The one and only Walter Williams passed away on the morning of December 1 at the age of 84. He will be greatly missed for his intellect, wit, conviction, class, and vast additions to the liberty crusade. If you were to manufacture a Mount Rushmore for the economics profession, you would need to carve into it the faces of revered men: Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams.
Since the 18th century, a stream of great minds and public intellectuals have made critical contributions to this field of study and the broader society. But very few have attained legendary status. This special designation has been reserved for an exclusive class of gentlemen who advanced the cause of liberty, capitalism, and free markets throughout their prolific careers. Williams was one of these titans of economics: a hero for freedom and a man of steel.
Walter Williams – The Man of Steel
To no one’s shock, tributes have been pouring in since his death was announced. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called him an “important voice for liberty.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) described him as a “ferocious defender of free markets.” The eminent Don Boudreaux wrote that Williams was one of his few heroes in life. Tim Donner, Liberty Nation’s Washington Political Columnist, articulated what it was like being in his presence:
“Having been around him in close surroundings, on social occasions, and in penetrating interviews on more than one occasion, you could not help but be struck by his certitude and unshakable belief in liberty all the time and everywhere. As a man with a steel ideological spine in a world gone astray, he will be missed, but his voluminous writings and wisdom will long outlive him.”
Indeed, his illustrious body of work will stand the test of time and age like a fine bottle of wine. It is easy to understand why he was admired and viewed as a heavyweight. Williams authored 150 publications in a wide array of scholarly journals, published ten books, penned a nationally syndicated weekly column, and served as a substitute host for The Rush Limbaugh Show. Many young conservatives and libertarians may have been exposed to Williams through John Stossel when the veteran newsman hosted a show on the Fox Business Network – the economist had been a frequent guest on the program.
If the world shared even half of Williams’ courage and perspicacity, we would be living in a utopia.
Politically Incorrect Views
Suffice it to say, you should not hold your breath that talking heads on MSNBC or members of the Democratic Party will be honoring Williams. He was not a race hustler a la Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, refusing to peddle white guilt nonsense with the purpose of fleecing your wallet. Williams could have been a cheerleader for the state, selling victimhood status to anyone willing to listen. His million-dollar smile could have forced you to write a check on the spot. But he embraced the simple concept of following the data. Who knew this would turn him into an icon?
Williams was raised in poverty, working as a Philadelphia taxi driver. But he was the personification of the basic economic principle of upward mobility. He became a venerable force by championing the ideas behind free-market capitalism, exposing socialism’s failures, and articulating the crippling effects of governments’ public policy pursuits. He was everything that makes conservatism an attractive ideology, from advocating gun rights to supporting the legalization of selling your bodily organ to endorsing states’ rights to secede from the union. Williams even opposed the Federal Reserve!
The two subjects that Williams had written extensively on were minimum wage and race. Here are two goodies; the first from Race & Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?:
“The real problem is that workers are not so much underpaid as they are under-skilled. And the real task is to help those people become skilled. Congress cannot do this simply by declaring that as of such-and-such a date, everybody’s productive output is now worth $7.25 per hour. This makes about as much sense, and does just about as much harm, as doctors ‘curing’ patients simply by declaring that they are cured.”
And this from All It Takes Is Guts:
“But let me offer you my definition of social justice: I keep what I earn and you keep what you earn. Do you disagree? Well then tell me how much of what I earn belongs to you – and why?”
What is likely one of the chief highlights of his wit, Williams published the satirical “Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon to All Persons of European Descent.” It is a certificate for all white people for Western Civilization’s sins against blacks, which permits “them not to act like damn fools in their relationships with Americans of African ancestry.”
The Quintessential Economist
Contrary to public opinion, an economist is not someone who possesses a crystal ball. An economist is a person who studies human action and the reasoning behind people’s decision-making. The professional will analyze data, conduct research, and present solutions for better policy. The United States has approximately 14,600 people employed as economists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts 14% employment growth over the next decade, faster than the average for other positions. It is a guarantee that no other modern-day economist will ever be as influential as the incomparable Walter Williams, a man who has carved his name in history.
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