The Patriot Post® · Walter E. Williams, Thank You
Distinguished George Mason University professor Walter E. Williams, a nationally recognized economist and Patriot Post columnist for many years, died Wednesday. He taught his last ECON 811 [Microeconomic Theory I] class of the semester Tuesday evening.
Dr. Williams was an early endorser and encourager of our news and policy digest, writing 20 years ago, “The Patriot Post does a yeoman’s job advocating for the moral superiority of personal Liberty and its key ingredient, limited government, as specified by our Founders.” He was also a financial supporter over those years, which we considered a great vote of confidence.
He and his contemporary, senior Hoover Institution fellow Thomas Sowell, who retired from teaching and writing his brilliant columns in 2017, broke ranks early with the “black” political and social orthodoxy, which they recognized was actually an enormous obstacle to the advancement of black people.
Williams, who earned both his master’s degree and his Ph.D. at UCLA, said of his early years: “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.” One of those primary influencers was Sowell, who in 1969 was a visiting professor at UCLA. They would later work together at the Urban Institute’s Ethnic Minorities Project.
Both men well understood that the socialist Democrat Party, and the statist institutionalized poverty it created, had been crushing black Americans for generations. Williams wrote, “Government should do its job of protecting constitutional rights. After that, black people should be simply left alone as opposed to being smothered by the paternalism inspired by white guilt.”
Dr. Williams first described the structure of that oppression in his 1982 book, The State Against Blacks, and again in much more detail three decades later in his powerful autobiographical memoir, Up from the Projects, a modern-day version of Booker T. Washington’s 1901 autobiography, Up from Slavery.
I’m grateful to have several signed copies of books he and Dr. Sowell sent along over the years. They remain on the shelf above where I now write these words and serve as inspiration.
Sowell said of his alliance with Williams, “There was a time when the black conservative community would have consisted of me and Walter Williams. I know Walter used to say the two of us should never fly on the same plane otherwise the whole movement will disappear if the plane goes down.”
Of course, any black man with the temerity to question the Left’s orthodoxy 50 years ago, and no less today, was subjected to all manner of criticism — and viewed as an “Uncle Tom” and a race traitor. This is true of Sowell, too, but also other black conservatives, including Star Parker, Ken Blackwell, Larry Elder, Ben Carson, Jason Riley, and Allen West.
These intrepid souls are among the bravest people in America today.
“Williams,” as he would refer to himself in the third person, authored 13 books, numerous scholarly papers, and, of course, his exceptional weekly columns. But despite his considerable intellect, he had a wonderful talent for imparting wisdom in terms that everyone could understand and appreciate — whether he was talking about free-market economic principles, limited government, individual responsibility, or some other topic.
A typical example would be his explanation of how mandatory minimum wages result in employment discrimination: “What minimum wage laws do is lower the cost of, and hence subsidize, racial preference indulgence. After all, if an employer must pay the same wage no matter whom he hires, the cost of discriminating in favor of the people he prefers is cheaper. This is a general principle. If filet mignon sold for $9 a pound and chuck steak $4, the cost of discriminating in favor of filet mignon is $5 a pound, the price difference. But if a law mandating a minimum price for chuck steak were on the books at, say, $7 a pound, it would lower the cost of discrimination against chuck steak.”
He was a strong voice for American history, and he issued erudite warnings about the consequences of “Historical Ignorance” (here and here), the removal of historic monuments by the cancel-culture crowd, and the rewriting of American history.
Williams’s fellow economics professor Donald Boudreaux observed of his friend, “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.’”
Veronique de Rugy, senior research fellow at George Mason, said, “Walter was a great communicator of ideas and a prolific, provocative and uncompromising writer. … His voice, his happy-warrior demeanor, his cosmopolitan views, his endless fight on behalf of those with no political voices, and his generosity to all of us at Mason will be missed.”
Thomas Sowell, in his tribute to his longtime friend, wrote: “As a person, Walter Williams was unique. I have heard of no one else being described as being ‘like Walter Williams.’ Holding a black belt in karate, Walter was a tough customer. One night three men jumped him — and two of those men ended up in a hospital. The other side of Walter came out in relation to his wife, Connie. She helped put him through graduate school — and after he received his Ph.D., she never had to work again, not even to fix his breakfast. Walter liked to go to his job at 4:30 AM.”
Connie preceded him in death in 2007.
The final “Wisdom” post by Professor Williams at his personal website was from Richard Ebeling’s “The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving.” It reads, “No one can read our Constitution without concluding that the people who wrote it wanted their government severely limited; the words ‘no’ and ‘not’ employed in restraint of governmental power occur 24 times in the first seven articles of the Constitution and 22 more times in the Bill of Rights.”
And he added a bonus post from Thomas Jefferson: “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.”
Walter Williams was a fine gentlemen, an Army veteran, an American Patriot, and a scholar of the first order. All of us here at The Patriot Post owe him a deep debt of gratitude and will miss him greatly. Farewell, Walter Williams. RIP.
(The American Enterprise Institute has compiled other fitting tributes to Dr. Williams.)