Walter Williams, RIP

Another sad passing to report today—the economist Walter Williams, at age 84. Where to begin describing this wonderful man and teacher? I first came across his early book The State Against the Blacks when it came out in the early 1980s. This and many other works over the years made the compelling case that, as William himself put it, “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do.”

Wikipedia records this about him:

Williams began in the 1970s to offer colleagues a “certificate of amnesty and pardon” to all white people for Western Civilization’s sins against blacks – and “thus obliged them not to act like damn fools in their relationships with Americans of African ancestry.”

We could certainly use a good deal of this right now.

Among the many great pieces about Walter I could point out, see this Jason Riley WSJ column about him from 2011. And you can find lots and lots of wonderful material by and about him on YouTube. (This 8-minute video from the 1980s is a good place to start.)

I didn’t know him well, but we did once share billing as speakers on a British Isles cruise with the Young Americas Foundation, culminating with a leisurely walking tour of Edinburgh that ended up at the gravesite of Adam Smith, which is where the photo below was taken. (Yes, he was quite tall. In fact, he was a cousin of NBA great Julius Erving. I was tempted at times to call him “Dr. W.”)

If Walter had any flaw, it was that his strong libertarianism led him to have too much sympathy with the cause of secession (James Buchanan had the same flaw), and by extension to southern secession in 1860, which in turn led to a dislike of Lincoln. This view is not unique among certain kinds of libertarians. We argued vigorously over the issue; he neither gave ground, nor was he anything less than cheerful and patient throughout, making him a delight to argue with. No wonder students and colleagues loved him.

Me and Walter Williams at Adam Smith’s gravesite, along with some other guy.