South Africans should learn from Thomas Sowell

Phumlani Majozi on the US intellectual we should turn to to help unravel our current problems

We South Africans should learn from Sowell

4 February 2021

Those who keep up with the affairs of South Africa, know very well that the country is in deep trouble. The economy is mired in crisis, the homicide rate and rape are staggering, there is widespread state corruption, the Tripartite Alliance destroys potential for economic reform, and more than 60% of children are in homes without fathers. These are the disturbing socioeconomic challenges a country led by President Cyril Ramaphosa faces. And the honest people do acknowledge that there is refusal to reform from South Africa’s political leaders.

Many of the problems I have mentioned above, aren’t given much attention by the mainstream media, intelligentsia and the political elite, at least in my observation.

For example, the absence of fathers in homes and the damaging impact that has on our society is ignored. Even the crisis of crime doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Instead, it’s almost always the ‘legacy of apartheid’ that is seen as the source of problems in the country.

Of course, the legacy of apartheid has been a factor in some of the ills that afflict South Africa. But what slows our progress today, doesn’t have to do with apartheid – it’s bad government policy. Our focus must be on the progress we have made since 1994 – and we must examine the forces that slow our progress.

With almost no public intellectual courageous enough to tackle the above fundamental problems in South Africa, it’s time we look overseas, in America, for the economist who has studied such issues for decades.

One courageous, fearless economist, who has written remarkable books and newspaper columns over the past forty years, is Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He’s a genius in every way you can think of.

What distinguishes Sowell from other scholars in the world, is his honesty and his relentless pursuit of facts. For much of his academic life, Sowell has argued that government interventions in the economy harm prosperity. That has been the theme in his political and economic writings over the years.

A new film narrated by Jason Riley, a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, titled Thomas Sowell:Common Sense in a Senseless World, was released last week in America. The film talks about the remarkable life of Sowell.

After watching the film, I came out with a sense that it is not only Sowell’s groundbreaking economic and historical research that inspires; it’s also his origins.

The man grew up an orphan and was raised by his great aunt in North Carolina and New York.

I first got to know of Thomas Sowell when I was a student at University of Cape Town (UCT) a decade ago. It’s Milton Friedman I got to know first – through the economist friend of mine Dr. Stephen Taylor – who at the time worked at University of Stellenbosch as a researcher on education. Taylor had asked me to read a passage in Friedman’s famous classic Capitalism and Freedom.

After reading the passage, I went to the internet to learn more about Friedman. I bumped into a TV series called Free To Choose that aired in America in 1980. It’s in this series that I saw Sowell for the first time. He sounded very intelligent and was honest about the issues of the time. Since then, I have kept up to date with Sowell’s books, and his columns. He, along with Milton Friedman shaped the way I think about the world.

Some people say that there isn’t much we can learn from America – because the country is different from South Africa. I disagree with that view. There’s much common between the two countries, when it comes to socioeconomic matters.

Americans also had their own apartheid – the Jim Crow era. They also have crime like us, though ours is at a more staggering rate. Fatherlessness also affects both countries. They also have policies equivalent to Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) – and the disastrous effects of these policies tend to be the same.

Hence, we should look to Sowell’s scholarly work on how to address the problems our country faces. The man has studied and wrote wonderful books on affirmative action – arguing that affirmative action policies don’t work. We can learn something from those books because our BEE has been a failure in the last twenty-six of our democracy.

Sowell believes in the values of hard work, personal responsibility, sanctity of the family, free markets, low taxes, small government, law and order. These are the same values I have spent the past few years preaching in South Africa. Well, I learned from him.

Whether you are a businessperson, a politician, a domestic worker, you can learn a great deal from Thomas Sowell’s work.

Riley’s film is a beautiful introduction to the man, and the man’s philosophy about human society. I urge you to watch it. It will make you reflect on the problems we face as a country. It is available on Free To Choose Network channel on YouTube.

Phumlani M. Majozi is a senior fellow at African Liberty. His website is phumlanimajozi.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi