Walter Williams

Gems from Economist Walter Williams

18 January 2022

6.5 MINS

The late Walter Williams produced many pithy observations about a variety of topics, including virtue, liberty, government, poverty and race relations. Some cogent quotes of his are reproduced here.

A year ago I wrote about the passing of the great American economist and political commentator Walter Williams. In that piece, I noted the many similarities between him and another noted Black conservative writer, thinker and economist, Thomas Sowell.

In it, I mentioned that Sowell may have penned five or six times more books than Williams. And I confessed to having only two of Williams’ books, while I have 25 of Sowell’s volumes. Well, that has been rectified a bit now: I have more than doubled the number of Williams’ books I own, having recently picked up another three.

All five volumes are jam-packed with quotable gems. This article will consist of a few great quotes from each. It is hoped they will spur you on to get some of his books and read him for yourself. Except for the final book that I quote from, the other four are all collections of his newspaper columns.

I feature the books here simply in alphabetical order, but I provide the date for when each was released. Williams wrote on a wide range of topics: economics, politics, education, race, international relations, and so on. So this is just a little sampling of what he wrote on. Enjoy the one or two quotes I offer from each book.

America: A Minority Viewpoint

(Hoover Institution Press, 1982)

Simple laziness and envy have always been part of man’s character. For laziness to become organised and envy to become mobilised, there has to be legalised plunder. What’s plunder? French economist/statesman Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) describes it best in his book, The Law: “Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; … this process is the origin of property.” Bastiat also says, “… a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of others. This process is the origin of plunder.”

One purpose of law is to prevent plunder. But law and government are often perverted, becoming the source of plunder — albeit legalised plunder. Bastiat gives us a test for identifying legalised plunder: “See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.” (p. 103)

What about colonialism being the cause of Third-World poverty and Western riches? Colonialism, I feel, is offensive to the principles of liberty and national sovereignty. But can colonialism explain poverty and wealth? Well, let’s name some former colonies. What about the United States of America? It was a colony. What about Australia? Canada? These are all former colonies and are among the world’s richest countries. What about Hong Kong? It is one of the few remaining European colonies. It is the second richest political unit in Asia. And I might add, it’s better off economically than its “mother” country – England.

Now, what are some of the poorest, most backward countries in the world? They are Tibet, Nepal, Liberia, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan. These countries were never colonized (except Ethiopia for six years by Italy, and perhaps Afghanistan will be). I’m not suggesting colonization as a policy for economic growth. I merely point out that the argument that colonization is the cause of poverty just doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. (p. 109)

American Contempt for Liberty - Walter Williams bookAmerican Contempt for Liberty

(Hoover Institution Press, 2015)

Why did the founders of our nation give us the Bill of Rights? The answer is easy. They knew Congress could not be trusted with our God-given rights. Think about it. Why in the world would they have written the First Amendment prohibiting Congress from enacting any law that abridges freedom of speech and the press?

The answer is that in the absence of such a limitation Congress would abridge free speech and free press. That same distrust of Congress explains the other amendments found in our Bill of Rights protecting rights such as our rights to property, fair trial and to bear arms.

The Bill of Rights should serve as a constant reminder of the deep distrust that our Founders had of government. They knew that some government was necessary, but they rightfully saw government as the enemy of the people and they sought to limit government and provide us with protections. (p. 7)

… a person is being forcibly used to serve the purposes of others. Putting the money into a government pot simply conceals an act that would otherwise be deemed morally depraved. This is why socialism is evil. It employs evil means, confiscation and intimidation, to accomplish what are often seen as noble goals — namely, helping one’s fellow man.

Helping one’s fellow man in need by reaching into one’s own pockets to do so is laudable and praiseworthy. Helping one’s fellow man through coercion and reaching into another’s pockets is evil and worthy of condemnation. Tragically, most teachings, from the church on down, support government use of one person to serve the purposes of another; the advocates cringe from calling it such and prefer to call it charity or duty. (p. 123)

Liberty Versus the Tyranny of Socialism: Controversial Essays

(Hoover Institution Press, 2008)

Often, when people evaluate capitalism, they evaluate a system that exists on earth. When they evaluate communism, they are talking about a nonexistent Utopia. What exists on Earth, with all of its problems and shortcomings, is always going to fail miserably when compared to a Utopia.

The very attempt to achieve the utopian goals of communism requires the ruthless suppression of the individual and an attack on any institution that might compromise the loyalty of the individual to the state. That’s why one of the first orders of business for communism, and those who support its ideas, is the attack on religion and the family.

Rank nations according to whether they are closer to the capitalism end or the communism end of the economic spectrum. Then rank nations according to human rights protections. Finally, rank nations according to per capita income. Without question, citizens of those nations closer to capitalism enjoy a higher standard of living and a far greater measure of liberty than those in nations closer to communism. (p. 25)

Education is government-produced. That means there’s either going to be prayers or no prayers, “intelligent design” or no “intelligent design” and sex education or no sex education. If one parent has his wishes met, it comes at the expense of another parent’s wishes. The losing parent either must grin and bear it or send his child to a private school, pay its tuition, and still pay property taxes for a school for which he has no use.

Just as in the car and computer examples, the solution is to take the production of education out of the political arena. The best way is to end all government involvement in education. Failing to get government completely out of education, we should recognize that because government finances something it doesn’t follow that government must produce it.

Government finances F-22 Raptor fighter jets, but there’s no government factory producing them. The same could be done in education. We could finance education collectively through tuition tax credits or educational vouchers, but allow parents to choose, much like we did with the GI Bill. Government financed the education, but the veterans chose the school. (p. 95)

More Liberty Means Less Government: Our Founders Knew This Well

(Hoover Institution Press, 1999)

If higher minimum wages were an effective anti-poverty device world poverty would have been eliminated ages ago. Minimum-wage proponents say higher minimum wages won’t cause unemployment. The first fundamental law of demand, to which there are no exceptions, says when prices rise, people tend to buy less, and when they fall, people tend to buy more.

When beef prices rise, we buy less beef. When interest rates rise, we take out fewer mortgages. After all, if people didn’t respond that way, sellers could charge any price they wanted and we’d still buy it. Labor services are no different. When labor’s price exceeds its value — what it can produce — employers will buy less of it and seek substitutes. Among these substitutes are automation, moving to a lower-wage country, and customer self-service.

“Williams,” you say, “but what can be done to raise people’s wages?” Low wages are more a result of people being underproductive rather than underpaid. They simply do not have the skills to produce and do things their fellow man highly values. Seldom do we find poor highly productive individuals or nations. Those who earn low wages tend to have low skills and education. Our challenge is this: How can we make these people more productive? Raising minimum wages will not raise worker productivity; however, it can sabotage worker potential to acquire higher productivity. (pp. 57-58)

The State Against Blacks

(McGraw-Hill, 1982)

“As highly publicized as racial conflict is in the United States, what seems not to be appreciated, to any significant degree, is that racial conflict is a phenomenon that is unique neither to the United States nor to the twentieth century. Racial preferences, grouping and conflict are a permanent global feature of man’s history.

In England there is wide discrimination against West Indians, Pakistanis and Indians. In South Africa there is the widely known societal bifurcation and hostility between white, Asian, colored and black Africans. Contrary to what modern-day rhetoric would have us believe, racial oppression and discrimination find no color group innocent of their practice.

Colored peoples racially discriminate against whites as well as other colored peoples. For example, in Africa, black Africans often discriminate against Arabs, Syrians, Lebanese, Indians and Chinese. In recent history there has been expulsion en masse of some 50,000 Asians from Uganda. There have also been massive expulsions of Asians from Kenya. Although the situation is nowhere nearly as extreme as in Uganda and Kenya, Asians encounter racial discrimination and hostility in the other countries of East Africa and Central Africa, Tanganyika, Zambia and Malawi. (p. 3)


Originally published at CultureWatch.

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