John Petrie’s Collection of

Thomas Sowell Quotes

Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell

Read Thomas Sowell columns at TownHall.com!


No matter how disastrously some policy has turned out, anyone who criticizes it can expect to hear: “But what would you replace it with?” When you put out a fire, what do you replace it with?

It is bad enough that so many people believe things without any evidence. What is worse is that some people have no conception of evidence and regard facts as just someone else’s opinion.

Mystical references to “society” and its programs to “help” may warm the hearts of the gullible but what it really means is putting more power in the hands of bureaucrats.

The most basic question is not what is best but who shall decide what is best.

What is ominous is the ease with which some people go from saying that they don’t like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road, don’t expect freedom to survive very long.

          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.

Many bad policies are simply good policies taken too far.

Someone once said that many bad policies are just good policies that have been carried too far. For example, we have taken tolerance to such an extreme that we tolerate the immigration into our country of millions of intolerant people who hate millions of Americans who are already here.

Big business executives across the country are coming up with literally hundreds of millions of dollars of their own money to pay for low-income youngsters to attend private schools. But this doesn’t fit the media’s vision, so it isn’t called “compassion” and often it isn’t even considered to be news worth reporting.

Assumptions of being more concerned, caring and compassionate than their opponents can be found on the left from Godwin and Condorcet in the 18th century to a whole galaxy of liberal-left journalists, academics, organizations, and movements today. But there were no such assumptions in the writings of Adam Smith in the 18th century or in those of Milton Friedman today. It was enough for them to say that their opponents were mistaken and their policies harmful—and why.

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.

If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism.

One of the most fashionable notions of our times is that social problems like poverty and oppression breed wars. Most wars, however, are started by well-fed people with time on their hands to dream up half-baked ideologies or grandiose ambitions, and to nurse real or imagined grievances. <cough Bush and Saddam>

What is history but the story of how politicians have squandered the blood and treasure of the human race.

The assumption that spending more of the taxpayers’ money will make things better has survived all kinds of evidence that it has made things worse. The black family—which survived slavery, discrimination, poverty, wars and depressions—began to come apart as the federal government moved in with its well-financed programs to “help.”

What “multiculturalism” boils down to is that you can praise any culture in the world except Western culture—and you cannot blame any culture in the world except Western culture.

Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.

Not since Ronald Reagan has a man who was supposed to be so dumb kept beating people who were supposed to be so smart.

Nothing as mundane as mere evidence can be allowed to threaten a vision so deeply satisfying.

...each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.

Implicit in the activist conception of government is the assumption that you can take the good things in a complex system for granted, and just improve the things that are not so good. What is lacking in this conception is any sense that a society, an institution, or even a single human being, is an intricate system of fragile inter-relationships, whose complexities are little understood and easily destabilized.

American prosperity and American free enterprise are both highly unusual in the world, and we should not overlook the possibility that the two are connected.

The desire of businessmen for profits is what drives prices down unless forcibly prevented from engaging in price competition, usually by governmental activity.

What is politically defined as economic “planning” is the forcible superseding of other people's plans by government officials.

It is precisely those things which belong to “the people” which have historically been despoiled—wild creatures, the air, and waterways being notable examples. This goes to the heart of why property rights are socially important in the first place. Property rights mean self-interested monitors. No owned creatures are in danger of extinction. No owned forests are in danger of being leveled. No one kills the goose that lays the golden egg when it is his goose.

Envy plus rhetoric equals “social justice.”

If you have ever seen a four-year-old trying to lord it over a two-year-old, then you know what the basic problem of human nature is—and why government keeps growing larger and ever more intrusive.

Those things that help human beings be independent and self-reliant—whether automobiles, guns, the free market, or vouchers—provoke instant hostility from the anointed.

The welfare state is not really about the welfare of the masses. It is about the egos of the elites.

Anyone who is serious about extending the same benefits to others must become serious about developing the same abilities in others—that is, raising them up to the same standards, not bringing the standards down to them.

Some of the most popular words and phrases in politics are undefined and undefinable. That is what makes them popular and what makes them politically effective in rallying support. People who mean wholly different things by “fairness” or “social justice” can be brought together by politicians to serve their own ends.

This must be the golden age of presumptuous ignorance.

When you see a four-year-old bossing a two-year-old, you are seeing the fundamental problem of the human race—and the reason so many idealistic political movements for a better world have ended in mass-murdering dictatorships. Giving leaders enough power to create “social justice” is giving them enough power to destroy all justice, all freedom, and all human dignity.

Most people who read “The Communist Manifesto” probably have no idea that it was written by a couple of young men who had never worked a day in their lives, and who nevertheless spoke boldly in the name of “the workers.” Similar offspring of inherited wealth have repeatedly provided the leadership of radical movements, with similar pretenses of speaking for “the people.”

As a rule of thumb, Congressional legislation that is bipartisan is usually twice as bad as legislation that is partisan.

Whenever people talk glibly of a need to achieve educational “excellence,” I think of what an improvement it would be if our public schools could just achieve mediocrity.

Usually activists have neither practical experience nor economic literacy, so they go around blithely creating huge costs for those who have to work for a living and those who employ them. Not only businesses but Californians as a whole end up paying a staggering price so that a relative handful of people who are a drain on society can feel superior to those who contribute to it.

Activism is a way for useless people to feel important, even if the consequences of their activism are counterproductive for those they claim to be helping and damaging to the fabric of society as a whole.

There are few talents more richly rewarded with both wealth and power, in countries around the world, than the ability to convince backward people that their problems are caused by other people who are more advanced.

The fraudulence of the left’s concern about poverty is exposed by their utter lack of interest in ways of increasing the nation’s wealth. Wealth is the only thing that can cure poverty. The reason there is less poverty today is not because the poor got a bigger slice of the pie but because the whole pie got a lot bigger—no thanks to the left.

I am still trying to figure out how I am any worse off if Rush Limbaugh takes painkillers or Martha Stewart gets an inside tip.

The essence of bigotry is denying other people the same free choices you have. Many of those who call themselves environmentalists could more accurately be called green bigots.









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