During a 2009 interview with host of Uncommon Knowledge Peter Robinson, Thomas Sowell argued that public demand for intellectuals is largely manufactured by intellectuals themselves. He said intellectuals make alarming predictions using causes like global warming to create a need for their services.
Thomas Sowell is an American economist and political commentator. He taught economics at Cornell University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and since 1980 at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where he is currently a Senior Fellow.
Peter M. Robinson at the time of the interview was a research fellow and is now a Distinguished Policy Fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he writes about business and politics, edits Hoover’s quarterly journal, the Hoover Digest, and hosts Hoover’s television program, Uncommon Knowledge.
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Sowell’s interview with Robinson was to discuss his 2009 book ‘Intellectuals and Society’. A book which examines the track record of intellectuals in the things they have advocated and analyses the incentives and constraints under which their views and visions have emerged. One of the most surprising aspects of this study is how often intellectuals have been proved not only wrong but grossly and disastrously wrong in their prescriptions for the ills of society – and how little their views have changed in response to empirical evidence of the disasters entailed by those views.
At the beginning of the interview, Sowell explained that “intellectuals” were people whose end products are ideas. “There are other people with great intelligence whose end products are things, like the Salk vaccine.” An engineer is not an intellectual, for example, because an engineer is judged by the end product which is not simply ideas. “If [an engineer] builds a building that collapses it doesn’t matter how brilliant his idea was, well, he’s ruined. Conversely, if an intellectual, who’s brilliant, has an idea for rearranging society and that ends in disaster, he pays no price at all,” Sowell said.
In the video below which is clipped from towards the end of the interview, Robinson asked how intellectuals manufacture demand for their own services, Sowell responded: “One thing is by making alarming predictions [then] offering solutions to our problems.”
On global warming, he said: “I think it’s a classic example of the need for Crusades … I read the original UN study years ago, and I was just curious with how they were going to deal with the question that the temperatures went up first and then there was the increase in carbon dioxide – because you can’t say A causes B if B happened first.”
The above clip was taken from the interview ‘Thomas Sowell on Intellectuals and Society’ on 11 December 2009. Watch the full interview HERE (clip begins at timestamp 29:13, ends at timestamp 32:24)
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