Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on June 28, 2011

in Hubris and humility

… is the closing two sentences of Thomas Sowell’s 1980 magnum opus Knowledge and Decisions; for many years this quotation adorned my office door:

Freedom is not simply the right of intellectuals to circulate their merchandise.  It is, above all, the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their “betters.”

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Justin P June 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm

I’d love to see Sowell on Econtalk again.

Subhi Andrews June 29, 2011 at 2:35 am

It seems elbow room is not good for the proletariat

Yes, we need Sowell back on Econtalk.

Dan J June 29, 2011 at 2:48 am

Love Sowell.
Thank you, Dr. Sowell for the wonderful work you do.

vidyohs June 29, 2011 at 8:24 am

Thanks for the link Subhi. Good stuff.

DG Lesvic June 28, 2011 at 11:33 pm


Jacob Oost June 28, 2011 at 11:37 pm

His work on the economics of race and culture are Nobel-worthy, IMO.

SheetWise June 29, 2011 at 6:37 am

I agree. If anyone doubts the breadth and depth of Sowell’s intellect they should read Ethnic America.

Chucklehead June 28, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Freedom is not simply the right of intellectuals to circulate their ideas. It is, above all, the right of ordinary people not to have those ideas imposed upon them.

Bob June 28, 2011 at 11:56 pm

I guess the question is….what made you take it down?

Don Boudreaux June 29, 2011 at 6:40 am

When I stepped down as department chairman I changed offices; I simply haven’t gotten around to putting anything on my new door as yet.

W.E. Heasley June 28, 2011 at 11:58 pm

‘Freedom is not simply the right of intellectuals to circulate their merchandise. It is, above all, the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their “betters.” ‘ – Thomas Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions


Insight lies in the book Knowledge and Decisions. Insight also can be found in Thomas Sowell‘s books Intellectuals and Society, The Vision of the Anointed, and Conflict of Visions.

john thurow June 29, 2011 at 1:37 am


Randy June 29, 2011 at 4:39 am

Leaders. The problem is that leaders require followers… others to look down on… so they make rules to ensure that they always have others to look down on…

Freedom is not being forced to be a follower… which makes the right to free trade a non-negotiable moral value.

jmulcahy June 29, 2011 at 6:00 am

Another favorite Sowell quote, “People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.”

David June 29, 2011 at 6:11 am


Would you consider Knowledge and Decisions Dr. Sowell’s best work? I read it for the first time last year but I might need to read it again for everything to sink in.

Don Boudreaux June 29, 2011 at 6:41 am

Yep. (Although Classical Economics Reconsidered is also up there, although its audience is far narrower than the audience for Knowledge and Decisions.)

David June 29, 2011 at 7:55 pm


What is his best “political” book in your opinion? My favorite is Conflict of Visions. I quickly learned why people are always on opposite sides of the main issues we face today. And, I learned that most people go by their vision of the world and nothing else, which leads to horrible arguments.

Thanks for responding.

Purpendicular June 29, 2011 at 11:50 am

I have only read a quarter or a third of his books, but second is as far as I can tell “A conflict of Visions”.

“Intellectuals and Society” is very good as well, although not a ground breaking one like A Conflict of Visions.

David June 29, 2011 at 7:57 pm

I agree. I think that Conflict of Visions was the foundation for his other political books…A very interesting book that I bought used was Ethnic America. It makes me wonder how people would survive today without government programs.

vidyohs June 29, 2011 at 8:45 am

Great quote. I have a very short list of people on this planet that I can use the word admire when I refer to them, Dr. Sowell is certainly one and Dr. Williams is another.

Gandhi is on the list. I have his version of freedom taped to my bathroom mirror so I see it and repeat it every day.

“Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day.”

I shall not fear anyone on Earth, I shall fear only God.
I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
I shall conquer untruth by truth, and in resisting untruth,
I shall put up with all suffering.
Resolution – Mahatma Gandhi

I frequently fall short of those goals when driving on the freeways.

It is a conundrum of life that the people such as Dr. Sowell who so deserve to be heard are so overwhelmed by the chatter and clatter of whose words and insights have all the depth of pond scum, but whose emptiness has the emotional appeal of cotton candy to a three year old.

david nh June 29, 2011 at 10:21 am

“I frequently fall short of those goals when driving on the freeways.”

I laughed. Thanks for that.

On the other hand, even to the extent of the state’s intrusions, highway traffic does represent some sort of spontaneous order. I have always thought it pretty miraculous that there aren’t many hundreds of deaths daily on the average stretch of highway. You’ve probably seen this:


Pretty wonderful.

ettubloge June 29, 2011 at 9:45 am

As I explained to a holiday dinner guest how knowledge is limited when comparing what is knowable to 15 Ivy League geniuses vs. billions of individuals in the marketplace (thanks to Professors Sowell, Friedman and Don for the free lessons), she floored me by saying she’d still prefer the 15 geniuses to male decisions.

Then she said i should be one of the 15! While flattered, I told her I could never live up to the responsibility (nor would I want it). I have a hard enough time deciding on what new BBQ grill or car to purchase for myself. Now, she wants me to decide those things and myriad others for the whole country?

Sowell’s other books on race, culture, migration, conquest are incredibly rich with research and analysis. And his 2 intro to econ books (Basic Economics and Applied Economics) are perfect for us econ novices.

Sam Grove June 29, 2011 at 10:45 am

Throwing light on a subject does not enable the blind to see it.

KD June 29, 2011 at 11:03 am

The thing that I love so much about about reading Thomas Sowell’s books is that there is at least one profoundly thoughtful sentence or paragraph on every single page.

Greg Webb June 29, 2011 at 11:08 am

This is an excellent quote from Thomas Sowell. Shortly after reading Dr. Sowell’s quote, I read the following quote by F. A. Hayek, which was posted by Lawrence Reed:

“The argument for liberty is not an argument against organization, which is one of the most powerful tools human reason can employ, but an argument against all exclusive, privileged, monopolistic organization, against the use of coercion to prevent others from doing better.” F. A. Hayek.

These quotes clearly explain the libertarian case for liberty, which runs counter to the history of the world, which has mostly been about authoritarianism. And authoritarians all have their propaganda — from divine right to intellectual and moral superiority — but they are simply, and inevitably revealed for who they really are — thugs.

Purpendicular June 29, 2011 at 11:54 am

I googled and found that quote on the web, but I can’t find the source. Do you have it? I am writing on a book project where it would fit in very nicely at a certain place.

Greg Webb June 30, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Purpendicular, the quote is from “The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek.

Purpendicular July 1, 2011 at 1:55 am

On page 37. I had even marked the quote. Thanks. Just shows that I should reread the book.

vikingvista June 30, 2011 at 1:04 am


Methinks1776 June 30, 2011 at 8:58 am


muirgeo June 30, 2011 at 3:15 am

Again , the libertarian philosophy will run into self-conflict when property rights and monopolistic organization meet. There will be no liberty for those with no land or no property. Libertarianism IS the road to serfdom.

Methinks1776 June 30, 2011 at 8:58 am

How much land did Mark Zuckerberg need to become a billionaire? His only property was his laptop.

No, I do not expect your feeble remnants of what might have at one time resembled a functioning brain to be able to process that.

Scott June 30, 2011 at 9:28 am

This is where socialism derails itself, not capitalism. Socialists confuse freedom from coercion with “freedom from necessity, release from the compusion of the circumstances which inevitably limit the range of choice of all of us”

Scott June 30, 2011 at 9:29 am

And I should add that freedom from necessity requires the destruction of any remnants of freedom from coercion.

Greg Webb June 30, 2011 at 5:32 pm

George, the libertarian philosophy does not have a self-conflict. Libertarianism is a political philosophy that upholds individual liberty, especially freedom of expression and action. Socialism, including national socialism, international socialism or communism, fascism, progressivism, liberalism, etc, fails because of its self-conflict of entrusting more and greater power and resources to a few supposedly for the benefit of the many, but really always for the benefit of the few. There are many examples, such as the Soviet Union, Cuba, the Republic of China, North Korea, etc. Socialism is similar to monarchy, except monarchy did not involve the idealistic propaganda that socialism has.

Greg Webb June 30, 2011 at 5:36 pm

History has proven, time and again, that concentrating power in the hands of a few, whether in socialists because of their high sounding morals or supposedly great intellect or monarchists because of divine right, has always lead to slavery of some, if not all, of the people. Socialism is truly the road to serfdom.

Crawdad June 30, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Can someone provide me with a good example of a monopoly that existed for an extended amount of time without government backing?

kyle8 June 30, 2011 at 2:21 pm

I am really behind the curve here, I have a little spare time till September, I only ever read, Basic and Advanced Economics and A conflict of Visions.

What other Sowell books would you guys reccomend that I read in the next two months. ?

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