The March of Foolish Things by Kyle Peterson

Kyle Peterson, "The March of Foolish Things," The Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2015.

Thomas Sowell turned 85 years old this summer, which means he has been teaching economics to Americans through his books and articles for some four decades. So it seems like a natural question: Have we learned anything? Has the level of economic thinking in political debate gone up at all?

“No—in fact, I’m tempted to think it’s gone down,” Mr. Sowell says, without much hesitation. “At one time you had a lot of people who hadn’t had any economics saying foolish things. Now you have well-known economists saying foolish things.”

The paradox is that serious economic discussion enjoys a wider platform than ever before. One of the great bounties of the Internet is the trove of archival news and debate footage that has been dumped onto YouTube and other websites. Anyone with a modem can now watch F.A. Hayek discussing, in a soft and dignified German accent, the rule of law with Robert Bork in 1978. Or Milton Friedman at Cornell the same year, arguing matter-of-factly about colonialism with a young man in a beard, sunglasses and floppy sideways hat.

There is plenty of old footage of Mr. Sowell floating through the ether, too, and if one watches a few clips—say, his appearance on William F. Buckley, Jr.’s “Firing Line” in 1981—two things stand out. The first is how little Mr. Sowell has changed. The octogenarian who sits before me in an office at the Hoover Institution, where Mr. Sowell has been a senior fellow since 1980, has a bit of gray hair and a different set of glasses, but the self-assurance and the baritone voice are the same.

The Wall Street Journal