Walter Williams Encourages Support for Individual Liberty

By Goode, Stephen | Insight on the News, August 11, 1997 | Go to article overview

Walter Williams Encourages Support for Individual Liberty


Goode, Stephen, Insight on the News


Personal Bio

Walter E. Williams, before becoming an economist and syndicated columnist.

Born: March 31, 1936, Philadelphia. Married, 1960. One daughter.

Education: bachelor's degree, economics, California State University, Los Angeles; master's degree and doctorate, economics, University of California, Los Angeles.

Position: Department chairman and professor of economics, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va.

Book: America: A Minority Viewpoint; All It Takes Is Guts; and Do the Right Thing: The People s Economist Speaks, among others.

Entertainment: "I like wine and cigars. One of my hobbies, when the weather's right, is to go biking. I've had a bike custom-made, and it's the first time I've had one that fits me!"

Favorite Economist: "Actually it is a little-known French economist and philosopher, Claude-Frederic Bastiat, that's the main guy I go back to a lot of the time. He's been very influential with those who share the values of limited government and individual liberty."

The conservative economist and author says Americans pay lip service to the concept of liberty, but turn a blind eye toward the redistribution of wealth and property perpetrated by the government.

One summer, when he was in mid-career as an undergraduate at California State University at Los Angeles, Walter E. Williams changed his major from sociology to economics. "I decided sociology was a bunch of nonsense," Williams tells

Insight. That meant he had to drop his junior standing and once again become a sophomore, but Williams was pretty certain about his fascination with economics. The rest, as they say, is history.

Williams now is John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University in Virginia, a widely read syndicated columnist and a prolific author No one today argues more cogently for freedom and against collectivism than Williams. A Civil War buff, Williams suggests that the widespread interest in that war today may come from the fact "we're facing many of the problems that led to the Civil War," one being states' rights. "The ongoing tragic result of the Civil War is that once it's decided the states cannot secede, then the central government can run roughshod over the states."

Insight: Imagine you're made dictator of America. What policies would you initiate immediately?

Walter E. Williams: There are a host of problems! The major economic problem, I think, is Social Security. It is not whether that system is going to collapse, it's a question about when. It's going to cause a lot of economic chaos. The window is still open a little bit to change it, and it would have to come through some privatizing of the system.

The larger issue is the generalized contempt that Americans have for the principle of individual liberty. We give a lot of lip service to liberty, but the average American thinks the government should be in the business of taking the property of one American and giving it to another American to whom it does not belong.

Whether you talk about crop subsidies, bailouts or disaster relief, the list can just go on and on. If I take $20 from you by force and help somebody downtown who is sleeping on a grate, if I do this privately, I go to jail and most Americans agree that I should go to jail. But when an agent of Congress comes up and takes your $20 and helps somebody downtown, they applaud that. Both acts are taking what belongs to one American and giving it to another American to whom it does not belong. That is as reprehensible if one person does it or if 1 million people vote to do it. It is wrong.

Insight: But if "all men are created equal," shouldn't the government be in the business of making certain we are equal?

WEW: No. The job of government is to ensure a just and a fair process. It is not the job of government to enforce a just or fair outcome. …

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