Friday, February 13, 2015

Why are conservatives so enamored of Thomas Sowell?

This is from what I wrote on Quora in response to the question.

I have only read his later, awful, writing, but my impression is that his first 1 or 2 books were intelligent, and his 1980 Knowledge and Decisions very likely did a good job of popularizing Hayek's The Use of Information... or Von Mises Problem of Calculation in [socialist systems], and got him a lifetime position at the Hoover Institute.  It must have been a relief.  He got his Ph.D. in 1968 from U. Chicago under George Stiglitz, then (see wikipedia)  he taught economics at Howard University, Rutgers, Cornell, Brandeis University, Amherst College.  That's 12 years as a conservative black economist in the worst possible time in history to have done that.

His book publishing history goes like 1968 - (year of Ph.d.) - 1971 no writing; probably having a terrible struggle.
1972 a technical economics book.  1975 Race and Economics, probably an intelligent moderately conservative analysis.  1980 Knowledge and Decisions, as I mentioned, which won him the extremely prestigious place at the Hoover Institute.  From then to 2002 a book or two a year, including A Conflict of Visions -- very popular on the right today, which gives a totally out of date portrait of liberal (dreamers of human perfection) and conservative (pragmatists who understand human fallibility)  philosophies because today the right is much more dominated by (their kind of) dogmatic utopians than the left (esp. look at Clinton and Obama - Clinton way too much blowing in the wind, and Obama pragmatic and intimidated by economists maybe up to now).
From 2002-present about 2 books a year and popular articles every week.  I am sure Sowell was treated abominably by liberals esp. prior to his ascention to the Hoover Inst.  But at some point I suspect somebody started throwing lots of money at him to write right-wing hack books.  Read David Brock's Blinded by the Right:  1994 do hatchet job on Anita Hill; 1996 - offered nice advance to do hatchet job on Hillary Clinton, but halfway through becomes disillusioned with his current friends and writes a more nuanced book that fiinished him as a right wing hack writer.

I have mostly sampled his post-2002 work except for the 1987 Conflict of Visions and the already fairly vile The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation As a Basis for Social Policy.  The late work as far as I can tell is pure pushing of right wing talking points from a bitter wounded liberal hater.