Walter Williams: Up From the Projects

In 1981, Secretary of Health Education and Welfare Patricia Harris wrote in the Washington Post that libertarian economists Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell are "middle class" so they "don't know what it is to be poor."

In fact, Williams grew up in a single-parent household in a poor section of Philadelphia. He was raised by his mother, who was a high school dropout. The family spent time on welfare, and eventually moved into the Richard Allen public housing project. (Sowell, whose father died before he was born, was the son of a maid.)

Drafted into the peacetime Army, Williams eventually earned a PhD from UCLA in the late 1960s and quickly became a sought-after researcher and public intellectual. His best known book, 1982’s The State Against Blacks, argues that a major cause of black unemployment is government intervention in the labor market.

Williams’ contrarian views have had wide exposure through documentaries, public appearances, and for the past 30 years, a syndicated weekly column. Since 1992, Williams has also been a frequent guest host of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. Now a professor emeritus at George Mason University, Williams has taught at Temple University, California State University-Los Angeles, and other universities. (Go here for his personal web page.)

His new book, Up from the Projects: An Autobiography, is a fascinating look at his childhood, his half-century-long marriage to his recently departed wife, his unusual career path, and the genesis of his views on race, economics, and politics.

Throughout his career, Williams has used his own life to illustrate how government regulations often work to deny opportunities to poor blacks, and his memoir is no exception. For example, Williams recounts that when he was a teenager, he was fired from a great job at a hat factory when a fellow employee complained to the Department of Labor that his boss was violating child labor laws.

Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie recently sat down with Williams to talk about his life, how his experiences have informed his scholarship, his lead role in turning George Mason University into a center for libertarian scholarship, and whether the Obama presidency has improved the lives of blacks in the United States.

Williams is also an emeritus trustee of the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that produces Reason.tv.

For more on Williams' new memoir, check out Damon Root's review, which calls the book "a revealing and sometimes hilarious account of his rise from Philadelphia’s Richard Allen housing projects, where his neighbors included a young Bill Cosby, to 'brown bag' lunches at the White House where he gave advice to President Ronald Reagan and his staff."

Produced, shot, and edited by Jim Epstein. Additional camera: Joshua Swain.

Approximately 30 minutes.

Go to Reason.tv for HD, ipod, and audio versions, and subscribe to Reason.tv's You Tube Channel to receive automatic notifications when new material goes live.

NOTE: Due to a technical glitch, we lost about 45 comments to the original posting of this video around 2.30pm ET.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fiscal Meth||

    What happened?

  • AlmightyJB||

    Damn squirrels

  • DADIODADDY||

    I blame G. Bush

  • Fiscal Meth||

    Smooth, black, proud, handsome, radiant and dignified while rebelious and edgy. One cannot say enough nice things about Nick's jacket.

    Walter Williams is pretty great as well. I love his idea that the Federal Govt should offer federal land as payment to individuals of Social Secutiry debt.

  • ||

    +100

  • Russ2000||

    I love his idea that the Federal Govt should offer federal land as payment to individuals of Social Secutiry debt.

    I wonder how many acres of salt flats and toxic dump I'll get.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I can see why NPR fired him.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Even better the second time around.

  • Juan Williams||

    Why all the Williams hate?

  • Realist||

    "I can see why NPR fired him."
    How that man could stand to be around the dead meat at NPR is beyond me.

  • Venus Williams||

    Tell me about it!

  • Serena||

    don't forget me!

  • Robin Williams||

    I used to be funny. A long, long, time ago... Cocaine is a bitch!

  • ||

    You should quit while you're ahead, like I did!

  • Ted Williams||

    I have a head cold.

  • ||

    I have body chills.

  • Old Mexican||

    NOTE: Due to a technical glitch, we lost about 45 comments to the original posting of this video around 2.30pm ET.


    All my witty remarks, gone! All gone!!!

    :'-(

  • Libertarian pedant||

    "Drafted into the peacetime Army, Williams eventually earned a PhD from UCLA"

    GI Bill? Hypocrite!

  • Zeb||

    Boring.

  • gruffbear||

    You should have seen the GI bill I got after my colonoscopy. Oy!

  • Realist||

    I believe the GI Bill for education is concidered payment for a service!

  • sasob||

    GI Bill? Hypocrite!

    If he was drafted, that is the very least they should have done for him.

  • edi||

    To receive the GI Bill you have to contribute money to it. At least I did. 100 per month for 1 year.

  • ||

    Great man. Great interview. Thanks for sharing.

  • Realist||

    No one can take anything from Walter Williams. He is a self made man....and he did a hell of a job!

  • dave b.||

    Interesting read about both men.

  • jerome||

    this man is obviously racist

  • I Heart Capitalisms||

    "In 1981, Secretary of Health Education and Welfare Patricia Harris wrote in the Washington Post that libertarian economists Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell are "middle class" so they "don't know what it is to be poor.""

    Middle class non-whites aren't allowed to criticise welfare because they don't know what it's like to be poor. Poor non-whites aren't allowed to criticise it because they benefited from it at some point. Of course white people can't criticise it because it's also a race issue.
    Can't win.

  • ||

    RACIST!!!!11!!11!!1!!

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Brilliant man. No wonder liberals hate him.

  • ||

    I love Walter Williams. Thanks Nick, for the wonderful interview. I am looking forward to reading his new book.

  • عرب سيريس||

    asdgsdafsadf

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  • xiingguan||

    famous

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