Justice Yennie takes a look at Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics, and the essential understanding of the economy that it offers to its readers.


Basic Economics is the holy book for the aspiring capitalist. The cover claims it is a “Citizen’s Guide to the Economy,” but this book is far more than the unbiased handbook it is typically viewed as. Sowell indeed defines many of the basic concepts that one would find in a similarly themed work, but never misses an opportunity to add his opinion. Defining supply and demand quickly segues into the failures of the U.S.S.R. and how the free-market economies did it better. Sowell makes quite the argument, though it should be said that any eager neophyte (myself included) ought to be wary lest they view his words with an overly accepting mind. One of the primary charms of this book is its accessibility. Mercifully, Sowell spares us the soul-crushing mathematics of what is referred to as the “dismal science,” and keeps Basic Economics basic; you will find no graphs or derivatives here.

Beyond the conservatism, there are several points Sowell makes that he believes no economist could argue against. One of the most convincing of these is that not enough people understand economics, whether they are intelligentsia, politicians (regrettably too often), or the average citizen. He proves with eloquence that economics is accessible and that knowledge of a few basic concepts can allow anyone to make sense of how politics is actually affecting things like rent, the price of gas, and why peanut butter costs what it costs.

Another good point that Sowell brings to the table is that skepticism is indispensable when dealing with the strident voices of the great legion of politicians, journalists, and other economists that have “axes to grind.” Statistics can be twisted in countless ways to make one argument or another (ironically Sowell’s own opinions in Basic Economics sometimes fall prey to this logic). Far too frequently, facts are left trampled in the wake of people’s quest to be “right”. Truly, if someone did know all the answers, would we still have problems like recessions?

We do not have the perfect system yet, and discussion is often hindered by over-generalisation. Phrases like “war on poverty,” “welfare state,” and “rich and poor,” are bandied about with abandon. Sowell shows that there are many distinctions to be made, and not everything is black and white. Some still live in the past, believing that in order to win, others must inevitably lose out. That is not the case, as Sowell proves. The “fallacious assumption that economic transactions are a zero-sum process,” plagues political theory today. Some political figures (our dear Mr. Trump for example) act as if one country can somehow “beat” another, and gain victory in the process. Sowell does not believe this is possible, which he elaborates on alongside the plethora of other theories that encumber proper discourse.

Basic Economics is clear and easy to read. It is not without bias, but Sowell’s opinions are more a sounding board for discussion than a one-way diatribe, and should not prevent the reader from making his own judgments. The basic information can help the layman understand really what is going on behind the scenes of politics. Eloquent and precise, Basic Economics makes the dismal science a little less dismal.


Justice Yennie