commentary: Walter E. Williams (1936-2020)
Death of A Freedom Fighter
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 05-Dec-20; 7 minutes
We don’t often use the Commentary period as a time to give an obituary, but America lost one of its shining lights on Wednesday, December 2, when Dr. Walter E. Williams, John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, died at the age of 84.
Dr. Williams was hero of mine, a stalwart champion in the fight against socialism and the welfare state. He was all-in on free-market economics, ethics, and hard work. He, along with his best friend of more than 50 years, Dr. Thomas Sowell, a fellow economist at Stanford University, fought valiantly for more than 60 years to teach and inspire Americans that economic freedom is the backbone of personal and political freedom.
Dr. Williams grew up in the projects in Philadelphia in a fatherless family that valued hard work, self-reliance, and integrity. He had a brilliant mind, so, coupled with his relentless work ethic, he achieved his Ph.D. in economics as a sort of pioneer, studying the effect of economics on the black community. His doctoral dissertation is still regarded, after all these years, as one of the premier studies of higher prices in low-income neighborhoods. In fact, Dr. Sowell says that even today’s economists have “not yet caught up to what Walter said in his doctoral dissertation decades ago.”
This will tell you what kind of a man he was. He married while he was still in college, and he made a deal with his wife, Connie, that if she would work to get him through his doctorate, she would never have to work again in her life, "not even to cook him breakfast," he said. He kept his word. As soon as he achieved his doctorate, she quit her job. He would leave for his teaching job at the university at 4:30 AM, not just so she wouldn’t have to cook him breakfast, but also so he would have his pick of parking spaces in crowded Washington, DC. Every day, at about 9 AM, he would telephone Connie, who was now awake, and greet her tenderly and discuss the day. They were happily married for fifty years.
Dr. Williams authored ten books, including—believe it or not—The Historical Origin of Christianity and Race and Economics. He also authored more than 150 of his scholarly papers that appeared in prestigious journals of economics and law. Since 1981, he wrote a weekly syndicated column, published in 140 newspapers and on several websites that are all easily still accessible.
His writings always advocated hard work, low taxes, freedom, personal responsibility, and generosity. He believed that how people spent their money when free to do so is perhaps the best indicator of their true desires and thus a steady foundation for public policy decisions. Here’s a taste of his thinking:
The recognition of the fact that Congress has no resources of its own forces us to acknowledge that the only way Congress can give one American one dollar is to first, through intimidation, threats, and coercion, confiscate that dollar from some other American. If a private citizen did the same thing that Congress does, we would call it an immoral act—namely theft. Acts such as theft that are immoral when done privately do not become moral when done collectively. The moral tragedy that has befallen Americans is our belief that it is okay for government to forcibly use one American to serve the purposes of another.
Perhaps his most basic teaching was his four-part advice to young people, which I have mentioned here before ["Set Up For Success"]: “Complete high school; get a job, any kind of a job; get married before having children; and be a law-abiding citizen.” So simple but profound—and it works! Otherwise, you get behind the eight-ball, instead of in front of it, as it were. In other words, he said to educate yourself, work hard, create a family the right way, and work within the rules. Very simple. That is a proper legacy for any man to leave behind.
I would encourage you to check out his website, walterewilliams.com, and read his plain English, no-nonsense writings. It is quite an education in itself, an education that is sorely needed in this era of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This nation is lessened by his passing.
It reminds me of Isaiah 3:2-3, where God says He takes away “the mighty man and the man of war, the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder; the captain of fifty and the honorable man, the counselor and the skillful artisan.” I believe Walter E. Williams was in such a group.