I first read Thomas Sowell back in the late 1980s. It was his book on The Economics and Politics of Race. It was a great book and Sowell became one of my favorite writers.

Sowell recently retired and we are all poorer for it. Andre Archie at The American Conservative has written a retrospective on Sowell’s work that is also a pretty good introduction. If you haven’t read anything by Sowell yet, start here.

The topic of cultural capital and its diffusion has figured prominently in several of Sowell’s books. In Wealth, Poverty and Politics he elaborates on the concept as it applies to various ethnic groups. He points out, for example, that in places as distinct as Australia, Russia, France, and England, Germans have excelled at building pianos. They were the first to pioneer advances in optical instruments and cameras. They also excelled in military skills in countries around the world. The Chinese, Jews, and Lebanese, despite having been discriminated against, thrived economically wherever they migrated due to their cultural capital. Sowell’s discussion of the Germans and other ethnic groups underscores his argument that more than skills are involved in differentiating these various ethnic groups. Behind the skills are cultural values that make the acquisition of new skills a priority, and values that make the shedding of obsolete skills imperative.