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Friday, July 01, 2005

Thank You Professor Sowell

Thomas Sowell just celebrated his 75th birthday. In a tribute to Sowell in Townhall.com, Trevor Bothwell notes many of Sowell's books that have affected him over the past 4 years. Like Bothwell, the gift of a Sowell book (thanks Rosemary) almost 10 years ago did not so much change my thinking as it changed my method of thinking.

In his latest economics book, Applied Economics, Sowell discusses the common error of "first-stage" thinking. A public policy initiative is presented by a politician to the public and its immediate effects are touted and accepted by the public. What is needed, explains Sowell, is to ask "And then what will happen?". The likely cause and effect nalaysis is never analyzed. We never get from journalists or politicans the second, third or fourth stage of consequences. When the consequences eventually occur over a long period of time (longer than the politicians next-election time frame or the journalists next deadline), the new crisis created or exacerbated by that very program receives much of the same medicine (usually more money and government bureaucracy) that caused the problem. Why do we not follow the various stages of "And then what will happen?"

The economists way of thinking that I learned from Sowell was, of course, not invented by him. He is carrying the ball handed to him by the Ludwig Von Mises, the Hayeks, the Friedmans (his U of C professor) and going way back to Adam Smith. But he is able to, as written by Bothwell, uncannily "explain the most complicated topics in such succinct and understandable language" that a non-economist can fathom the arcane issues of economics and public policy.

Happy birthday, Professor Sowell. Thank you for opening up my mind.

P.S. Read his autobiography. He is not a stiff.

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