean, either as slaves or as free immigrants. Nor were Europeans the only ones to transport masses of enslaved human beings from one continent to another. North Africa’s Barbary Coast pirates alone captured and enslaved at least a million Europeans from 1500 to 1800, carrying more Europeans into bondage in North Africa than there were Africans brought in bondage to the United States and to the American colonies from which it was formed. Moreover, Europeans were still being bought and sold in the slave markets of the Islamic world, decades after blacks were freed in the United States.

Slavery was a virtually universal institution in countries around the world and for thousands of years of recorded history. Indeed, archaeological evidence suggests that human beings learned to enslave other human beings before they learned to write. One of the many fallacies about slavery— that it was based on race— is sustained by the simple but pervasive practice of focussing exclusively on the enslavement of Africans by Europeans, as if this were something unique, rather than part of a much larger worldwide human tragedy. Racism grew out of African slavery, especially in the United States, but slavery preceded racism by thousands of years. Europeans enslaved other Europeans for centuries before the first African was brought in bondage to the Western Hemisphere.

– Thomas Sowell, Economic Facts and Fallacies, p. 180

(Addendum quotes)

What is called “planning” in political rhetoric is the government’s suppression of other people’s plans by superimposing on them a collective plan, created by third parties, armed with the power of government and exempted from paying the costs that these collective plans impose on others.

– Thomas Sowell, Economic Facts and Fallacies, p. 35

About Keith Knight

Keith Knight is Managing Editor at the Libertarian Institute, host of the Don't Tread on Anyone podcast and editor of The Voluntaryist Handbook: A Collection of Essays, Excerpts, and Quotes.

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