Review: Up From the Pojects-The Legacy of Walter E. Willams

Dr. Walter E. Williams is an amazing economist lesser known than Dr. Thomas Sowell, nonetheless he provided profound influence in my thinking and deserves to be mentioned.

Dr. Williams grew up in West Philadelphia, a poor neighbourhood in a single parent household. Despite their poverty, his mother always made sure to provide for him and his sister enough to be “cultured”. His mother valued education and would fight tooth and nail for her children, which is why Dr. Williams grew up reading books rather than watching television (similarity echoed in Dr. Ben Carson’s childhood). From an early age, he noticed the ghettosprawling mandated by the so called social programmes to improve the lives of the poor actually had devastating effect in the community. Small business moved out due to high crime rates, people needed to travel farther to do their business and the cost of having insurance, bulletproof glass, security guard is a direct burden on the consumers who must absorb the increased prices and lower quality of services and marchanise.

While Dr. Williams never really liked school, he often engaged in mischieves with local children. In junior high school, he learned his lesson when he was forced to be late for his part time due to being held in detention. He also learned his economic lessons from his first job with a Jewish man called Mr. Friedman, but he was ultimately fired because he was in violation of child labour law, despite being fantastic at his job. His entreprenership continued as he learned about the stock market, the value of budgeting and frugality thanks to those around him. His high school teacher Dr. Rosenberg influenced him greatly by hammer out the mischeif of the young Dr. Williams.

Later in his young adulthood, he moved to California to live with his father and attend university. However both action didn’t turned out well, he even got into trouble with the law. Later he joined the military and fought against the racial prejudice in the army and won. A particularly interesting incident occured when he labelled himself Caucasian when he filed his personnel report in the Korean War, he did this because he didn’t want to get the wrost job in the War. His time in Korea humbled him (also motivated him to fight against racial discrimination), he returned to college as a full time student, he initially majored in sociology, which he later changed to economics. He graduated in the summer of 1965 and in 1967 he earned his master of arts degree from UCLA.

It was during his PhD years that Dr. Williams encountered the work of the classical liberal economists that changed him from a progressive to a libertarian. In his years working at Brown University, he actually triggered the progressives when they are forced to confront a black person who isn’t a bleeding heart. The bleeding hearts eventually attacked Dr. Williams for living in aflluent neighbourhoods instead of in ghettos with “your own people”. It was also during this time that he met Dr. Sowell and developed a lasting friendship.

He had this incredible encounter during his interview for a position at University of Massachusetts:

At the leftist reception, in the course of conversation and drinks, one of the faculty members asked me what I thought about the relationship between capitalism and slavery. My response to him and others, who were standing near to listen to my answer, was that to my knowledge, slavery has existed everywhere in the world and under every political and economic system; so slavery was by no means unique to capitalism or the United States. Not satisfied with my answer, the questioner asked, “How do you feel about the enslavement of your ancestors?” They were all shocked by my response; it was a party stopper. I started off by saying that slavery is one of the most despicable abuses of human rights. But the enslavement of my ancestors is history, and one of the immutable facts of history is that nothing can be done to change it. I could have let the matter rest. But I went further to tell them that I, Walter E. Williams, have benefited enormously from the horrible suffering of my ancestors. After a few gasps and shocked expressions, I explained: assuming my birth in any event, my wealth and personal liberties are greater having been born in the United States rather than in any African country. I then asked, “How is it that I came to be born in the United States, as opposed to some poverty-ridden country in Africa?” I answered my own question, telling them that I and millions of other blacks wound up being born here because of slavery. I attempted to assuage the shock of the audience gathered around me by telling them that to morally condemn a practice, in this case slavery, does not require one to deny its beneficial effects. The next few minutes were uncomfortable. Thankfully, one of the “mathematical economists” showed up to drive the chairman and me to dinner. Relating this story at that event helped make the conversation quite pleasant and interesting.

A similar incident happened at University of Cincinatti where he was forced to go to the office of “African studies department” chairman. These incidents made him wonder if they only are hiring him because he was black. But racist problems continued in Temple University when he was told that a professor gives passing grade to black students simply for being black, as well as the demand of black students for “black economics” course.

Dr. Williams’ sharp tone and sarcastic humour continues in this other incidents:

  1. I’d occasionally lose patience with some of my liberal colleagues, for example, when I had had it with one super-liberal. He was a very nice guy but also very naïve, and he was spouting guilt-motivated nonsense to me. I suggested that he cure himself of guilt for what his ancestors did to mine by stealing a car, getting arrested, and then getting sentenced for a year or so at Philadelphia’s Graterford Prison. I told him that by the time my “brothers” got finished with him, and had him wearing panties and makeup and carrying a pocketbook, he’d be happy about what his ancestors did to mine. My response might have been a bit strong and unprofessional, but it brought a reward: he hardly spoke to me again.
  2. A student had submitted a term paper with little coherent thought, poor grammar, footnotes at the tops of pages, and many misspellings. I assigned a grade of F. She argued that she’d received an unfair grade and offered what she considered to be proof: an identical paper she had turned in as an assignment for a class she took a previous semester. The other professor, who was white, gave her an A-minus with complimentary notes in the margins—“keep up the good work” and “good point.” She stomped out of my office in anger when I suggested that what the professor might have had in mind was that it was good work for a black student— because he didn’t expect any better. What made the confrontation sadder was that it never occurred to her that turning in the identical paper for different classes is not an accepted academic practice, in fact, worthy of a failing grade in and of itself. By my own choice, I never taught the urban economics class again. Most of the students who enrolled in it were majors in journalism, education, communication, and other “soft” disciplines who had little experience with analytical thought and rigorous demands. Shortly after that story appeared, I was invited to address Temple’s black faculty and students about the memo. I accepted, and the event turned out to resemble an inquisition. In fact, on several occasions, I sarcastically asked, “Do you think the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee [of free speech] applies to me?” and “Should I have sent you the memo for prior approval?” That inflamed emotions even more.

In 1977 Dr. Williams’ research on minimum wage and minority was finally published, despite many obstacles to prevent him from doing so. His reputation as a free market libertarian grew, eventually he returned to Hoover Institute to do more teaching, then he moved back to George Mason due to its free market staff and non-affirmative action economic department. Later he reunited with Dr. Sowell and they faced the backlash when they attended the “Black Alternatives” conference in 1980. Dr. Sowell was especially attacked with such remark as  (I was fuming with rage as I typed these out):

  1. If you give Thomas a little flour on his face, you’d think you had David Duke. –Carl Rowan
  2. Sowell would play the same kind of role which historically house niggers played for plantation owner. -Thomas Atkins
  3. Sowell is giving aid and comfort to America’s racists and to those who, in the name of conservatism and frugality, are taking the food out of the mouths of black children, consigning hundreds of thousands of black teenagers to joblessness and hopelessness, and making government a party to at least
    the partial resegregation of America. -Carl Rowan

Dr. Williams had his own shares of tirades, The Plain Dealer’s George Jordan wrote that Williams is a butter- tongued apologist for the new oppressors of the most helpless black Americans. I could never
really get angry at the old Stepin Fetchits and Aunt Jemimas for they were really uneducated and simply practicing the art of survival. But I have only contempt for people like Williams. Jordan not only attacked him without any concrete reasons, but he also plagarized from Rowan. Despite the obvious lack of journalistic integrity, they did not concded defeat, but they doubled down on defending the fiasco.

Later in the 80s, Dr. Williams visited South Africa to deliver his lectures on racially motivated economic policies. He was shocked by the general acceptance of socialism, but he stayed and continued to educate the people in an aim to liberate and empower the blacks and educate the whites. Despite his attempts, there was not much success with the white liberals wanting special quota for blacks and blacks wanting welfare for themselves instead of productivity. Dr. Williams also travelled around the world for conferences but he was also heavily invovled with the Reagan administration, he certainly had quite a few fierce battles against the progressives. He destroyed the argument for redistribution of income, labour laws and humiliated Ted Kennedy’s hypocrisy of spending other people’s money for his own benefit.

Ultimately, Dr. Williams’ true passion is teaching, but by the time of mid 80s, the academia has already transformed into a hostile environment for anyone who does not have a progressive view. George Mason’s excellent economics department was the envy of other liberal, unsuccessful faculty members. The College also made attempts in which Dr. Sowell would have discussed in his book Inside American Education, to be a focus on extracurricular courses that offer no value to eudcation. Dr. Williams’ solution was to privatize the department by seeking funds externally.

Dr. Williams’ uncompromising attittude and his ingenius ways of dealing with problems are something that I admire greatly. His writing on the current state of culture continues to be published. Although his writing style is not as easy to read as Dr. Sowell’s eloquent writing. Dr. Williams proves to be amusing and informative in his teaching.



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