Jimmy’s Washington Examiner Op-Ed | Walter Williams, rest in peace and keep suffering no fools
Written by Jimmy at the Crossroads on December 2, 2020
When I first listened to Rush Limbaugh as a 12-year-old child in my grandpa’s car, I had no idea that I would launch a talk show-hosting career myself, or what I would learn from Limbaugh’s show and from whom I would learn it. Enter Walter E. Williams, noted free market economist, fervent individual liberty advocate, syndicated columnist, prolific author, and John M. Olin Distinguished professor of Economics at George Mason University.
For many years, Williams suffered no fools as he regaled Limbaugh listeners on the fundamentals of free markets and the virtues of limited government. As a frequent Friday guest host, he always centered his shows on these tenets and applied them to real-world happenings.
As a public school student in the mid-2000s, Williams served up my early introductions to free market economics beyond “tax cuts stimulate the economy.” He warned of government’s threats to freedom, the dangers of the minimum wage, and the need for government to leave individuals uninhibited in their pursuits. He shared his deep concerns over how much damage welfare programs had done to his own black community. He spoke of the fruits of freedom and the free market as the only way to uplift people out of poverty. And if anyone knew poverty, it was Williams.
Williams was born in Philadelphia on March 31, 1936. “My father deserted us when I was 3,” he explains in the 1984 documentary Good Intentions, “so, occasionally, my mother had to take welfare. But she didn’t like it. So she took work as a domestic servant whenever she could.”
The environment Williams grew up in was a difficult one, although he could at least take comfort in the love and support of his mother and his sister. Given how influential your early life is in shaping how you view the world, it’s no wonder Williams devoted much of his life to exploring his passions of poverty alleviation and economic opportunity. He abhorred the simplicity and insincerity of the idea that the economic plight of the black community was due to capitalism and discrimination.
In a May 2020 interview on Jimmy at the Crossroads, Williams offered four keys to staying out of poverty: “Take a job, any kind of a job,” “get married before you have children, “graduate from high school,” and “stay out of the criminal justice system. If you do those combination of things, you’re guaranteed not to be poor. You’re not guaranteed to be middle class or rich, but you will not be poor.”
Here was a man who spoke from both heart and mind, rooted in lived experience — up from the projects and into notoriety and success.
Through his work, Williams exposed the reality of race and discrimination, the failure of the welfare state, the deception of good intentions, and more. Rooted in this mission, he wrote seminal books including The State Against Blacks, Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination? and More Liberty Means Less Government.
At the start of the exceptional documentary Walter Williams: Suffer No Fools, Williams tells it like it is: “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery could not have done — Jim Crow and the harshest racism could not have done. Namely, to destroy the black family.”
He pursued his mission to the very end, literally. On the day of his death, Williams’s regular column was released. In it, he condemned the failure of the public education system to serve poorer black children adequately. “If we accept the notion that rotten education is not preordained,” he wrote, “then I wonder when the black community will demand an end to an educational environment that condemns so many youngsters to mediocrity.”
Over a decade after I first heard Williams host Limbaugh’s show, I had the fortune of interviewing him for the first of many occasions. Graciously, he never turned down an invitation, perhaps because we always delved deeply into economic fallacies of trade tariffs, the minimum wage, the welfare state, and much more.
Williams died on Wednesday at the age of 84. With his passing, he leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of a family who loves him, a talk radio community that adores him, and a public much better informed and much better off than without him.
In Williams’s memory, and in his call, may we all “join the struggle to sell our fellow Americans on the moral superiority of personal liberty and its main ingredient — limited government.”