Economics

Walter Williams on How the State Harms Black Americans

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In a wide-ranging interview published this weekend by Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason L. Riley, the great libertarian economist Walter Williams explains how government intervention has harmed black Americans:

Government programs and regulations are favorite butts of the professor, who is best known today for his weekly column—started in 1977 and now appearing in more than 140 newspapers—and for his stints guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh's popular radio program. Libertarianism is currently in vogue, thanks to the election of a statist president and the subsequent rise of the tea party movement. But Walter Williams was a libertarian before it was cool. And like other prominent right-of-center blacks—Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele—his intellectual odyssey began on the political left.

"I was more than anything a radical," says Mr. Williams. "I was more sympathetic to Malcolm X than Martin Luther King because Malcolm X was more of a radical who was willing to confront discrimination in ways that I thought it should be confronted, including perhaps the use of violence.

"But I really just wanted to be left alone. I thought some laws, like minimum-wage laws, helped poor people and poor black people and protected workers from exploitation. I thought they were a good thing until I was pressed by professors to look at the evidence."…

Mr. Williams distinguished himself in the mid-1970s through his research on the effects of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931—which got the government involved in setting wage levels—and on the impact of minimum-wage law on youth and minority unemployment. He concluded that minimum wages caused high rates of teenage unemployment, particularly among minority teenagers. His research also showed that Davis-Bacon, which requires high prevailing (read: union) wages on federally financed or assisted construction projects, was the product of lawmakers with explicitly racist motivations.

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  1. I was pressed by professors to look at the evidence.

    How quaint!

    1. Names! I want names! They shall be reprimanded forthwith.

  2. Uncle Tom!!!

    1. You scheduled a snow make up day on MLK Monday, waaaaaa waaaa waaaa. Why didn’t you make the kids make it up on a Saturday instead waaa! waaa! waaa! We’re going to put pressure on trade associations not to have their conventions in your city now. Waaaaa! Waaa! We’re totally fucking useless! Change our diaper. Waaa! Waaaa! Waaaa!

      1. I find your name to be very offensive. “Colored People” indeed! You must change it immediately to “NAAPoC” and get with the times. Sheesh!

        1. People who annoy you – n_ggers…

        2. UPDATE: AT THE TONE THE APPROPRIATE TERM SHALL ONCE AGAIN BE BLACK…………BEEEEEEEP

  3. I’m always more interested in hearing what people say once they left the libtard plantation. They are far more interesting than the ride-and-die conservatives.

    1. It’s particularly interesting when they say the stuff that is never supposed to be said.

  4. W. Williams is an OREO just like SCJ C. Thomas.

    “I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter and he dies early like many black men do, of heart disease….He is an absolutely reprehensible person.”

    1. Ah, the irony of wishing somebody an early death while calling THEM a reprehensible person… You go, Julianne!

      1. Liberals don’t do irony.

    2. I think the science is still not quite settled on whether racist dietary stereotypes still apply to someone whose outside color is contradicted by their inside color. We’re waiting on the results from the “albino on the inside” rat studies.

  5. I do love Walter Williams. He’s provocative and forces you to think. Keep it up, WW!

    1. It’s the best, man. I got it from a negro.

        1. I guess it’s too early in the week for Spaulding Smails.

          1. *facepalm*

            Sorry – can’t brain today, I have the dumb

  6. Tea Party represents a rise in libertarianism, eh? Ask the average TP member about legalizing drugs, prostitution, gay marriage and keeping Jesus out of politics.

    Is it really in vogue even? All I hear is a sea of saps demanding Obama “create jobs” and “fix the economy”. I hope the President has a fresh griffin feathers and unicorn tail hairs in his magic wand for his State Of The Union speech.

    1. If you would have asked the original tea partiers, most would have told you they didn’t give a fuck about those issues. They just wanted to shrink government and get them off our backs.

      Too bad within a few months, they were co-opted by opportunist asshats like Palin, Hannity, Bachman and the like for their own agendas.

      1. Yeah, any “tea party” discussion is tedious because it’s a moving target. Are you talking about groups that really want to shrink government to its constitutionally-mandated size? Or are you talking Beckians who are using it as a launching pad for their own version of Republican conservatism? I guess that explains why I like it and can’t stand it at the same time.

        1. Well put. Every time I get into a political conversation and someone asks me if I support the tea party, I have to ask them to explain what their definition of the tea party is.

          Needless to say, their responses cover a wide spectrum.

          1. Whilst I agree that fairly or not the Tea Party has been tagged with social conservative-leanings, and the attempts by some to incoporate the anti-spending rallying call with a Jesus-centered morality push are disappointing, I can’t disagree at all with Mr. Williams in regards to this comment-

            “For the first time in my lifetime?and I’m approaching 75 years old?you hear Americans debating about the U.S. Constitution,” he says. “You hear them saying ‘This is unconstitutional’ or ‘We need limits on government’?things that I haven’t heard before. I’ve been arguing them for years, but now there’s widespread acceptance of the idea that we need to limit the government.”

            However you want to spin it The Tea Party is responsible for these types of conversations, and any libertarian-minded individual should be happy that it happened.

            1. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m thrilled that it happened. At the same time, I’m saddened that it has been shanghai’d by a bunch of neo-cons to save their political hides.

              Yes, the national conversation has changed, but there has been a massive retreat from the “shrink government now” crowd and a massive realignment with the “shrink government now…except for the military, cops, social security programs, public education funding, gitmo funding, border control costs, God in schools, etc” crowd.

              We let good become the enemy destroyer of great out of fear that great could not get done on it’s own merits.

              1. I’m saddened that it has been shanghai’d by a bunch of neo-cons to save their political hides.

                I really don’t think it has, mainly because the “Tea Party” has been so loosely defined to begin with. I’ve found that you simply cannot attach a single theme to any one Tea Party simply because they differ so much from state to state. Here in Nashville we’ve always had a fierce anti-tax base and whenever the state legislature would flirt with adding an income tax the anti-tax base would descend on the Capitol Hill in hordes. These folks were a natural fit for the Tea Parties. I don’t understand why people think that these Tea Parties have been “taken over” by the social cons when they weren’t really capable of being co-opted to begin with. People were spontaneously protesting the size and scope of the government, period. Social issues were never a part of these protests and I don’t believe that they have been co-opted.

                1. If you’re interested in a good explanation of who makes up the Tea Parties and what they believe, check out the research done by the Sam Adams Alliance on the topic prior to the last election: http://www.samadamsalliance.or…..ights.aspx

                  And if you’re interested in more commentary on Walter Williams, check out SAM’s blog post on him: http://www.samadamsalliance.or…..heir-head/

              2. This term “neo-con” does not mean what you think it means.

                Oh, the irony.

      2. I remember seeing a survey a few months ago that showed that the Tea Party is split between so-cons and libertarian-type conservatives. So it’s not been completely co-opted…only half co-opted.

    2. “Ask the average TP member about legalizing drugs, prostitution, gay marriage and keeping Jesus out of politics”

      Or social security or medicare/medicaid for that matter. You don’t usually even need to bring out the druggyprostigayjesus.

  7. When you think of all the ways the state has been complicit in the harming of blacks and come up with Davis Bacon you needn’t wonder why so many blacks are less than enthused with libertarianism…

    1. Holy crap you’re stupid!

    2. Yeah, but everybody agrees that Jim Crow et al harmed blacks. Why bring it up for discussion? It’s like commenting that the AMA doesn’t put out warnings against drinking cyanide.

      The problem is all you guys who think Davis-Bacon was an antidote. Somebody has to tell everybody that, no, it too is poison.

    3. And the reason blacks are less than enthused about Libertarianism is because the MSM likes to draw white hoods over our heads.

  8. I’m curious how Davis-Bacon harms blacks considering blacks are more likely to be unionized than other races…

    http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm

    1. Blacks are disproportionately unionized because they are disproportionately employed by governments, and government employees are disproportionately unionized.

      Davis-Bacon does not apply to government workers; it applies to private sector employers bidding on government jobs. It doesn’t benefit any blacks who have government jobs.

      Davis-Bacon forces union rates on private sector companies, regardless of whether they are unionized. So, really, whether blacks are disproportionately union members is irrelevant.

      By forcing artificially high wage rates, it hurts blacks and other lower-strata workers for the same reason any minimum wage law does.

      1. But, but, but…wage manipulation and stabilization helps blacks because……because IT DOES, that’s why!

        1. Something about dignity, I think.

          1. Nah, it’s that pavement on the road to Hell.

      2. In fact, the original purpose of Davis Bacon was to PREVENT blacks from getting jobs and to protect the jobs of white unionized workers.

        1. It’s weird – I feel strangely conflicted by this – pulled in two directions, as it were…

          1. You’re a racist becuase you put his middle initial in there.

      3. But by compelling those private sector jobs to pay the union wage it reduces the downward pressure on the union wage that would result from more private jobs paying a lower wage for similar work, right? As Gilbert Martin notes (surely unintentionally as most of his good points are made) the result is to protect union jobs, and as I noted blacks tend to be more likely to have those very jobs!

        1. You are hurting all lower income jobs in the private sector. And you missed the distinction between private sector and public sector unions. No, they are not more likely to have private sector union jobs.

        2. Re: MNG,

          But by compelling those private sector jobs to pay the union wage it reduces the downward pressure on the union wage [???] that would result from more private jobs paying a lower wage for similar work, right?

          The “race to the bottom” fallacy, MNG? Et tu, MNG? Et tu?

          What happens is that the sudden higher cost of labor manifests itself in another non-monetary way, like for higher unemployment.

          YOU CANNOT BREAK THE LAWS OF ECONOMICS, no matter how likable is the Statist Fuck that governs.

        3. “But by compelling those private sector jobs to pay the union wage it reduces the downward pressure on the union wage that would result from more private jobs paying a lower wage for similar work, right?”

          Not really. The law is completely ineffective. Since Davis-Bacon only covers government construction projects, employers simply lower their base wage-rate on all other projects to compensate for the higher rate they have to pay on government projects.

          In other words, if I was going to pay my workers $15/hr (say that’s the real market rate), but I’m forced to pay them $20 on govt jobs, I’ll just lower their base rate to $10/hr on all other jobs (assuming my gov’t/private contracts split 50/50). In the end, my workers still make $15/hour on average.

          The only effect of the law is that the government, and by extension the taxpayer, has to pay a lot more to construct a new building than the private sector does.

    2. Re: MNG,

      I’m curious how Davis-Bacon harms blacks considering blacks are more likely to be unionized than other races…

      “Mr. Williams distinguished himself in the mid-1970s through his research on the effects of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 ? which got the government involved in setting wage levels ? and on the impact of minimum-wage law on youth and minority unemployment.

      My recommendation – learn to read.

    3. “Davis-Bacon prevailing wage law ‘was the product of lawmakers with explicitly racist motivations.’ Particularly, lawmakers who wished to stop black construction workers from undercutting white construction workers.”
      http://www.samadamsalliance.or…..heir-head/

  9. From the article: “liberty and limited government is the unusual state of human affairs. The normal state throughout mankind’s history is for him to be subject to arbitrary abuse and control by government.”

    He adds: “A historian writing 100 or 200 years from now might well say, ‘You know, there was this little historical curiosity that existed for maybe 200 years, where people were free from arbitrary abuse and control by government and where there was a large measure of respect for private property rights. But then it went back to the normal state of affairs.'”

    Reading that was like a Balko nut punch. I fear the odds are very good that he’s right. I weep for my country.

    1. Wow that’s pretty intense.

  10. Laws governing wages might cause very high unemployment rates among minority teenagers. That’s certainly true.

    However, the War on Drugs helps to provide them with extremely lucrative career opportunities! And those who don’t do so well at these careers are given free food and housing, along with orange jumpsuits.

    So really, the State is trying its best, here.

    1. BTW you have to look at the big picture. If we had a system where young minority members could find legal employment more easily, and the drug trade were not so lucrative, then we’d end up with a bunch of prison guards out of work. Given their high rate of pay, the ripple effect would have a negative impact on McMansion builders, European car dealers, and ski resorts.

      Really, the State is doing all these things to make all of us better off.

      1. Is that you, Robert Gibbs?

  11. As Gilbert Martin notes (surely unintentionally as most of his good points are made) the result is to protect union jobs, and as I noted blacks tend to be more likely to have those very jobs!

    But in the private sector (to which Davis-Bacon applies), are blacks disproportionately unionized?

    Your can’t assume that, because blacks are disproportionately unionized overall, they are disproportionately unionized in the private sector. Blacks tend to be overrepresentated in government jobs, which are disproportiantely unionized, so you will need to determine if they are over- or under- represented in the private sector unions before you can even begin to make your argument.

    If blacks are under-represented in private sector unions, then D-B harms blacks (as indeed was its intent) by fencing them out of government contracts.

    1. It’s not even as broad as private-sector unions, since those would include places like grocery stores and automobile dealership shops where there is little or no possibility of them being contracted with the government for their services.

      D-B applies mostly to contractors that build roads, water treatment facilities, buildings, etc., where unions were, and still are, mostly white.

  12. Libertarianism is in vogue because of the election of a statist president? Which one? Haven’t all Presidents been statist?

    1. Re: John C Cosmo,

      Libertarianism is in vogue because of the election of a statist president? Which one? Haven’t all Presidents been statist?

      Not William Henry Harrison!!! Retract your spurious calumny, sir!

  13. “I was more sympathetic to Malcolm X than Martin Luther King because Malcolm X was more of a radical who was willing to confront discrimination in ways that I thought it should be confronted, including perhaps the use of violence.”

    Uh, I’m still more sympathetic to Malcolm X than Martin Luther King. If the state continually refuses to recognize your rights, violence is absolutely a justified option.

  14. William’s book “More Liberty Means Less Government” should be on every Libertarians coffee table. Chock full of great examples about good intentions gone bad.

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