BRIAN LAMB, HOST, Q&A: Thomas Sowell, you said in an interview with American Enterprise Institute some time ago, after quoting Eric Hoffer as saying, "intellectuals cannot operate at room temperature," you said, "There always has to be a crisis, some terrible reason why their superior wisdom and virtue must be imposed on the unthinking masses."
THOMAS SOWELL, SENIOR FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION: Yes. You can go back over the last 100 years. You can go back to eugenics in the early part of the 20th century. You can go back to Keynesian economics. You can come forward to the environmental movement.
There always is something which requires them to substitute their wisdom and virtue for our lack of understanding.
LAMB: Aren’t you an intellectual?
SOWELL: Oh, I suppose I’ve been accused of so many things, there’s no I don’t say all intellectuals.
LAMB: What is an intellectual?
SOWELL: I guess the best definition I’ve heard is from Hayek. He says it’s a second-hand dealer in ideas. But the vast majority of intellectuals don’t really originate any ideas, but they pedal ideas that other people have originated.
And that gives them a great deal of freedom, because ideas are so malleable. Words are so malleable. Reality is not malleable.
And so, they can believe in all sorts of things which have no realistic possibility, and which are fatal time and again in history. But because they know how to rephrase it and repackage it, they can just keep right on going.
LAMB: If I read correctly, you’re going to be 75 this years.
LAMB: How many years have you been thinking and writing?
SOWELL: Oh, gosh. I’ve been published since 1960.
LAMB: Has it changed at all, the way you learn?
SOWELL: Gosh, not really. I mean, I learn both from reading and from experience. And, of course, what I believe has changed radically since I was a Marxist in my 20s.
I’m surprised, though, when I go back, because I keep old letters and things. I’m surprised how many of the values I had are still the same values. It’s just that now, I see that they have to be reached by an entirely different method.
LAMB: What method?
SOWELL: Well, at one time, for example, I thought that if the government took control of various things, they could do a lot, particularly for people who are poor or less fortunate one way or another.
Over time, I’ve learned that that really does not work. I mean, it sounds better. It doesn’t work.
Just recently I came across one number which should have destroyed the whole notion of central planning. And it was that there were 24 million prices in the Soviet Union.
Now, there’s no human being capable of setting 24 million prices, probably. Especially when you realize that each price has to be set properly in relation to the other 24 million prices.
So you can’t even break it down and have, say, 24,000 people, each one with 1,000 prices, because the point is, they all have to mesh relative to one another.
But if you have a country of a couple hundred million people, and each person keeps track of only a relatively few prices that affect that person, then it can work.
LAMB: We’re at the Hoover Institution. What is it?
SOWELL: Hoover Institution is a think tank, established originally just as an archive for all the tons of material that Herbert Hoover collected when he was traveling around Europe after the First World War during a time of starvation, where he set up this program to feed millions of people across Europe.
And when he came back, he dumped all his stuff here at Stanford and set up this archive. And then at some point, Glen Campbell, one of the directors, decided to turn it into a think tank, and he put it on the map as that.
LAMB: How long have you been here?
SOWELL: It’ll be 25 years in September.
LAMB: What’s life like here for you?
SOWELL: In a sense, I shouldn’t even be answering that, because I am here so seldom. I work at home, miles away. But that’s part of, a great part of the freedom of the place.
I mean, right now, if you asked the director of the Hoover Institution, what is Tom Sowell working on, he’d say, darned if I know, you know.
From time to time, they find out what I’m working on. And if they like it, I continue to stay on. I suppose if it went a couple of years and I did nothing, they’d say, why is he here?
But it’s really a wonderful place, and I’ve had the most productive years of my life here.
LAMB: Has your relationship with your readers changed much?
SOWELL: Not that I can think of. Most of the stuff I get from readers is really very positive, very reinforcing. Some of it’s very touching. Occasionally, you would get a barrage of criticism on something.
I had one recently where there’s some Internet Web site that is siccing them on me, because I said there’s no such thing as a trickle-down theory; nobody has ever advocated it. And there were all storms of e-mail came in, not one of which contained one quote from one person who had actually advocated it.
It’s one of those things that someone says that he objects to in someone else, but we can never find the someone else who’s supposed to have said it.
LAMB: In reading a little bit of your personal autobiography, there was a scene where you were on top of the World Trade Center a number of years ago …
SOWELL: Oh, yes.
LAMB: … having a dinner. Do you think about that often, in light of 9/11?
SOWELL: Oh, that’s chilling. It’s chilling, yes.
I was having dinner with a man that I had worked for decades earlier in a machine shop in New York at really the low point of my life. And I was I didn’t have enough money to ride the New York subway, which was five cents in those days.
And so, I would walk from the Brooklyn Bridge up to Harlem, because I didn’t have the subway fare.
And when I got paid, they held back a couple of days, which normally doesn’t mean anything. But when you’re in that position, it means a lot. And so, I had to ask him to borrow some money so that I’d have something to eat with. And he lent me five bucks, which was real money in those days.
And so, when I came back there and I was looking out of the hotel window that I was in, and I looked over at where I used to work, and I thought about him and I phoned him. And he brought his family, and we ate dinner at the top of the World Trade Center.
And it was really one of the best evenings of my life. And he and I were both on the verge of tears when we parted. It was just a wonderful time.
LAMB: And a number of years later, of course, 9/11.
LAMB: What’s the impact of 9/11 on this country and the world?
SOWELL: Oh, my gosh. We will never be the same again.
I’m disappointed in people who seem not to realize that it’s not business as usual anymore. That it’s really there are things we have to do that we don’t want to do, but the alternative is far worse.
And so, the world will never be the same. I hope that it wakes up some people. It certainly hasn’t awakened all of them.
LAMB: What should change in this country, even more than it has?
SOWELL: I think there shouldn’t be these irresponsible statements that are made about the world situation. Things like, you know, we’re having a backdoor draft things that undermine the troops who are out there.
I’m appalled at, that the troops in battle, with their lives on the line, are being tried now as criminals for actions that they took when they had to make a split-second decision with their life at stake.
And when I think of all the excuses that are made for common criminals you know, he had an unhappy childhood, he ate Twinkies, whatever you know, and these men are out there fighting, putting their lives on the line for us, and we’re sitting back here second-guessing.
LAMB: Why what’s causing the second-guessing?
SOWELL: For some people it’s politics. But for other people, it is just sheer, unthinking reflection, reaction, you know.
Gee, you shouldn’t have done this, or you shouldn’t have done that.
It’s like the people who second-guess the police when there’s a shooting. And they say, why did the police fire so many shots? Now, you know, I taught pistol-shooting in the Marine Corps. I’m not the least bit surprised that they fired all those shots and so many of them missed. But that’s what happens with pistols.
But to think that someone who has never had a gun in his hand is criticizing someone for what he did, and is sitting back in air conditioned comfort someplace, you know, second-guessing this guy who had his life on the life and he put his life on the line to protect him.
LAMB: What kind of marks would you give President Bush?
SOWELL: High marks.
LAMB: For what?
SOWELL: For thinking long term. I mean, pick one example of Social Security.
Whatever you think about his particular plan, and there’s arguments you can make and forth. The fact is, he knows Social Security is not going to run out of money while he’s president.
The easiest thing in the world would be for him to say, forget it. It is someone else’s problem somewhere down the road, you know. But he understands that the longer we wait, the worse it’s going to get. And therefore, we ought to take it on.
I think the same thing with terrorism. You know, he could have stopped in Afghanistan. He could have done this, he could have done that. But the fact is, he realized that, the fact that we stop doesn’t mean that they’re going to stop.
LAMB: Irving Kristol told you a couple of years ago or a lot of years ago that if you the worst thing about running for office is that you might get elected.
SOWELL: Oh, absolutely. And he was absolutely right.
LAMB: How much did you think about running?
SOWELL: I thought about it only until I talked with the first professionals. I mean, Senator Hightower wanted me to run for the Senate in California. And out of respect for him, I agreed. The thought had never crossed my mind before or since.
But out of respect for him, I talked to political professionals. And these people talked to me about two minutes, and they would say, you’re not what politicians are made of.
My late sister, who probably knew me better than anyone in the world said, Tommy, I can’t even imagine you in politics. Can’t even and once my wife was telling a friend, Tom wouldn’t last 20 minutes in Washington. And he said, oh, yes he would. Now, I’m not saying he’d last an hour, you know.
SOWELL: Because I say what I mean. And that doesn’t help you a lot in politics.
They tried to get me to become secretary of labor when Reagan came. There were people who were pushing that. And I told the guy, stop pushing it, you know. I mean, the president of the United States has better things to do than having to run around all the time saying, well, what Tom really meant was you know, after I make some statement.
LAMB: What kind of person, then, goes into politics?
SOWELL: I don’t really know. I just don’t know. It has to be someone who’s either enormously dedicated or who is enormously concerned with power, prominence and those kinds of things.
LAMB: Let’s (ph) talk about saying what you think. I just picked this up. You do how often do you do the Random Thoughts columns?
SOWELL: Well, I collect them over a period of time. When I have enough for a column, I publish it.
LAMB: Not too many days ago, you wrote the following. "Teresa Heinz Kerry’s latest loony statement, that pro-Bush hackers could have gotten into the electronic voting machines during last year’s election, gave me my first misgivings about having criticized her. She may not be playing with a full deck."
SOWELL: Yes. I just can’t imagine. This is one of a whole series of things she said that makes you wonder.
At first I simply criticized and then I wondered, my gosh. Maybe she really doesn’t have it all.
LAMB: How far can you go in today’s column writing business when you’re writing about people like this, the wife of a candidate?
SOWELL: I don’t know. I really don’t give it a lot of thought.
LAMB: You say what you mean?
LAMB: Do editors ever correct you?
SOWELL: Oh, when I have something factually wrong, yes. I mean, I even printed a correction, a factual correction, last year for the first time. But that’s not that’s really not a big problem.
LAMB: For the first time?
LAMB: A factual correction.
LAMB: What was it?
SOWELL: I had quoted some organization as having lamented poaching in Kenya. And they had admitted poaching in Kenya. But I thought, you know, I thought lamenting poaching is surely not libel. But they wanted to make an issue of it. They did (ph) and they were right on that one point, being wrong on everything else.
I sent that correction in.
LAMB: When we last talked on Booknotes in 1990, you had written something like 14 books. And in the interim period you’ve almost written that many again.
SOWELL: Probably. I haven’t kept track.
LAMB: It’s over 30.
LAMB: How do you go about and I know you’ve got another one coming out in a few days how do you go about staying on a schedule and writing as many books as you have?
SOWELL: Actually, I don’t stay on a schedule. I write when I have something to say.
And that can be for example, the book, "Basic Economics," that I wrote, that took shape over a period of a decade. I wasn’t even sure when it would be finished. But as I would see things written that, or on TV that were actually just so wrong economically, I would then sit down and write something explaining this thing in plain language.
And over the years, this stuff would just collect in the computer. And after, you know, half-a-dozen-or-so years, I began to see, you know, we have almost enough here for a book. And then I began to organize it and turn it into a book.
So, I only write and so I normally will have two or three things going at one time. And I have no idea which one would ever get finished at all, because there are some that will never get finished, and much less which one’s going to come out first.
So right now, for example, I have one book coming out in a few weeks, as you mentioned. I have another one in press with Yale University Press, on a totally different subject essays on classical economics.
LAMB: What’s a day like for you?
SOWELL: I have great freedom, since I don’t have classes to teach, I don’t have any things (ph) and people to meet.
On a given day, I may do a lot, or I may do nothing at all.
I can remember once I was sitting here and I said, you know, I haven’t been to Yosemite in a while. I just ran out to the car and got in the car and drove to Yosemite and stayed the rest of the week.
LAMB: And how many columns a week do you have to write?
SOWELL: I’m only my contract calls for one a week. I usually write more than one. I don’t get paid any more for the extra ones. And if I’m truly, you know, frothing at the mouth, I’ll write maybe three or four.
LAMB: How long does it take you to write a 750-word column?
SOWELL: Again, it’s hard to say, because I have a whole bunch of them that are half written, again, that will probably never be completely written.
And sometimes something will happen in the news that will just jog me and I’ll sit down and do it in a couple of hours. Another time it will just take well, the Random Thoughts column can last, you know, it could be a couple of months before I collect enough for one of those.
So, it’s just very fluid.
LAMB: One of the things that changed, a big change since we last talked, is the Internet. And I noticed that on townhall.com, you can read every Thomas Sowell column since 2000.
LAMB: What impact does that have on you? How has that changed, again, the relationship with you and your readers?
SOWELL: Not that I know of.
LAMB: Do more people read you now than used to?
SOWELL: I’m in more papers than I was, say, 10 years ago.
LAMB: Well, what about the Internet? Do you get how much feedback do you …
SOWELL: Oh, lots of feedback from the Internet. Lots of feedback from the Internet.
LAMB: How would you say the Internet traffic relates to the newspaper-reading traffic? Are you getting …
SOWELL: It’s hard to know what sometimes they’ll just write me about a particular column, and they won’t say where they read it. So, I have no idea whether they got it from the Internet or from the newspaper.
But in terms of mail, certainly the e-mails vastly exceed the postal mail that I get.
LAMB: How many e-mails do you get on an ongoing basis, and you answer them?
SOWELL: Hundreds a week. And I can’t answer them all. I’m really, really sorry that I can’t, because some of them really deserve an answer.
If I can do 10 percent of them, I consider that I’ve had a good day.
LAMB: How many do you read?
SOWELL: I read most of them. Sometimes some of these people write in and they’ll something in the first paragraph that makes you realize, this, you know, this is not worth going any further with, and you just hit the delete button and keep moving.
LAMB: What’s your impression of the Internet and its impact on the society?
SOWELL: Oh, I think it’s opened up a lot of things. It’s made it harder, I guess, for a totalitarian country to seal its people off from the outside world. And that can only be a good thing.
LAMB: You wrote in one of your Random Thoughts columns, one side of the Democrats’ desperation is that some of them continue to try to tar the Bush administration with innuendos of racism, even though its cabinet members have included people of Hispanic, Japanese American, Jewish and Chinese American ancestry, as well as two conservative black secretaries of state.
SOWELL: Two consecutive.
LAMB: I’m sorry. Yes.
SOWELL: Yes, yes. Well, it does seem a little ridiculous. But it also shows how desperate they are.
The Democrats get something like 80 to 90 percent of the black vote. If that ever falls down to 60 or 70 percent, they’re in deep trouble, because they’ve alienated so many other people, that they have a hard time winning elections at all. And so, therefore, they must try to keep blacks paranoid.
I think of this thing about the remember the dragging death in Texas some years ago? And they use that against Bush, because Bush was against crimes legislation.
And the fact is that these two guys who did this were electrocuted. So, whether it was a hate crime or not a hate crime, they’re dead.
And calling it a hate crime, which means absolutely nothing, what it would have done was open up the courts for all kinds of litigation, because the guy’s convicted of a hate crime and his lawyer would say, well, it really wasn’t really a hate crime. And they can go through the whole circuit court of appeals and so forth.
And so, to me, I agree entirely with Bush on this particular point, that it doesn’t matter what your motivation was. If you did it, you should pay the price.
LAMB: Why do so many blacks follow the Democratic Party, then?
SOWELL: Inertia. Don’t forget the solid South followed the Democratic Party for over a century. So, blacks have been into this, what, 60, 70 years now. I’m hoping that blacks will wake up faster than the solid South did.
But these things the Jewish vote has gone Democratic by an overwhelming majority. And it’s hard to see why, given the policies and so on.
But once this inertia gets going, it’ll keep going for a long time.
LAMB: You were a Democrat in 1972.
LAMB: And you say you haven’t been a member of a party since.
SOWELL: That’s right.
LAMB: Why? Why did you switch to no party?
SOWELL: Oh, McGovern. When I saw what happened to the Democrats, I mean, McGovern I voted, heaven help us, for McGovern in the primaries in 1972, simply because I was so sick of the Vietnam War.
But the more I saw of McGovern and the people around McGovern, the more I realized what a disaster it would be to have this man president.
I didn’t I was never a Nixon fan, so in 1972, I didn’t vote at all. Or in ’76, for that matter.
LAMB: How does Richard Nixon look now in retrospect?
SOWELL: A lot better.
SOWELL: Well, you compare him with, say, Clinton. Nixon was, you know, was threatened with impeachment. And he quit. He spared the country. He wasn’t going to fight it.
Even more so if you go back to 1960, when there was that extremely close race between Nixon and was it ’60 yes, Nixon and Kennedy.
And there were people who said, you know, there was all kinds of voter fraud in Chicago. I mean, voter fraud in Chicago is not a new idea. And they asked they were saying he should challenge it, and he refused to challenge it. The country should not be put through that.
The stuff that went on in Florida in 2000, you know, that kind of stuff, he spared us all of that.
LAMB: What was your feeling about Gerald Ford?
SOWELL: I liked President Ford. I think Ronald Reagan was better. But the thing I guess the one thing that really made me upset with President Ford was pardoning Richard Nixon.
I was driving my car on the highway when I heard the news, and I immediately got off the highway, because I don’t like to drive when I’m angry, and until I calmed down.
Because, of course, what it said was, there are people out there who don’t, you know, who are essentially above the law. And I think that is the worst thing you can do.
Yes, the country would have I don’t know how much the country would have been put through if there were an impeachment of Nixon, because he didn’t have that many fans at that point.
But the idea that some people can commit these crimes because I suspect that had Nixon been convicted and served a little jail time, I suspect that Clinton might have watched his step a lot more carefully.
LAMB: Which president offered you the Federal Trade Commissioner’s job?
SOWELL: President Ford.
LAMB: What were the circumstances?
SOWELL: They had a vacancy. It was 1976, and they offered it to me. And I agreed to take it on condition that, if opposition that arises, they let me know. I’ll withdraw, because I don’t have time to play Washington games.
And I kept calling there and asking the guy at the White House who was handling this, is there any I don’t hear anything. What’s going on? And he said, oh, no, no. It’s just taking time.
And eventually I was in Washington, so I went up to the Hill and talked to the staffer of this committee that handled this. And he said, we’ve gone over your record with a fine-toothed comb. We can find nothing to object to. And therefore, we’re just not going to hold hearings, because this is an election year. We expect our guy’s going to be elected, and he’ll appoint his own man.
What burned me was and I said, did you tell the White House this? He said, we told the White House this months ago.
And I went back to the guy at the White House and I said, I just talked to this fellow on the Hill. And either he’s lying or you’re lying. Which is it?
And he started hemming and hawing, and I turned and walked out. And I sent them a one-line withdrawal letter from the hotel on hotel stationery. And that was the end of it.
LAMB: Are you sad you never served in government?
SOWELL: No. My gosh, no.
SOWELL: Stuff like this is one reason.
You know, Harry Truman said, if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.
And anyone who has asked my opinion about going to Washington and serving in government, I can’t think of anyone I said that they should do it.
Some people have credited me with having some influence on Clarence Thomas. I obviously don’t, because I told him, when he was at EEOC, and he was looking around at what he was going to do next, I said, get out of Washington and stay out of Washington.
So, he wouldn’t even be where he is, if he’d listened to me.
LAMB: What are your expectations about the possibility of him being nominated to be Chief Justice?
SOWELL: No idea. I mean, I know less about Washington politics than I know about anything else.
LAMB: Well, I guess maybe a better question is, what would happen if he were nominated, in your opinion?
SOWELL: Oh, there would be the there would be the usual kind of cheap shot reruns of the confirmation hearings. I think he would probably get confirmed. And it would be great for the court. I’m not sure it will be great for him or not.
LAMB: Let’s quickly retrace your steps in life. How many places have you lived?
SOWELL: Oh, my gosh. I’m sure it must run into a dozen or two.
LAMB: Started where?
SOWELL: Born in Gastonia, North Carolina. A little town about 15 miles from Charlotte, which is my earliest memories are of Charlotte. Moved up to Harlem when I was eight years old.
I went down to Washington in 1950, worked as a GS-2 clerk for the government. Came back to New York, was drafted into the Marine Corps. A couple of years there.
Off, back to Washington. Went to Howard University at night on the G.I. Bill while I was working for the government in the day.
And then decided I would I wasn’t getting anywhere intellectually. I thought, this is not going to make it here. And so I started writing away to places, and the only place that would give me any money was Harvard. And so, it was my fallback place.
And I really appreciated the way they were the frankness they had. Because they wrote to me first that you should not withdraw from where you are, because chances are, you will not be admitted. And which is you know, I was a 24-year-old high school dropout, who had a B minus average at a mediocre college. And so, you know.
And so, but they said, but we’ll wait and see what the test results were. And a couple of days before I took the SATs, Columbia sent me their rejection.
And I took the SATs. I did very well on it. And so the letter came back, and it said, I’m not sure we’re doing you a favor, because by then the scholarship when he was going anyway. But you’re admitted. And in those days you couldn’t give a transfer student a scholarship, and so they would lend me some money, and I then would have to come up with the rest of it to cover the first year, betting everything that I would do well enough the first year that there would be a second year.
And as I look back on it now, I know so much more about the situation and the ..., that was an incredible gamble.
LAMB: And did you ever get your high school diploma?
SOWELL: Never. And so, when I when I when I ...expensive places like Cornell and Amoriz (ph), I sometimes tell the students, do you realize your parents are paying all this money for you to be taught by a dropout?
LAMB: You got your undergraduate degree from Harvard in what?
LAMB: You got your master’s degree from …
SOWELL: Columbia, in economics.
LAMB: And you got your ...
SOWELL: Ph.D. ...
LAMB: ... Ph.D. ...
SOWELL: ... in economics from the University of Chicago.
LAMB: And at Chicago Milton Freedman (ph) was your advisor.
LAMB: What did he teach you that you still hold onto today?
SOWELL: Well, I guess everything, but he taught price theory. And but I guess it really what he what he taught was rigorous matters of thinking. And that and that’s a legacy. That’s not something I appreciated at the time, and more so as time has gone on.
I remember one of the questions he asked on an exam was, define marginal revenue. Now, that’s a question you would ask in Economics I, you see. And so I thought well, nobody got full credit for the answer. I was lucky to be one of the few that got partial credit. Because there are all kinds of sloppy ways of defining marginal revenue, which then leads you into all kinds of fallacies (ph). And so you learn, no, you define it the way it ought to be, and that way you avoid a whole mess of stuff that you don’t want to get into.
LAMB: You, in your Random Thoughts columns again, share some of your personal thoughts on things other than politics, and one of them is, I know you’re a photographer. You say Ansel Adams, that no one has yet taken better pictures than he did.
LAMB: Why do you say that, and what about your own photography?
SOWELL: Well, my point was that all the huge advances in technology really don’t make up for the talent that you either have or don’t have. And so, right now, my favorite picture that I’ve ever taken was taken with a Speed Graphic, the last one of which was manufactured 30-some years ago. I took the picture last June in Yosemite. And it’s on my Web site, if you want to take a look at, it’s half dome (ph).
But here is this camera that hasn’t been made in 30 years. And it’s not the camera, it’s not the equipment, it’s the photography.
LAMB: How much do you do with your Web site, and who maintains it?
SOWELL: My assistant. I have no idea I have no idea what it costs, how it’s done, or anything. I simply turn it over to her.
LAMB: You talked about Tiger Woods, this is back in 2000. Then you said positively and then you said so many athletes in the public eye act like jackasses, or even criminals.
LAMB: What made you want to say that?
SOWELL: Well, because so many of them do. I think, though, just to give one example, the boxers who do all the show-offing and the carrying-on. I mean, I’m old enough to remember Joe Lewis. I mean, Joe Lewis conducted himself with dignity. He came out there, he fought his fight, he spoke like a gentleman, and he left.
When you know, when Jim Brown scored a touchdown, he didn’t act like a teenager out there in the end zone. He scored his touchdown, he went on back to the bench. And so that kind of thing.
And then, of course, the steroids thing has just it turns my stomach, because obviously if some people take steroids, other people have to take steroids if they want to compete. And worse yet, younger people who will never make the major leagues, are going to take steroids, and they’ll pay the price, and never collect the benefits.
LAMB: You said three percent of the American children are home schooled, but 10 percent of those in the spelling bee are home schooled.
SOWELL: Wow, did I say that? I bet it’s probably true.
LAMB: What again, do you think home schooling is the way to go?
SOWELL: For some people who can do it. I mean, I wish, certainly, I could have home schooled my children. I had too there was no way I could do it, circumstances.
LAMB: And you have had how many children?
LAMB: How old are they today?
SOWELL: Forty and 35.
LAMB: It’s John (ph) and Lorraine (ph).
LAMB: Where do they live?
SOWELL: I never discuss where they live.
LAMB: In your book you talk about writing a column, though, about John (ph) having not spoken ...
LAMB: ... before, and it had an impact on your readers.
SOWELL: Oh my gosh, yes, because you can imagine the apprehension and the running to a specialist, and the examining for this, examining for that, and all the people who say he’s retarded, and so on. And when I wrote that column, people began writing to me from around the country with kids who were just like that. And in that result, I ended up setting up a group of parents of late-talking children. It grew to about 55 families. And then I studied patterns I found in them, and wrote a couple of books about that. And now there’s a man down at Vanderbilt who’s doing further research on this.
LAMB: Has it had any long-term impact on your son, not speaking until he was four?
SOWELL: Not that I know of. Well, like so many people, you know, a lot of the parents years later will say, now I can’t get him to shut up.
LAMB: Wasn’t it Einstein that didn’t speak until he was three?
SOWELL: That’s right. Teller (ph).
All these people that I learned about, by the way, I made no systematic effort to find them. I found them about Edward Teller because my assistant went to a fax machine to fax the cover of the book, "Late-Talking Children." And Teller’s (ph) assistant was there, she said, oh my gosh, Dr. Teller (ph) didn’t talked late. And then we looked it up and found out he was four years old before he said anything.
LAMB: You give a Joseph Goebbels award. How long have you done that, and who did you give the last one too?
SOWELL: I have only done it once, it was to Dan Rather, and it was the forged documents. But it goes back long before the forged documents. Earlier Dan Rather had a broadcast in ’93, if I remember correctly, where he said that one out of eight children in America was going to bed hungry tonight. And I went back and looked up the original study. I mean, there’s few things more disillusioning than looking up original studies. And it was utter nonsense from that study. The study wasn’t that great itself, but to conclude that one out of eight kids in this country are going to bed hungry at night, when in fact obesity is higher in the lower income brackets than in the higher brackets, was just madness.
LAMB: I take it you don’t care much for the networks.
SOWELL: I don’t.
LAMB: Did you ever work for any of them?
LAMB: Did you ever do commentary for them?
SOWELL: I mean, I was I was I’ve probably been interviewed on some of them. But no, I’ve had no connection with them.
LAMB: What is it you don’t like about them?
SOWELL: I just they do too much spinning and too little reporting, and they’re too one-sided.
For example, the feeding frenzy about George Bush’s National Guard service during the last year’s election, absolutely nothing about the fact that John Kerry’s honorable discharge is dated years after his service was over. And it was dated during the Carter administration, when there was a program which upgraded thousands of less than honorable discharges. I don’t know what his discharge was like, because he has never signed the same form that Bush signed. So, we will probably never know.
But at the very least, it’s worth asking, why doesn’t he open up the records? But they were on Bush all the time. He said, here’s the record. You know, it’s that kind of thing that troubles me.
LAMB: What was your reaction then to the conservatives wanting the judges to get involved in the recent Schiavo situation?
SOWELL: The judges were already involved in it. The only question is, which judges, and which law, and how well were they carrying out their duties? And that I think that, when the state judges are doing things that, it seems to me go against the state law, there’s an argument for having the federal judges take a look at it.
LAMB: But the federal judges looked at it and said, no deal no ...
SOWELL: That’s right. And I think they I think they did that ignoring of course, I got a copy of the law that Congress passed, and it says they should look at this de novo. They should not simply review this as appellate courts do, just to see if the trial judge behaved legally. They should look at it de novo to see whether the merits of the case are what they are. And they never looked at it de novo, as one of the descending judges pointed out, that this case, the merits have never been litigated in a federal court, and so all these people who count how many judges were involved, they’re totally misleading.
LAMB: Should judges continue to have life tenure?
LAMB: What should happen?
SOWELL: Oh gosh, all kinds of alternatives. Certainly limited terms, and I think the judges who clearly disobey the explicit words that are quite easily understood should be impeached and removed. A few let that happen a few times, and people I think I think, for example, of the of the Weber (ph) case back in 1979 where (INAUDIBLE) the decision that was just directly the opposite of what the law said. And Rehnquist, in his dissent said, you know, this reminds me of one the great escapes of Houdini. I think that someone like that should be impeached and removed. You don’t pass laws to have somebody else do the opposite of what the law says.
LAMB: Thomas Sowell, quote, "The older I get, the more I realize that arguing on the basis of facts and logic gets you labeled as someone who is out of step with the times, if not lacking in compassion."
SOWELL: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. The we’ve reached a point where there are great numbers of people who don’t argue in terms of what the facts are. They argue, well, your motivation must be wrong, you lack compassion for the poor, et cetera, et cetera.
LAMB: You’ve got a new book coming out in a couple of weeks. We have a mock cover here ...
LAMB: ... because it’s not out yet. "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," by Thomas Sowell. Over 30 books published. How important has this been to you?
SOWELL: Probably it may be the most important, because there are so many misconceptions about racial and ethnic issues, that just straightening out the misconceptions is a major task in itself. Now, I don’t I don’t reach any kind of policy conclusions in this book, because as I tell you, it’s just a it’s a full-time job to get the facts straightened out.
LAMB: Well, let me read what you say in your preface. You say, "Let me state here and now that these essays do that these essays do not mean: one, all southern whites were or are rednecks; two, all black Americans today or in the past were or are black rednecks; three, Jews are exactly the same as the other groups with whom they are compared; and that four, slavery is somehow morally acceptable because everyone was guilty of it. One can not predict," you write, "much less foresaw all the clever misinterpretations that others might put on ones words. The most that can be done is to alert honest people to the problem."
Explain all that.
SOWELL: Well, I’ve found that people do an awful lot of twisting of what you say. When you put and what you have actually said goes completely against what they believed for a long time, and want to continue to believe. And so they go off on all kinds of tangents. And what I find is that happens with intellectuals much more so than with the general public, whereas I can write a column in a newspaper, which angered the general public, and there will be extremely few misunderstandings of what I said.
I can say the same things in a book that’s aimed at intellectuals, and there’ll be incredible twists and turning, well, you seem to say this rather than that. I remember one huge review trying to figure out the implications of ethnic America. And what made it a flush (ph) was that the last chapter of the book is titled, "Implications." So, you don’t have to guess what implications I drew, they’re right there. But I strongly suspect the person who wrote the review never got that far.
LAMB: You also say in your preface, "Because this book is written for the general public, it does not feature long, convoluted sentences with escape clauses designed to prevent words from being twisted."
SOWELL: Yes, because again, I’ve seen that clever people will do that. And that’s why I write to the people who are the general public, and to those intellectuals who are honest, and the rest of them, I write them off.
LAMB: Black rednecks who are they?
SOWELL: These would be blacks who came out of the southern culture and who carried that culture with them North into the into the urban ghettos, and into the ghettos of the South, for that matter, and who have not moved out of that culture since. Over the years, both blacks and whites have moved away from that culture, but in the poorest and worst of the ghetto areas, there are lots of people who have not. And these kinds it’s a it’s a culture which didn’t do whites any good, and it’s certainly not doing blacks any good today.
And the tragedy is that people regard this culture as somehow the authentic black culture, and therefore you’re not to interfere with it. It’s to be allowed. And so they’re cheering people on. It reminds me of a scene in the "Blue Max" (ph) where this general is encouraging this daredevil pilot to do all kinds of wild stunts, you see, knowing that the guy’s going to kill himself if he keeps doing this, and therefore the general will be rid of a of a political problem.
Now I don’t think that the white liberals are doing this deliberately, but I think the net results are the same. They are cheering blacks on in doing things that are absolutely self-destructive.
LAMB: What’s the difference between a black redneck and a white redneck?
LAMB: Same kind of people, same attitudes ...
SOWELL: Oh, absolutely. And same kind of results. One of the things I point out in this book is that, you know, as late as the first world war when mental tests were given in the army, there were whites from any number of southern states who scored low on those tests than blacks from northern states. So that any one who comes out of that culture is likely to score lower on mental tests, to do less well in intellectual areas, whether they are black or white.
LAMB: And what do you say to somebody watching this that says, Thomas Sowell lives in an ivory tower, he lives in that Hoover Institution, he doesn’t have contact with these kind of people. How do you know …
SOWELL: Have well I was 50 years old when I came to the Hoover Institution, so it was not I was a young lad fresh out of school. And I grew up in far worst poverty than most people today who are considered to be in poverty.
LAMB: So your other part of the title is white liberals. How do you define a white liberal?
SOWELL: Those kinds of people who have the kinds of attitudes that are called liberal in the United States, although the word is misused. But, you know, Ted Kennedy in politics, any number of people in the media, among the intelligentsia. Larry Tribe (ph) in the law, and so on.
And those people have created an atmosphere in which these kind of productive cultures ought to be celebrated, perpetuated, and the consequences overlooked.
B: What’s the difference between a white liberal and a black one?
LAMB: Same people?
LAMB: Same attitudes?
LAMB: You have a chapter that’s the first chapter is "Black Rednecks and White Liberals." The second chapter is, "Are Jews Generic?" Why the jump to from black rednecks and white liberals, to are Jews generic? What’s the point?
SOWELL: Well it was the book is really about ethnic and cultural issues in general. So there’s a chapter on the Jews, there’s a chapter on the Germans, and then there’s a chapter on history in general. So that’s they’re lumped together because they’re all cultural ethnic issues. And we move on to the Jews because it’s a fascinating story, because among the middleman minorities, of which the Jews are the most prominent, the hostility of these people in countries around the world is out of all proportion to that to any other kind of group I can think of.
In terms of violence, the number of the number of Chinese killed let’s say in one year, and by mob (ph) actually exceeds all the blacks lynched in the entire history of the United States. And the number of Armenians killed in the in Turkey, you know, during the first World War, is greater than that. And of course the number of Jews slaughtered on a number of occasions in history, even before the Holocaust, is greater than that.
So the question is why this particular kind of people are the targets of so much venomous hatred? And I think the answer is that they not only succeed, they succeed in a way which is a threat to the egos of other people. That is you can envy a rocket seller, but he’s no threat to your ego. If I should say listen, anybody can be rich if he’s born in Rockefeller. But the guy who comes here let’s say from Vietnam or Korea, and arrives here with little more than the clothes on his back and a few broken words of broken English, and a decade later he has his own little business, and you see his son a few years after that getting ready to go off to Harvard or MIT, you’ve got to ask yourself, you either got to, you know, you’ve got to hate yourself for saying, my God, I’m a stagnate (ph), this guy was nothing, and now he’s (INAUDIBLE). Or you’re going to have to hate him.
And most people when they have a choice between hating others and hating themselves, they hate others.
LAMB: Where does the hatred for the Jews come from in history?
SOWELL: Number of places. But they are people who have who have succeeded an awful lot, in the midst of other people who have not. Years ago one official of one of the Jewish organizations in New York asked me, what can Jews themselves do in order to minimize the hostility they face? And I gave him a one-word answer, fail. Because a lot of you succeed, you’re going to be hated.
LAMB: So the source is success?
SOWELL: It’s not only the success, it’s the success starting in poverty, as the Jews did in the United States and in other in many other countries. And so they you not only see them succeed, you see them rise up from the bottom past other people, and the people they’ve passed don’t like it. But there’s also the fact that the role they play economically has never been understood, it’s you know, they’re middlemen, or they’re money lenders, and the argument is they really aren’t producing anything, you can’t see anything tangible that they don’t stand in a production line turning out winches (ph).
And so the argument is that they’re not producing anything, they are simply gratuitously inserting themselves between the producer and the consumer, and they’re parasites essentially. And this argument has been made again, not only about the Jew, but about similar groups around the world. And a number of places they have expelled those people, or forced them out by mob actions, forced them to flee. And after they left, the economy’s collapsed. But it never teaches a lesson that no, they were doing something.
LAMB: You point out in the chapter on "Are Jews Generic" that one-tenth of one percent of people in the world are Jews, that 29 percent of the Novell Peace Novel Prizes in science and literature are Jews.
LAMB: Where did you find that? And what does that mean to you?
SOWELL: It will be in the footnote, I read so much that I can’t pinpoint it. But what amazes me is that among other things that there is one of many examples of groups that are wholly disproportionately represented in particular areas. And it shows what a farce it is that intellectuals, and even the courts think it is something remarkable when there’s some group is x percent of the population, but y percent of the people in this profession, or that institution.
That’s true all around the world. And it’s not just Jews, it’s Germans, it’s Japanese, it’s you name it. You turn on the television, it’s blacks in basketball, you know, just about everywhere. And yet despite this empirical reality that you simply can’t escape, people are determined to believe that anytime the groups aren’t represented in proportion to the population, something strange must be going on.
LAMB: This is maybe too gallant (ph) of a question, but what determines the way most people think about others in their lives? I mean what’s the base of someone’s own prejudice in your ...
SOWELL: Oh my gosh, I don’t know. That’s the that’s the only real answer I can give you. I wrote a book about the assumptions from which people start about assumptions about human beings in general, it was in a book called, "Conflict of Visions." And once you start with a certain conception of human beings, an awful lot of other things follow when you talk about justice, about power, about equality, about all sorts of other things, depending upon what’s your assumption about the nature of man.
LAMB: If you were still living 50 years from now, what would you predict there the black race in this country would be?
SOWELL: Oh, wow.
LAMB: I mean based on trends that you’ve seen in the last 20 ...
SOWELL: It could go it could go either way. If the current trends continue, it’s going to be a disaster. But there’s evidences that the current trends are not unchallenged. People from time to time ask me to mention some black conservative writers, and I tell them, you know, 30 years ago I could have told you Walter Williams (ph) and me. And today I can’t even keep track of them all, they’re all over the place, they’re in the media, they have their own shows, they write columns, they write books. And I learn about them, you know, from nowhere they suddenly appear.
So there is this counter trend going on. And everything depends upon which wins out in the end.
LAMB: How much of a role have you played in guiding that, the conservative black writers?
SOWELL: I have now way of knowing, you’d have to ask them. Most of the people who sometimes I’m credited with having influenced this person or that person. But Walter Williams (ph), for example, had arrived at the same conclusion that I had before I ever met him. And in fact that was his whole reason for wanting to meet me.
So that you know, it’s so easy to reconstruct these things to fit some notion, but it’s what I call putting two and two together and getting seven. But, yes, Walt (ph) had his own ideas before I ever came along.
LAMB: Is there someone in your own life you credit with having the biggest impact on the way you think today?
SOWELL: Not really. The biggest change well I guess at one time Marks (ph) if you’d asked me in my 20s, it would have been Carl Marks (ph). But the change from that was not brought about by reading someone else, it was about some experiences that I had and things that I learned as time went on.
LAMB: And what one experience would you credit with having the biggest ...
SOWELL: Oh, working for the labor department in the summer of 1960. And discovering one, that there was plenty of evidence that the minimum wage was in fact costing people their jobs. And more than that, discovering that the people in the labor department really were not interested in that, because the minimum wage administration of the minimum wage was taking supplying one-third of the money that was keeping the labor department going. So for me the question was, was it helpful or not? And for them the question was, are we going to really I can remember the sense of constimation (ph) when I suggested an empirical test of this, as if, you know, my God, this man has stumbled upon something that could ruin us all. You know, and I once I realized that, I realized that institutions have their own agendas, and their own incentives. And the and what they were set up to do really is not controlling.
LAMB: So what did you do with that finding that you had back was it 1960?
LAMB: Because you said you’ve been writing since 1960.
LAMB: Did you go right out and start writing as after you learned all this?
SOWELL: No, because I couldn’t get I was still (INAUDIBLE) visitation on this, and I tried to get the data, and the data simply are not there, I mean it’s to get data that are that are truly relevant is very hard in many cases. And you can always get some numbers, throw them together and come up with a conclusion. But if you’re serious, you’ll find that there are very few sources that have good have good data.
LAMB: Let me diver this for a moment. When we if we saw you in your habitat writing, what would we see?
SOWELL: You would see first of all a mess in the office.
LAMB: This is home?
SOWELL: Home. And you’d see me at the computer with my Windows 95, and just struggling with stuff, that’s all.
LAMB: And what time of day would you be doing most of your writing?
SOWELL: I have no schedule, because I have no classes, I have no office hours, and so on. And so it’s whenever. And so around oh I guess around 2:00 this morning I was working. But at 8:30 this morning I was fast asleep.
LAMB: How often does that happen?
SOWELL: Often, there really is no schedule.
LAMB: Do you watch much television? How do you stay up with what’s going on in the world?
SOWELL: I watch television, selectively. I watch news and public fast (ph) programs, some of them. And I watch sports. I haven’t I haven’t watched ABC News, for example, in decades.
LAMB: How about NBC News?
SOWELL: Not a lot since in those same decades. I mean ever since ever since the engagement of Grenada, and ABC News featured a story about how Americans soldiers landing in Grenada were wearing the wrong kind of uniforms, I thought that was really not the significance of the Grenada invasion.
LAMB: Back to your book. Chapter the third chapter is "The Real History of Slavery."
LAMB: What is the real history of slavery?
SOWELL: Slavery was much bigger, it involved intimately more people than people realize. It was not confined by race, it was not defined by race or created by race. It existed for thousands of years.
A history professor had a student come up to him and ask him, well when did slavery begin? And he said you’re asking the wrong question, the question is when did freedom begin? Because slavery existed long as we have any records. And from archeological finds, we realize that people were enslaving other people before they could read and write. So that’s always existed, and it’s existed all over the world.
A number of white people enslaved by pirates in North Africa were greater than the number of Africans brought to the United States. You know, and yet that’s not that’s not even mentioned in most of the discussions. So I try to look at slavery as a worldwide phenomenon, and as something that’s lasted for thousands of years. And I also try to ask the question, why did it end? It ended here because of the Civil War, but it didn’t end anywhere else because of that.
It took over 100 years to root it out. And again the literature, there’s a ton you can find in shelves growing in (ph) with books about United States, the Western Hemisphere, and Africa. But virtually nothing about the rest of it. This book about the Europeans enslaved by North African pirates came out in 2003. But 2004, you couldn’t find a copy, it for all practical purposes has gone out of press, there was just no interest in it.
LAMB: What should this knowledge that you put in this chapter what impact did that should that have on people who read it in this country? What impact do you want it to have?
SOWELL: Well I guess I want them to understand what the facts are, which, you know, is a is a is a major undertaking in itself. And also realize that racism in the United States grew out of slavery, but slavery didn’t grow out of racism. The Europeans enslaved other Europeans for centuries before the first African was ever brought to the Western Hemisphere. That wherever there were people who were vulnerable, for whatever reason, those were the people that were preyed upon, even though for most of history those who enslaved and those who were slaves were the same race.
LAMB: Did you ever know your original parents?
SOWELL: No, I have I my father died before I was born. And I my mother, heavens I was so young that I have no memory whatever of her.
LAMB: Next chapter is Germans in history.
LAMB: And I guess the question I wanted to ask you from a reading (ph) part of it is, were the Germans unusually anti-semantic?
SOWELL: No, the Germans were not more racist than other people, all the evidence that I was able to find was that in general they tended to be less racist, not only towards Jews, but towards blacks in the United States, towards the American Indians, and towards the Aborigines in Australia. And what so that the really chilling conclusion that I draw from that is if what happened in Germany could happen among Germans, it could happen anywhere. And none of us should feel safe.
LAMB: Then the next chapter is, "Black Education Achievements Myths and Tragedies."
SOWELL: Yes. I guess the crucial fact on that is that in 1899 there was a black high school in Washington, the school would hire a mental test in two of the three white high schools.
LAMB: Dunbar (ph).
SOWELL: Dunbar (ph). And 100 years later, it would be considered utopian to even set that as a goal. And the question is, how did this happen, why did it happen? And why is there so little interest in it?
And the latter especially, just is very troubling. Because I first began writing about Dunbar (ph) 30 some years ago. Because people were saying how terrible the you know, the education of black kids was. And the question is, well what can we do? And the I said, well black kids have already been educated successfully, we don’t have to speculate and come up with esoteric theories, and so on. And I published this, and I found that there was virtually no interest among educators, or politicians, or intellectuals.
And the few who had any took any interest at all were concerned to discredit what was said, because it went so completely counter to what they already believed.
LAMB: What happened to Dunbar (ph) High School?
SOWELL: It was destroyed almost overnight academically by a reorganization of the school system.
LAMB: What in your opinion what has to be done in the black schools, or in among black students in order to bring them up?
SOWELL: One, you get rid of the things that are dragging them down. You stop saying that speaking black English, you know, is just as valid, and all that kind of stuff. And then it’s just as valid to linguish (ph), and so forth. But the fact is if you talk that way, you’re not likely to get into med school, you’re not likely to do very much in your life.
LAMB: We’re out of time. How much longer are you going to keep up this pace of writing books and writing your column?
SOWELL: Well I keep saying that I’m going to slacken off, but this only brings howls of derision from my friends and family.
SOWELL: They claim I can’t do it. But I’m going to see if I can’t slacken off.
LAMB: Do you have the same energy you had all ...
SOWELL: No. Heavens, I mean I mean there are days I wake up thinking feeling this like I’m 19 again, but usually by the end of the day, something has happened to remind me that I am not 19 again.
LAMB: Thomas Sowell, thank you for letting us come to the Hoover (ph) Institute.
SOWELL: Thank you for having me.