Walter Williams is the world’s leading black economist. He is also a relentless advocate of limited government and laissez-faire capitalism. This is not at all surprising. For unlike the large majority of leading economists – black or non-black - Walter Williams pulled himself up from one-parent poverty in Philadelphia’s housing projects and from a youth dominated by his exposure to Marxist doctrine. Walter Williams understands only too well what still prevents many blacks from fulfilling their potential in the United States; and it is not free markets, but rather the progressive socialism that permeates the nation’s post-1929 political system.
Walter Williams began his adult life as a black radical, much more sympathetic to Malcolm X than to Martin Luther King, because Malcolm X was willing to confront discrimination through the use of violence, whereas Martin Luther King was not. He was introduced to economics during his junior year at California State College in Los Angeles after reading W.E.B. Du Bois’s book, Black Reconstruction in America, a Marxist interpretation of the South’s transformation after its defeat in the War of Northern Aggression. One might say that, at this moment in time, Walter Williams was on the road to an affirmative action life of under-achievement.
But Lady Luck was on his side. He enrolled for a doctorate in economics at UCLA – one of the top economics departments in the nation and one of only a small handful of free market programs. Walter proved to be a fast learner, imbibing the free market economics of Armen Alchian, Bill Allen, Jim Buchanan, Sam Peltzman and Milton Friedman, while reading the wisdom of the great scholars of the Scottish Enlightenment – David Hume, Adam Ferguson and Adam Smith.
Walter Williams learned from these intellectual giants how to think with his brain instead of his heart. He graduated with his doctorate in 1972 armed intellectually to wage war against the state on behalf of all Americans, black and non-black alike. His first book, The State Against Blacks, published in 1982, argued that laws regulating economic activity are far greater impediments to black progress than racial bigotry and discrimination.
’The fact that in some areas black people are huddled in their homes at night, sometimes serving meals on the floor so they don’t get hit by a stray bullet – that’s not because the Klan is riding through the neighborhood.’
Walter Williams is blessed with one of the sharpest intellects that I have ever encountered. He is one of the finest individuals that I have been privileged to know. He was the best Departmental Chairman that I ever worked with (other than myself in England). I view him as my very best friend. And I recommend everyone to purchase a copy of his new auto-biography, Up from the Projects, and to read his interview – The State Against Blacks – published in The Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2011.