My Online Prose Portfolio

"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

Applied Economics:
Thinking Beyond Stage One

By Thomas Sowell
Basic Books, 246 pp, 2004

This book is vintage Thomas Sowell - clear, concise, logical, informative, and very boring.

Yes, boring. This reads more like a textbook. Sowell isn't trying to persuade anyone of anything. Education seems his goal.

I've read Sowell's columns for years in The Conservative Chronicle and they're great - witty, persuasive, and at times even fun. For some reason, that enjoyable style doesn't translate to his books. I've read a couple of his other books and thought they were boring too.

Oh well. The information may be dry but it is useful.

So what does Sowell consider stage one? It's accepting a policy or idea at face value and not bothering to further analyze or think about the issue. If more politicians and voters moved beyond stage one thinking and fully considered all the possible ramifications of a proposal, there'd be fewer economic problems throughout the world.

Sowell uses this idea to examine labor practices, insurance, discrimination, housing policy, medical care and worldwide economic development. His basic point: Policies that sound so good and wonderful (universal insurance, rent control, open land, affirmative action, and so on) impose invisible costs on people that make those wonderful ideas harmful, useless, and self-defeating. Cost is another underlying theme of the book. Cost is an inescapable economic fact yet politicians routinely ignore it when they impose their programs on the rest of us.

This book is a challenge to many tenets of conventional wisdom. That's a good thing. I doubt it will have much impact, though. Since Sowell is a conservative, his audience will already agree with much of what he says,  and the people who need to read it the most will avoid it like the plague. It's too bad, because Sowell takes pains to make the book as non-partisan and non-ideological as possible. I don't think the words "conservative" and "liberal" appear anywhere.

So if you're looking for an educational and informative book on economics and don't mind taking some No Doze to get through it, this is the book for you.

Back to Book Reviews