Walter E. Williams, distinguished professor of Economics at George Mason University and advocate of free markets for everyone, died on December 1, 2020. With his passing, a voice raised against the devastation inflicted upon the poor by well-intentioned government policies was lost.
Professor Williams was a plain-speaking, straight-talking economist, with credibility to speak about the poor since he himself came up from the projects.
He Suffered No Fools
His 2010 autobiography Up from the Projects became the basis for a 2014 PBS documentary, Suffer No Fools. Here, as in his other 10 books and widely syndicated newspaper column, Dr. Williams enumerated good intentions that produced bad results.
The PBS documentary features a relaxed interview with Dr. Williams and some of his contemporaries. The point throughout is that government intervention aimed at equality of results, or equity, does more harm than good. Although Professor Williams was not alone in espousing this perspective, he was uniquely emphatic.
Highlights of Suffer No Fools
Here are some of the points Professor Williams makes.
* The Great Society of Lyndon Johnson led to dependence on government largess instead of dependence on individual effort.
* Expectations of equality of results through government intervention replaced efforts to excel.
* Government is like a giant drug pusher. The system encouraged the propagation of poverty pimps that make a living on the grievances of the poor.
* Dependence promotes “spiritual poverty” — more significant than economic poverty because it more readily builds a cycle of tolerance for dependence.
* Spiritual poverty is seen in communities where traditional families and dedication to education is absent.
* The market pays people what the market determines people’s skills are worth. Teens who receive “a fraudulent education” in inadequate schools and have no work experience are denied the opportunity to get their foot on the first rung of the ladder to success when government demands they get paid more than the market says their skills are worth.
* Government stifles opportunity for economic success, especially for the poor, by mandating minimum wages, expensive business licenses, taxi medallions and other draconian regulations. Government conspires with insiders to keep newcomers out.
* When young, Professor Williams identified more with the militancy of Malcom X than with the philosophy of “forgiving the enemy” of Martin Luther King. As he matured, Williams began to see that salvation from poverty fares better in the free marketplace arena than in government’s political arena.
* Great empires of the past went down the tubes doing what our society is doing now – dwelling on the political arena rather than the free market arena.
* Slavery, rape, murder are actions that violate private property, including the ownership of one’s own self. Who owns you?
Progressive Economics vs. Laissez Faire
Dr. Williams’ admonitions sound radical. Our society today is focused on government’s obligation to attain equity and social justice through regulation and mandate. Private property and individual achievement are viewed with disdain. Laissez-faire economics has been replaced by progressive economics, and true capitalism replaced by crony capitalism.
Economics is not a science but a set of beliefs. Laissez faire believes that the free market is the best arena for the creation of opportunities that lead to economic wellbeing. Economic progressives believe intervention and control produce the best results through engineered social equity.
The New Wave: Progressive Economics
Here is an example of the progressive economics that Walter Williams excoriated every chance he got – an opinion piece in the Washington Post dated November 11, 2020, written by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Senator Warren expressed her view of how the Biden-Harris ticket unseated an incumbent President, and what the priorities for the new administration should be.
They ran on explicit plans to create new union jobs in clean energy, increase Social Security benefits, expand health care, cancel billions of dollars in student-loan debt, hold law enforcement accountable, make the wealthy pay their fair share, tackle climate change and provide for universal child care. … The lesson is clear. Bold policies to improve opportunity for all Americans are broadly popular. Voters recognize that these reforms are necessary to fix what is broken in our nation.
In progressive politics “opportunity” means government largess showered upon selected groups.
The Passing Wave of Laissez Faire
Black Washingtonians were proud of what they had created. In 1921 the Washington Bee, the city’s largest black paper, editorialized that the growth of black business in Washington, “more than anything else, marks real and prominent racial progress.” The thriving business district was a symbol of what blacks could achieve. As one longtime resident of the area put it in 1988, “If you were on U Street, you didn’t need to go anywhere else. It was all right there for you. Blacks had a society put together on this street.” …
Today, the city’s black aristocracy, like the thriving communities it created, exists mostly in memories. In its place are Washington’s new black leaders: the civil rights class that took power in the District nearly 30 years ago. As it turned out, the two groups could not coexist in Washington.” Washington’s Lost Black Aristocracy, Autumn 1996
No, the two groups could not have possibly coexisted.