Thomas Sowell: Three Questions That Destroy Most Liberal Ideas

(photo credit)

I recently found an excellent 4½ minute video clip of an interview of Dr. Sowell in 2005:


Dr. Sowell shares something very interesting near the end, that can be put to practical use by all conservatives in our daily political conversations and blogosphere exchanges:

“I’ve often said there are three questions that would destroy most of the arguments on the left.

The first is:  ‘Compared to what?

The second is:  ‘At what cost?

And the third is:  ‘What hard evidence do you have?

Now there are very few ideas on the left that can pass all of those…”

Questions Destroy Liberal Ideas

(photo credit)  (photo credit)

Want to read more about Dr. Thomas Sowell?

Try this:

America’s Political Bilingualism

About Necessary and Proper

Jeff believes in the Individual's ability to excel when liberty and freedom of choice are protected. Also believes in the Community's ability to take care of the vast majority of its own issues and needs when the federal government leaves the Community's resources and sphere of control alone. State and local choice produce better results than centralized federal control.
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30 Responses to Thomas Sowell: Three Questions That Destroy Most Liberal Ideas

  1. rmekrnl says:

    Sowell was excellent, as always. What a real common sense guy.


  2. Funny thing, I was looking for a way to post the following quote…I thought about writing an article around it, but it seems relevant to the topic here…

    We want insurance companies to say money is no object when providing coverage, but we don’t say the same when paying premiums.

    Read more:


  3. Thank you for the kind words, Jeff! Ok, ok, A Conflict of Visions has been added to my reading list. Between you, and Donald Boudreaux quoting Sowell, I’ve realized that I’m missing out.


  4. tannngl says:

    Reblogged this on tannngl and commented:
    This blog post help to delineate and explain the difference between liberals and conservatives. It’s a great augmentation to my post on the ‘difference between my conservatism and your liberalism.’


  5. Good post.
    Anything Thomas Sowell writes should be required reading. “Vision of the Anointed” is the best analysis of why people who believe in top down planning by Government, and people who believe in bottom up solutions by individuals, always talk past each other and can never come to any agreement on issues. The reason is planners believe man is perfectible, and believers in individual liberty think man is not perfectible. He calls it the Unconstrained Vision vs.Constrained Vision. All issues are looked at differently when you start with a different belief concerning the nature of man.


    • Austrian Addict,

      Thanks for dropping by and participating. I’ve been wondering when I’d get a comment from you. I’ve been recommending your blog to economics aficionados for awhile. I’m planning to reblog one of your recent articles soon — the one about why socialism won’t work.

      Regarding Sowell’s terminology of “unconstrained” and “constrained”, he first established that method of cataloguing ideologies in A Conflict of Visions, which was first published in 1987 — nine years before he published Vision of the Anointed. I haven’t read that one yet…didn’t know it continued his thesis of conflicting visions. I’ll put it on my list. Thanks!

      – Jeff


      • You are correct, I meant Conflict of Visions, not Visions of the Anointed. I seem to get these two titles mixed up. Vision of the Anointed is the first book I read by Thomas Sowell, which led me to Conflict of Visions. I don’t think I would have understood Conflict of Visions as well if I hadn’t read Vision of the Anointed first. I think every book Thomas Sowell has written is a great read, but my favorite is Knowledge and Decisions.



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  7. Danny Wright says:

    The first 30 years of my life was spent as a non-Christian. While not a liberal full fledged during that time, I certainly camped at their gate. During that time I honestly saw myself as a good person. How could I not? The only standard I bothered using was my own opinions of good and evil.

    There was a learning curve after becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, but it didn’t take long to realize that I was actually, in the final analysis, not at all a good person. Since that time I’ve seen this one question concerning the nature of man as the question that will determine whether a person’s worldview is built on a solid foundation, or just wishful thinking.

    It makes sense that someone would think that government help could help others and that those others will take the help and do the right thing. It makes sense that if you outlawed guns gun violence would go away. It makes sense that if you simply redefine sin, sin will cease. It makes sense that if you removed the allure of profit, people will stop being greedy. Unfortunately, and disastrously, reality has not borne this out, and worse, because the heart of man is not basically good, those who have jumped on this bandwagon don’t have the moral enlightenment to admit that things have not gone as they thought they would. LIke the thirsty man drinking saltwater, he deludes himself into believing that all that is needed to quench his thirst is a little more.

    Great blog.
    I love Sowell, just finished Dismantling America today.
    I’ll be back.


    • Dan,

      Welcome and thanks for that interesting comment. I have this question: To which of the economist authors you’ve studied would you most attribute your adoption of the views you articulated above? I’m guessing Thomas Sowell, with perhaps some Milton Friedman mixed in (?).

      As I read what you wrote here, it was as if you were responding to my recent article Confronting Caricatures of Conservatives, and specifically addressing the 15th (last) strawman on the chart I presented. I invite you to read that article, and if you were to then post an article on your blog that elaborates on your comment, I’d love to reblog the entire thing here.

      I note that you and I started our blogs within 3 days of each other. I also predict, after reading a bit of your blog, that we’ll find ourselves uncannily aligned in our views on economics and the nature of man. It seems you are as fascinated as I am at the phenomenon of two equally-believed visions (constrained and unconstrained) existing among politically-aware people, often as two sides of the same coin. After I finished reading Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions last August, I wanted to write an article summarizing some of his observations about the magic words in politics (like “freedom” and “equality”) that have completely different meanings to liberals and conservatives. I couldn’t shape the right context for such an article until a couple weeks after the November election when I wrote America’s Political Bilingualism. I’d be flattered if you’d comment on that article, as a fellow Sowell fan.

      – Jeff


      • Danny Wright says:


        Sorry to take so long in responding. To answer your first question is a little difficult. Though I realize that it may taint me a little among some, the first person to penetrate the wall of my old worldview was Rush Limbaugh. Thomas Sowell simply put the subject of economics on a shelf within my grasp in “Basic Economics”. (I also learned of Sowell through Limbaugh) I’ve also read Hayek and love the study of society. I’ve not read Milton Friedman but have watched many of his videos on You Tube.

        I love your “Confronting Caricatures Of Conservatives”. I just posted it on FB. It reads like the history of my blogging years. (I started blogging years ago with a blog called The Bumbling Genius”.) I did all the things you mentioned, even calming down and realizing that I’m never going to persuade some, and that I shouldn’t simply react to non-sense. I assume you have blogged elsewhere too?

        My economics blog could well be named “letters to my sister”. Though she is a conservative at heart, and votes that way, the liberal machine keeps her in a constant state of confusion. There is no chance she’s going to read a Sowell book either. So my target audience has been people like her. I try to keep my posts below 300 words, quick, pointed, foundational, and hopefully a little humorous. The cynicism escapes against my will. 🙂

        You might find this short post interesting as it pertains to the cognitive dissonance required to hold to number 15 on the chart.

        I’ll think about elaborating on my comment in light of that chart and posting something. As a blogger, I know that you know the thrill of having your hard work read and liked by many, and, best of all, to influence someone in a positive way. I’ll let you know.

        Now off to read “Bilingualism”.


  8. Jack Curtis says:

    Looking for reasoned responses from the totalitarians on the Left might be so often futile because their programs are, besides being imposed top down, designed backwards…They proceed from a tentative hypothesis directly to a firm conclusion, sans any intervening logic or study. Which supports the efficacy of Dr. Sowell’s telling questions.

    Perhaps they do this as Machiavellians, placing power above other goals, are expected to do…


    • Hi, Jack. I agree that leftists are intent on using Big Government to compel us to conform to their desired outcomes, and not so much on following due process. Almost any means justifies the ends. Their logic is very often tendentious, meaning they work backwards from a predetermined outcome, cobbling together whatever haphazard logic they can come up with, in order to superficially “appear” to have a solid rationale. But these 3 questions topple their house of cards.

      I’m not sure what the rest of your last sentence was going to be, after the ellipsis. Please elaborate.

      I invite you to visit and comment often. Liberals tell me, “You don’t know jack!” Well, now I can say, “I do know Jack, and he’s on our side.” 😉

      – Jeff


  9. xPraetorius says:

    I’ve been an admirer of Thomas Sowell for longer than either he or I have been alive! THAT’s how much I admire him. His ability to distill what seems complicated and vexing into the face-palmingly simple never ceases to astonish me.

    Thanks for this piece!


    — xPraetorius


  10. TonyR says:

    Reblogged this on Daily Browse and commented:
    The now bankrupt Detroit was run by the ‘Anointed’ for decades.


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  13. Thomas Sowell is one of the greatest minds and a real good man. We need more like him.


  14. gruundehn says:

    As a “classic” liberal – a Constitutionalist – I find myself often at odds with “modern” liberals who are closer to George III and Lord North than the Founding Fathers. Indeed, a lot of “modern” liberal thought can be traced to Medieval thought. I haven’t read Sowell, but I think I’ll start.

    Christopher Cole
    First Vice-Chair, Pima County Libertarian Party.
    P.S. You can often find me chewing out the Pima County Board of Supervisors on their recorded sessions of their almost weekly public meetings.


  15. Hi Christopher. I’ve been following your blog for several months. Thanks for following mine.

    When I’m using my own voice in writing here, I prefer the term Progressives instead of the ambiguous Liberals, since it depends on if you’re talking about the 18th century or the 20th century.

    I have several articles in which I’ve written about Thomas Sowell’s book “A Conflict of Visions.” I will list them below. If you’re going to read him, I recommend you start with that book.

    – Jeff


    • gruundehn says:

      I’ll probably get the book this Wednesday, payday, from Amazon.
      I am glad you’ve been following me, I hope I inspired some thoughts. Feel free to comment even though so few have done so. I like the interplay, the conversation, that happens when someone comments. That is why I started the blog.


      • Make sure you get the 2007 revised edition (the only one you could order if you’re getting a new copy.)

        BTW, I should warn you that “A Conflict of Visions” isn’t always easy “armchair” reading. As one of his earliest books — before he became a weekly syndicated columnist — its tone is pretty stilted and academic. That’s why when I quote it, I often substitute some more common words using [] brackets….to kind of translate it to more casual speech.

        But if you’re into tracing modern political philosophies back to their origins in the Enlightenment period and earlier, that’s EXACTLY what the book is about.

        Good luck.
        – Jeff


        • gruundehn says:

          It isn’t that I trace political philosophies back, it is that I was studying Medieval History and noticed the similarity with modern liberalism – a misnomer if there ever was one.


        • gruundehn says:

          I just got the book and it is next on my reading list, right after a biography of William Dudley Pelly, my grandfather’s brother-in-law. Along with several religious books and some Nero Wolfe. Right now I am trying to study the Pima County upcoming budget so I can make intelligent comments at the next budget hearing. My eyes glaze over but I keep plodding along.


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