Sowell: Farewell

By Thomas Sowell

Even the best things come to an end. After enjoying a quarter of a century of writing this column for Creators Syndicate, I have decided to stop. Age 86 is well past the usual retirement age, so the question is not why I am quitting, but why I kept at it so long.

It was very fulfilling to be able to share my thoughts on the events unfolding around us, and to receive feedback from readers across the country – even if it was impossible to answer them all.

Being old-fashioned, I liked to know what the facts were before writing. That required not only a lot of research, it also required keeping up with what was being said in the media.

During a stay in Yosemite National Park last May, taking photos with a couple of my buddies, there were four consecutive days without seeing a newspaper or a television news program – and it felt wonderful. With the political news being so awful this year, it felt especially wonderful.

This made me decide to spend less time following politics and more time on my photography, adding more pictures to my website (

Looking back over the years, as old-timers are apt to do, I see huge changes, both for the better and for the worse.

In material things, there has been almost unbelievable progress. Most Americans did not have refrigerators back in 1930, when I was born. Television was little more than an experiment, and such things as air-conditioning or air travel were only for the very rich.

My own family did not have electricity or hot running water, in my early childhood, which was not unusual for blacks in the South in those days.

It is hard to convey to today’s generation the fear that the paralyzing disease of polio inspired, until vaccines put an abrupt end to its long reign of terror in the 1950s.

Most people living in officially defined poverty in the 21st century have things like cable television, microwave ovens and air-conditioning. Most Americans did not have such things, as late as the 1980s. People whom the intelligentsia continue to call the “have-nots” today have things that the “haves” did not have, just a generation ago.

In some other ways, however, there have been some serious retrogressions over the years. Politics, and especially citizens’ trust in their government, has gone way downhill.

Back in 1962, President John F. Kennedy, a man narrowly elected just two years earlier, came on television to tell the nation that he was taking us to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, because the Soviets had secretly built bases for nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from America.

Most of us did not question what he did. He was President of the United States, and he knew things that the rest of us couldn’t know – and that was good enough for us. Fortunately, the Soviets backed down. But could any President today do anything like that and have the American people behind him?

Years of lying Presidents – Democrat Lyndon Johnson and Republican Richard Nixon, especially – destroyed not only their own credibility, but the credibility which the office itself once conferred. The loss of that credibility was a loss to the country, not just to the people holding that office in later years.

With all the advances of blacks over the years, nothing so brought home to me the social degeneration in black ghettoes like a visit to a Harlem high school some years ago.

When I looked out the window at the park across the street, I mentioned that, as a child, I used to walk my dog in that park. Looks of horror came over the students’ faces, at the thought of a kid going into the hell hole which that park had become in their time.

When I have mentioned sleeping out on a fire escape in Harlem during hot summer nights, before most people could afford air-conditioning, young people have looked at me like I was a man from Mars. But blacks and whites alike had been sleeping out on fire escapes in New York since the 19th century. They did not have to contend with gunshots flying around during the night.

We cannot return to the past, even if we wanted to, but let us hope that we can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.

Goodbye and good luck to all.

3 Responses to Sowell: Farewell

  1. Wiley Brooks October 3, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    I sure hate to see you retire. Your common sense columns have been a favorite for a long time. We do share some common experiences. We are near the same age – I will be 85 in Feb. I grew up on a small cotton farm in rural Miss. We were subsistence farmers, outdoor toilets, no electricity. I can remember retrieving our water from an open well about 200 feet downhill from our house. I would lower milk and other perishables down into the water (about 10 feet down) during the hot summers. The water was probably no cooler that 60-70 degrees. Near all our food needs were self produced. Needs beyond our food requirements were purchased from the proceeds from a few bales of cotton.

    I was the last of 7 kids that survived. Two died very young. Our farm was joined by a black family of 14 children. Our homes were separated by about 300 yards. They were good farmers and good neighbors, and; their standard of living appeared to be on par with ours. Their family members and my family members toiled the soil separated by a barbed wire fence. The head of the household was proud man by the name of Sam Green. He would visit with my father infrequently. They would sit on our front porch and engage in a conversation. I was too young to remember content of those conversations. I think about that period in my life a lot. My father and Sam Green had a lot in common. But there was a big difference I didn’t give thought to at that age. My parents could vote, Sam and his wife could not. And of course there were other conditions that existed, i.e. The Green kids & the Brooks kids attended segregated schools.

    You are my friend. I wish you a rewarding future.

  2. Randall Brandt January 21, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    Dr. Sowell,

    I will miss you and your commonsense wisdom very much! I really liked reading your offerings because of the factual information but more so for the comfort you provided. As others have said, you’re a friend and that’s because of the way you reach out with the facts and with a reassurance that is quite calming. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for your uncommon commonsense and devotion to the truth. You’ll be sorely missed! I hope you enjoy developing your photography hobby. Maybe you’ll treat us with a book of them, yes?

    God bless you and yours! 😊🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

  3. Bill Hutchison May 28, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    Dear Dr. Sowell,
    I’m a bit late reading your Goodbye Note, which I just happened upon, but I thank you for your many years of sharing your incisive thoughts with the rest of us. You and Dr. Williams are the reliable sources of wisdom, in addition to Ayn Rand, who I look to for the analysis that makes the complicated easy to understand.
    Best wishes for an extended Happy and Safe retirement, and photo taking!
    Bill Hutchison


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