Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Walter Williams, R.I.P.

Walter E. Williams
Update below.

The great free market economist Walter E. Williams has died. He was 84.

Williams was the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University.

He was the author of over 150 publications which have appeared in scholarly journals such as Economic InquiryAmerican Economic ReviewGeorgia Law ReviewJournal of Labor EconomicsSocial Science Quarterly, and Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy and popular publications such as NewsweekIdeas on LibertyNational ReviewReader's DigestCato Journal, and Policy Review. He authored ten books: America: A Minority ViewpointThe State Against Blacks, which was later made into the PBS documentary "Good Intentions," All It Takes Is GutsSouth Africa's War Against Capitalism, which was later revised for South African publication, Do the Right Thing: The People's Economist Speaks,  More Liberty Means Less Government, Liberty vs. the Tyranny of SocialismUp From The Projects: An AutobiographyRace and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed On Discrimination? and American Contempt for Liberty.

He was also an occasional substitute host for the "Rush Limbaugh" show.

He wrote a nationally syndicated weekly column that was carried by approximately 140 newspapers and several web sites including some columns at EPJ.  His book, The State Against Blacks, was published by McGraw-Hill in the winter of 1982 and was made into a television documentary entitled, "Good Intentions."  His most recent documentary is “Suffer No Fools,” shown on PBS stations Fall/Spring 2014/2015, based on Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.

Here is a clip of the great economic communicator:

Tributes are beginning to pour in.

From Don Boudreaux:

Devastating news: Walter Williams died last night (or early this morning).

Walter has been my colleague and friend for more than 35 years. He is one of my few heroes. I will write more later, but I am now in no condition to say more.

From Matt McCaffery:

 Walter Williams, Rest in Peace. He remained to the last a scholar of utmost integrity.

From James Bovard:

 R.I.P. to Prof. Walter Williams, who brought a personal toughness honed as a Philly cab driver to fighting for freedom for more than 40 years.

Murray Sabrin emails:

 I invited Walter to speak at Ramapo in the late 1980s or early 1990s.  He gave his usual great talk and then we had a discussion with two of my colleagues.  That evening he was a guest speaker at Commerce & Industry's annual meeting.  He was one of the great public intellectuals of our era.  

From Ted Cruz:

 Very sad news. Walter Williams was legendary. He was brilliant, incisive, witty, and profound. I grew up reading him, and he was a ferocious defender of free markets and a powerful explainer of the virtues of Liberty.

From Jack Hunter:

 When I was a teen, I was addicted to Rush Limbaugh. As I got older I still listened but anytime Walter Williams guest hosted was appointment listening. I couldn't get enough. I would find even more wisdom in Williams after becoming a libertarian in my 30s. One of the greats. RIP

From Dominick Armentano:

Very sad news on Walter. He spoke at several conferences that I organized and almost always was the star of the show. Explained economic principles so that they could be understood...with great clarity and humor. He was one of the very good guys and will be missed.

From the Orange County Register editorial board:

 Though there will only be one Walter E. Williams, his ideas must endure forever.



More from Don Boudreaux in The Wall Street Journal:
America has lost one of its greatest economists and public intellectuals. Walter Williams died Tuesday morning after teaching his final class at George Mason University on Monday. He was 84.

For 40 years Walter was the heart and soul of George Mason’s unique Department of Economics. Our department unapologetically resists the trend of teaching economics as if it’s a guide for social engineers. This resistance reflects Walter’s commitment to liberal individualism and his belief that ordinary men and women deserve, as his friend Thomas Sowell puts it, “elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their ‘betters.’ ”

A onetime cabdriver who grew up poor in Philadelphia, Walter knew injustice—and understood the way to fight it wasn’t by emoting but by probing and learning. In 1972 he earned a doctorate in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he learned to look beneath surface phenomena for deeper causes and consequences.

His pioneering 1982 book, “The State Against Blacks,” is an eloquent, data-rich broadside against occupational licensing, taxicab regulations, labor-union privileges and other fine-sounding government measures that inflict disproportionate harm on blacks by restricting the employment options and by driving up the costs of goods and services...

Behold his brilliant explanation of how minimum wages promote employment discrimination: “What minimum wage laws do is lower the cost of, and hence subsidize, racial preference indulgence. After all, if an employer must pay the same wage no matter whom he hires, the cost of discriminating in favor of the people he prefers is cheaper. This is a general principle. If filet mignon sold for $9 a pound and chuck steak $4, the cost of discriminating in favor of filet mignon is $5 a pound, the price difference. But if a law mandating a minimum price for chuck steak were on the books at, say, $7 a pound, it would lower the cost of discrimination against chuck steak.”

From Rand Paul:

I first met Walter Williams when I was 17. I’ll never forget his speech about conservation, that there is rarely a shortage of things privately owned!  

RIP to a brilliant and important voice for Liberty. 


  1. Damn, that sucks.
    I first heard him in the mid-90s, substituting for Rush. I was instantly hooked. What style! What class! What erudition, and ability to communicate!
    Heard him a couple of years ago on Mark Levin's first episode of his Sunday show (Life, Liberty & Levin)...he was the perfect choice for First Guest, and still mesmerizing and compelling.

    1. If I'd watched the clip first I'd have seen it's the very Levin episode I touted! Doh!

    2. Just goes to show class acts like WW will suffer fools to make a point. Not sure the warmonger Levin understands much about liberty particularly in Apartheid states like Israel.

  2. I'm sad to see him leave us at this time. His youtube videos were the first ones I'd turn to when trying to turn someone from the errors of minimum wage laws.

  3. Terribly sad to hear about Walter's passing. Way back in the early 'eighties I helped organise the Libertarian Alliance's London conference complete with pre-excel financial records! Walter was the star of the show and made all of the work so worth while. Lots of his books on my shelves.

  4. I met Professor Williams once and read many of his books. A talented man and an excellent professor of economics. I am doubly saddened as his death reminds me of all the towering talents that have fought for liberty over the past century to little effect. As inspiring as these people have been they have not stopped the trend toward socialism. Only the public can do that. And only when a significant number of them become mostly reasonable most of the time. There is little evidence of that. Instead, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, the public seems to know what they want and they are going to get it good and hard.

  5. If only more black Americans were like Walter here and would heed his advice. One of my favorite commentators.

  6. Very sad news on Walter. He spoke at several conferences that I organized and almost always was the star of the show. Explained economic principles so that they could be understood...with great clarity and humor. He was one of the very good guys and will be missed.

  7. I wish that more blacks were mourning him.

  8. I'm very sad to hear this. Walter Williams was one of the great ones and the world is a little darker without him here. Rest in Peace.

  9. Best A I ever got at GMU. Intermediate Micro. He catered the final exam. The caterer came in, laid out a table cloth on his desk, laid out the continental breakfast with juice and coffee and them Dr Williams said come up and get some coffee and a danish and your exam. The midterm was a killer. The final was tough but much easier.

  10. What is there to do when we lose a man like WW? For a time I think we suffocate in our own mediocrity. Maybe we rally around others who show a glimpse of his greatness, but haven't had His divinity breathed into their souls.

  11. Im just a high school drop out auto tech who got interested in economics late in life, but Walter Williams had a gift of explaining things in way that made that little bell inside my head go "ding". I especially enjoyed when about to illustrate a point, he'd ask in the third person "Williams are you crazy?"

  12. A shining light of common sense excellence has been quenched and we all will be less enlightened for the loss of it.

  13. Prof. Williams was an honest and fair man who assisted a struggling student see the light of economics, develop independent thinking, complete an educational program, and experience a work career that would never have been possible without his life as an example. He was one of the most influential persons in my life, for which I will be grateful forever. He will rest in peace having fought a superb fight.