Walter Williams

The great Walter Williams has just passed away:

I just heard that the noted American economist Walter Williams has passed away at age 84. Along with Thomas Sowell, these two Black economists did far more good than 1000 lefty economists and social commentators combined. He was a champion in so many regards. One editorial says this about him:

America has lost one of its greatest economists and public intellectuals. Walter Williams died Wednesday morning after teaching his final class at George Mason University on Tuesday. He was 84.

For 40 years Walter was the heart and soul of George Mason’s unique Department of Economics. Our department unapologetically resists the trend of teaching economics as if it’s a guide for social engineers. This resistance reflects Walter’s commitment to liberal individualism and his belief that ordinary men and women deserve, as his friend Thomas Sowell puts it, “elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their ‘betters’.”

A onetime cabdriver who grew up poor in Philadelphia, Walter knew injustice—and understood the way to fight it wasn’t by emoting but by probing and learning. In 1972 he earned a doctorate in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he learned to look beneath surface phenomena for deeper causes and consequences.

His pioneering 1982 book, “The State Against Blacks,” is an eloquent, data-rich broadside against occupational licensing, taxicab regulations, labor-union privileges and other fine-sounding government measures that inflict disproportionate harm on blacks by restricting the employment options and by driving up the costs of goods and services.

The economics profession boasts many excellent minds, but it has precious few with the ability and interest to do rigorous research and to engage the public with its results. Milton Friedman was such a scholar, as is Thomas Sowell. Walter was in their league. From his appearance on Friedman’s PBS program “Free To Choose” (1980) through his stints as guest host of Rush Limbaugh’s radio program to his syndicated column, Walter brought economic lessons to life in a way few others could.

Another eulogy for the man says this:

The world lost an intellectual giant this week when the economist Walter E. Williams passed away. Williams was the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, an economist’s economist, a scholar’s scholar, and an unparalleled communicator of economic wisdom and ideas. He loved liberty, defended it eloquently, and went to great lengths to show how good intentions don’t readily translate into good outcomes.

Williams’s work and commentary was informed by a deep understanding of how free people in free markets find ways to help one another. Howard Baetjer explains the “Invisible Hand Principle” in his short book Economics and Free Markets. He quotes Williams, who said “In a free market, you get more for yourself by serving your fellow man. You don’t have to care about him! Just serve him.”

We get, as Adam Smith explained, what we want by helping other people get what they want. Importantly, this requires us to respect their right to say “no.” Free markets rest on a profound respect for others’ dignity. A free market is possible and productive when we recognize that other people are not merely means to our ends, created to serve us or created to live as we want them to. If we want to secure their cooperation, we have to give them what they want rather than what we think is best for them. Few people understood this better than Walter Williams.

I tell my students that I don’t want to retire. I basically want to die at my desk at the end of a long and fruitful life. Williams embodied that dream, and he was a scholar and an educator to the end: he taught his final class on Tuesday and passed away on Wednesday—the same day his final syndicated column appeared.

That piece is entitled “Black Education Tragedy Is New”. Here are the two final paragraphs from it:

The school climate, seldom discussed, plays a very important role in education. During the 2017-18 school year, there were an estimated 962,300 violent incidents and 476,100 nonviolent incidents in U.S. public schools nationwide. Schools with 1,000 or more students had at least one sworn law enforcement officer. About 90% of those law enforcement officers carry firearms. Aside from violence, there are many instances of outright disrespect for teachers. First- and second-graders telling teachers to “Shut the f—- up” and calling teachers “b——h.”

Years ago, much of the behavior of young people that we see today would have never been tolerated. There was the vice principal’s office where corporal punishment would be administered for gross infractions. If the kid was unwise enough to tell his parents what happened, he might get more punishment at home. Today, unfortunately, we have replaced practices that worked with practices that sound good and caring. And we are witnessing the results.

Sowell may have been a bit more well-known than Williams, and has been more prolific in terms of books than him. While Sowell penned nearly 60 books, Williams wrote around ten. And I only have two of them I must confess: America: A Minority Viewpoint (1982) and The State Against Blacks (1982). But he was still one of the great voices in conservative political and economic commentary.

I have often quoted from and featured Williams in my articles over the years. For example, in a piece on the minimum wage I quoted Walter Williams who said this:

The idea that minimum wage legislation is an anti-poverty tool is simply sheer nonsense. Were it an anti-poverty weapon, we might save loads of foreign aid expenditures simply by advising legislators in the world’s poorest countries, such as Haiti, Bangladesh and Ethiopia, to legislate higher minimum wages. Even applied to the United States, there’s little evidence suggesting that increases in the minimum wage help the poor. Plus, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 2.2 percent of working adults earn the minimum wage.

The crucial question for any policy is not what are its intentions but what are its effects? One of its effects is readily seen by putting yourself in the place of an employer and asking: If I must pay $6.25 or $7.25 an hour to whomever I hire, does it make sense for me to hire a worker whose skills enable him to produce only $4.00 worth of value per hour? Most employers would view doing so as a losing economic proposition. Thus, one effect of minimum wages is that of discriminating against the employment of low-skilled workers. For the most part, teenagers dominate the low-skilled worker category. They lack the maturity, skills and experience of adults. Black teenagers not only share those characteristics, but they are additionally burdened by grossly fraudulent education, making them even lower skilled.

Let me finish with a few other quotes from the great man:

“Prior to capitalism, the way people amassed great wealth was by looting, plundering and enslaving their fellow man. Capitalism made it possible to become wealthy by serving your fellow man.”

“How does something immoral, when done privately, become moral when it is done collectively? Furthermore, does legality establish morality? Slavery was legal; apartheid is legal; Stalinist, Nazi, and Maoist purges were legal. Clearly, the fact of legality does not justify these crimes. Legality, alone, cannot be the talisman of moral people.”

“I believe in helping our fellow man in need. I believe that reaching into your own pockets to help someone in need is praiseworthy and laudable. Reaching into somebody else’s pockets to help your fellow man in need is despicable. And, for those of us who are Christians, I’m very sure that when God gave Moses the commandment Thou Shalt Not Steal, he did not mean …unless you get a majority vote in Congress.”

Image of Liberty Versus the Tyranny of Socialism: Controversial Essays
Liberty Versus the Tyranny of Socialism: Controversial Essays by Williams, Walter E. (Author) Amazon logo

“Here’s Williams’ roadmap out of poverty: Complete high school; get a job, any kind of a job; get married before having children; and be a law-abiding citizen. Among both black and white Americans so described, the poverty rate is in the single digits.”

“I prefer a thief to a Congressman. A thief will take your money and be on his way, but a Congressman will stand there and bore you with the reasons why he took it.”

“For the multiculturist/diversity crowd, culture, ideas, customs, arts and skills are a matter of racial membership where one has no more control over his culture than his race. That’s a racist idea, but it’s politically correct racism. It says that one’s convictions, character and values are not determined by personal judgment and choices but genetically determined. In other words, as yesteryear’s racists held: race determines identity.”

“Punishing perpetrators and compensating victims is not what reparations advocates want. They want government to compensate today’s blacks for the bondage suffered by our ancestors. But there’s a problem. Government has no resources of its very own. The only way for government to give one American a dollar is to first — through intimidation, threats and coercion — confiscate that dollar from some other American. Therefore, if anybody cares, a moral question arises. What moral principle justifies punishing a white of today to compensate a black of today for what a white of yesterday did to a black of yesterday?”

“But let me offer you my definition of social justice: I keep what I earn and you keep what you earn. Do you disagree? Well then tell me how much of what I earn belongs to you – and why?”

“Government is about coercion. Limiting government is the single most important instrument for guaranteeing liberty. We’re working on a third generation which has little in the way of education about what our Constitution means and why it was written. Thus, we’ve fallen easy prey to charlatans, quacks, and hustlers.”

“Some people use the excuse of colonialism to explain Third World poverty, but that’s nonsense. Some of the world’s richest countries are former colonies: United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. Some of the world’s poorest countries were never colonies, at least for not long, such as Ethiopia, Liberia, Tibet and Nepal. Pointing to the U.S., some say that it’s bountiful natural resources that explain wealth. Again nonsense. The two natural resources richest continents, Africa and South America, are home to the world’s most miserably poor. Hong Kong, Great Britain and Japan, poor in natural resources, are among the world’s richest nations.”

“No matter how worthy the cause, it is robbery, theft, and injustice to confiscate the property of one person and give it to another to whom it does not belong.”

You will be greatly missed Walter Williams.

[1774 words]

3 Replies to “Walter Williams”

  1. A wise, sharply insightful and inspiring man in so many ways. Thank you for sharing with us all from Walter Williams’ treasure trove of wisdom, Bill.

    Some more very important reading, recently published, by Rod Dreher: ‘Live Not by Lies’ (the title a quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn).

    Dreher writes: “Survivors of Soviet totallitarianism have a warning for us . . Too many of us are sleeping through the erosion of our freedoms, assuming that totalitarianism can’t happen in America. ‘Live Not by Lies’ is the wake-up call we need – and will equip us for the long resistance.”

  2. Thanks Bill for bringing the wisdom of this wise man to our attention – a hero!

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