Walter Williams

Walter Williams, RIP

The free market economist and iconoclast died in December at the age of 84.

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Walter Williams, the free market economist and iconoclast, died in December at the age of 84. The author of 13 books, Williams was best known for 1982's The State Against Blacks, which documented how government interference in the market has been especially harmful to African Americans.

Born in 1936, Williams grew up in the Richard Allen Homes, one of Philadelphia's first housing projects. When he was a small child, his father left his family. He was brought up by his mother, a high school dropout, and the family spent time on welfare. Williams would later draw a distinction between material poverty and what he called "poverty of the spirit."

He worked as a taxi driver in the City of Brotherly Love and was drafted into the peacetime Army. After his military service, Williams studied economics at California State College and then went to UCLA for graduate school, where he was exposed to the ideas of Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, and his own department chair, Armen Alchian. In 1977, Williams started writing a weekly column, which was eventually syndicated in 140 newspapers. He was also a Reason contributor and trustee emeritus on the board of Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this magazine.

For all his individual accomplishments, Williams was especially proud of his role in making George Mason University's economics department a home for free market radicals. "GMU Econ has lost an iconic and heroic figure," wrote Peter Boettke, director of the school's F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. He added that Williams "taught with wit and passion the logic of economic reasoning."

Reason's Nick Gillespie interviewed Williams in 2011. An excerpt from their conversation follows.

Q: Do you think the roundabout way you got your economics education was better for you than if you'd been a childhood whiz kid and gone straight to college after high school? 

A: If I'd gone to college right after high school, it would have been an unmitigated disaster. I was too immature. I was unprepared to make the sacrifices necessary. I think that's true for many people. My daughter was 17 years old and went right into college. If we had to do it again, I would have gotten her a job at a McDonald's or a carwash for a couple years to let some maturity set in. So maybe take a year or two and then go to college. But more importantly, pay your own way.

Q: You mention college subsidies quite often. The state university system in California was essentially free in the 1960s and 1970s. Wasn't that a good thing, even if it was appropriated from taxpayers? 

A: No, it's not a good thing!

Q: Would you have been able to go to college otherwise?

A: I might not have. A lot of the incentive for my wife and I to move from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in 1961 was that no way in the world could I afford to go to Temple University. It was the cheapest school in the city, and it was like $2,000 a year. I went to Cal State Los Angeles, and it was $125 a year, I believe. So I got a highly subsidized education.

I don't know whether I would've got an education. But still, because I got an education doesn't mean it was a good idea to rip off California taxpayers.

Q: If you take a cost-benefit analysis of the cost to taxpayers of you attending college, and then what you've paid back in taxes—

A: Not to the California taxpayers. When I finished ripping them off, I left [the state].

Q: How did you help build George Mason's economics department into a hotbed of research from a libertarian perspective?

A: When James Buchanan won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1986, we had 26 faculty members. When I became department chairman [in 1995], we had 18. There was considerable hostility toward our department. I tried to work with the administration to rehire those people, and I had a lot of difficulty, so I just said, "Well, the only way I'm going to improve the department is try to privatize the department and go out and raise money to hire people and subsidize hiring people." A lot of it was from the result of the generosity of supporters like the Lilly Endowment and the [John M.] Olin Foundation.

Q: People in the academy said this was a corporate takeover. 

A: It was not a corporate takeover. The people who gave money respected me and my ambitions, and I had complete say over how the money was spent.

Q: Do you feel that you're part of the libertarian movement?

A: No, I don't. I'm not part of a movement. I've never been part of a movement. I just do my own thing.

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity. For an video version, visit reason.com.

NEXT: Brickbat: Have You Seen This Child?

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  1. We must recognize his great accomplishments but also realize that niggers have ruined America. Fuck the stupid niggers.

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    2. Oh, goody. A satire poster of a satire poster.

      1. Then again, I can’t even get my posts in the right order, so there.

        Edit function, please.

        1. Or you could just shut up.

          1. Eh, he’s following your silent example. Get over it, you can’t copyright it.

    3. Oh FFS, you Reason comments lefties are too stupid to understand how parody works, huh.
      You’re supposed to take a extant or probable position and exaggerate it, not tilt at windmills.

      1. From the level of crass stupidity and hatred, I’m guessing this is sarcasmic or Tony.

        1. 100% sarcasmic.

          Yet another stupid sock.

          1. Don’t know what’s happened to sarcasmic but guessing he has a new prog lady in his life, or maybe too much weed…

            1. He gets paid to do what he does, so he is going to keep doing it.

            2. The lockdowns made his drinking worse. Pretty sure he’s completely hammered most days.

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  4. If anyone hasn’t gone on YouTube and checked out some of his lectures, it’s worth doing.

    1. fuck off SQRLSY

    2. Kill yourself SQRSLY

    3. Fuck off sarc

      sarcasmic
      February.5.2021 at 3:30 pm
      Old school Democrats are a dying breed, but they’re not extinct yet.

      Rod Rosenstein
      February.5.2021 at 4:32 pm
      Manchin gon’ save us, just like he did from Obamacare, right you bootlicking pathetic bitch who fucks his own child?

      Mother’s Lament
      February.5.2021 at 4:36 pm
      Not anymore, they got a restraining order. His poor ex…

      SQRLSY One
      February.6.2021 at 8:03 am
      Do you ever actually make any arguments, or present any facts?

      Why is Jeff so shitty?
      February.6.2021 at 8:31 am
      Do you realoze you forgot which sock you were using again sucassmic?

      Mother’s Lament
      February.6.2021 at 10:05 am
      ???
      I just presented the fact that sarcasmic’s ex took out a restraining order on him.
      I know you’re not very bright Sqrlsy, but wow.

      Geiger Goldstaedt
      February.6.2021 at 10:36 am
      Damn.

      Sarc again outed himself as squirrel turd.

      They really must be paying him in barrels of shit.

      1. Idiots like you would be proud trophies to hang on my virtual wall. Sarcasmic is not a very good or consistent goad, but he sure does the job with suckers like you.

        1. goad
          /ɡōd/
          Learn to pronounce
          verb
          1.
          provoke or annoy (someone) so as to stimulate some action or reaction.
          “he goaded her on to more daring revelations”
          Similar:
          provoke
          spur
          prick
          sting
          prod
          egg on
          hound
          badger
          incite
          rouse
          stir
          move
          stimulate
          motivate
          excite
          inflame
          work/fire up
          impel
          pressure
          pressurize
          dragoon
          prompt
          induce
          encourage
          urge
          inspire
          2.
          drive or urge (an animal) on with a goad.
          “the cowboys goaded their cattle across the meadows”
          noun
          a spiked stick used for driving cattle.

          I’m a poor, inconsistent spiked stick? That doesn’t make much sense.

          1. Poor sarc and his unfunny jokes.

        2. You can fuck off too.

    4. YouTube videos of him, Friedman, and Sowell are among the things that initially drew me towards formal libertarian philosophy. I know none of them are strictly libertarian, but they had a great deal of influence. I really like William’s last line in the interview excerpt: “I just do my own thing.” I’ve never really been a fan of political collectivism of any stripe.

      1. The first time I registered to vote, I saw that “Libertarian” party choice and selected it, just because I was so surprised. Almost immediately felt pretty silly about it, like when I heard there was an Anarchists Union fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Changed my registration to “decline to state” or whatever it was then. Still feel silly about voting; I used to justify it by adding “And I vote” to letters I wrote to Congress Critters. But I stopped writing those letters after getting tired of the inappropriate canned responses they’d mail back, as if they had ordered too many “Thank you for supporting dolphin awareness” letters and had to get rid of them.

        1. Why do you hate dolphins?

        2. I’ve always registered as unaffiliated. Every time the person says in a condescending tone “You know you won’t be able to vote in the primaries, right?” as if that would change my mind. Then the last time I moved I didn’t bother. Unless I can choose “None of the above” and the office remains vacant if that choice wins, I see no point.

          1. In NH if you are registered unaffiliated, you can vote in any primary. Though I think you have to change back from the party whose primary you voted in afterwards if you want to stay unaffiliated.

          2. When I first registered to vote, in the 1970’s, it was widely understood that if you wanted a job, not just a union or gov job, ANY job, you’d better register as Democrat. PA has been corrupt since William Penn first took a piss in these woods.

    5. They are good lectures. That the Trumpistas are flinging poo at your for mentioning his lectures is bizarre. It’s like they are automata or NPCs.

      1. They’re just losers begging for attention. I’m done giving it to them.

  5. Unfortunately, Williams, he will be forgotten because he is not one of the “Good Blacks” who embraced Marxism.

  6. Nick’s questions are better than Walter’s answers.

  7. After flag-F5-ing the bots and assholes, only 11 of 28 comments are visible.

    1. Do you count the posts of you crying in the 11? Also, does the fact that an increasing number of the commentariat is pointing out that you’re broken give you pause?

  8. Back in the 1990s, I had an encounter with and a libertarian debate against Walter Williams, who vehemently opposed a proposed Philly council ordinance (that I advocated, and the city council enacted) that banned smoking in indoor workplaces.

    Williams argued that property owners, business owners and other employers had a legal right to force employees to inhale massive amounts of toxic air pollution (as Williams smoked a cigarette and blew smoke in my face in a Philly television studio), while I (on behalf of Smokefree Pennsylvania, which I founded in 1990) argued that employees and the public had a right to breath clean unpolluted air when at work and in other indoor public places.

    During that debate, I was tempted to raise the argument that just as business owners no longer had a legal right to refuse service to blacks, they shouldn’t have a legal right to harm employees and customers (who don’t want to breath toxic tobacco smoke that others light on fire and burn).

    My/our freedom to breathe clean indoor air won out over the cigarette industry’s and Williams’ argument that business owners should be free to force others to breathe contaminated air.

    1. Sounds like Walter Williams had a libertarian debate.

      Not to say that you didn’t have valid points and arguments, but I don’t see how they could be construed as libertarian.

    2. Wow! I didn’t realize that businesses forced people to work for them and forced people to enter their establishments. I was under the impression that that was all voluntary. Silly me. Learn something new every day.

      Seriously though, before the progressives forced these bans upon private businesses, there were plenty of non-smoking shops where people could work and patronize without being exposed to tobacco smoke. Ironically lots of those places went out of business once the bans went into effect.

    3. Well now, they are using the “no one should be forced to breathe polluted air” argument to ban just about everything from perfume to gas stoves. Give the progtards an inch and they run with it

    4. No one forced the employees to breath in smoke. Under a voluntary employment system (no slaves, no serfs) the employees CHOSE to work there.

      Now the proggies and socialists will argue that employees have no choice. And under our current mixed crony-capitalist system that’s hell bent and stifling economic growth, they may be correct. But under a free market system the employees are free to make their own choices.

      What exactly is the moral difference between a private smoking club and a private bar? None to my mind.

      That does not mean smoking shouldn’t be banned in public indoor places, just that the slavery argument is stupid. If the only rational you can come up with for banning smoking is slavery, you really haven’t thought through the problem.

      1. Wage slavery, dude! We’re forced to work for the corporations and forced buy their stuff in order to live! It’s not fair! It’s a rich country with rich people to loot! Why shouldn’t everyone have free housing and free education and free medical care and free food and free clothing and free internet and free blowjobs, all paid for by the state? Free us from wage slavery so we can do what we want! It’s not fair!

        Or something like that.

        1. Socialist sex. I want government to set me up with the hawt broads. And if they aren’t enthusiastic in bed, I just report them to the Stasi.

          Gosh, Margaret Atwood was ahead of her time!

    5. Well in that case, Fuck Off Slaver!

    6. In other words, Mr. Williams was right and you were wrong.

  9. I used to listen to Walter when he guest hosted on Rush Limbaugh. I never listened to Rush after he left Sacramento, but I always tried to catch Walter. It was great because his audience never knew what to do when Walter was on. He wasn’t a Rush conservative, he was a libertarian. So the idea of a tiny government was beyond them, despite their rhetoric to the contrary.

    Stuff like: “No government schools.” Aaargh!
    Stuff like “No farm subsidies.” Aaaargh!
    Stuff like “No indefinite wars.” Aaaargh!
    Drug legalization. Aaargh!
    Legalized prostitution. Aaaargh!
    Cut taxes. Yay! And cut spending. Aaaargh!

    But Walter was always a gentleman about it. He always explained why in humanitarian terms.

    1. I heard Walter on Rush and that wasn’t my take away. i think you were hearing what you wanted to hear instead of what was actually said.

  10. “When I finished ripping them off, I left the state.” This man was an Economist who understood it. Such a good man.

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