National Review / Digital
A Lion in High Summer
Thomas Sowell, charging ahead



In the spring of 1948, when he was 17, he had a tryout with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was really a center fielder, but he had not had time to prepare as he thought he should. So, he took a shot at first base. “They hit to me what they called ‘grass-cutters.’ I was not very good at that.” He did not know, but would soon learn, that if you didn’t pass the fielding part, they wouldn’t let you hit. “There was an old abandoned factory behind right field, and I could just see hitting the ball through some of those windows.” He never got the chance. “I consoled myself by saying, ‘You know, they lost Johnny Mize that same way.’ They tried out Johnny Mize, but his fielding didn’t impress them, so he never got to hit.” Mize was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.

The young man from Harlem earned degrees at three elite institutions: Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago. It was at the third of these that he got his Ph.D. in economics. “I was a Marxist when I went to the University of Chicago, and I was still a Marxist after I took Milton Friedman’s course.” Incidentally, he holds the Rose and Milton Friedman chair at the Hoover Institution. “But just one summer as an economics intern in Washington got rid of all of that.” Sowell worked in the Labor Department, in the Wage and Hour Division. He was interested in whether minimum wages helped the poor by raising their pay or hurt them by denying them jobs. He found that the personnel around him were interested in other things: namely, the preservation of their own jobs, and the perpetuation of government programs. “Government has its own incentives,” he says. He was on his way as a conservative and free-marketeer.

February 21, 2011    |     Volume LXIII, No. 3

  • What the Egyptian unrest says about, and portends for, the region.
  • Comparing French and American responses to the Middle East upheavals.
  • If both seek the presidency, it could split the Republican party.
  • We’re wasting billions on rockets to nowhere.
  • Let’s stop Obamacare without blowing up the constitutional order.
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