Previously he was a faculty member of Los Angeles City College, California State
College-Los Angeles, Temple University and Grove City College.
He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from California State University.
He received his Master of Arts and Ph.D. in economics from UCLA. In addition, he
holds Doctor of Humane Letters from Virginia Union University and Grove City
College, as well as Doctors of Laws from Washington and Jefferson College. To
top it off, he received his Doctor Honoris Causa en Ciencias Sociales from
Universidad Francisco Marroquin, in Guatemala, where he is also Professor
He has written six powerful books and over 150 articles and publications which
have appeared in such scholarly journals as Economic Inquiry, American
Economic Review, Georgia Law Review, Journal of Labor Economics, Social Science
Quarterly, and Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy.
His articles have also appeared in popular publications such as Newsweek, Ideas
on Liberty, National Review, Reader's Digest, Cato Journal, and Policy Review.
You have undoubtedly seen him on television during appearances on
“Nightline,” “Firing Line,” “Face the Nation,” Milton Friedman's “Free To
Choose,” “Crossfire,” “MacNeil/Lehrer” and “Wall Street Week.” He is a regular
commentator for "Nightly Business Report."
He is the popular guest host for the number one-rated syndicated radio show,
“Rush Limbaugh” and has often given testimony before both houses of Congress.
In addition Dr. Williams writes a nationally syndicated weekly column that is
carried by approximately 140 newspapers and several web sites.
He has authored six books: America: A Minority Viewpoint (1982), The State
Against Blacks (1984), which was later made into the PBS documentary "Good
Intentions," All It Takes Is Guts: A Minority View (1988), South Africa's War Against
Capitalism (1989), which was later revised for South African publication, Do the
Right Thing: The People's Economist Speaks (1995), and More Liberty Means Less
Government: Our Founders Knew This Well (1999).
Despite his whirlwind schedule, Dr. Williams agreed to sit and discuss many of
the questions about economics, today’s current state of politics and his
background that has shaped his world view. The result is this heartwarming, eye-
opening INTERVIEW SPOTLIGHT that ended up going many surprising directions.
Enjoy this exclusive MyBestYears.com eFeature with the remarkable professor.
MBY: There is a quote still floating around on the Internet, uttered during the Reagan
years and attributed to President Jimmy Carter’s Heath, Education and Welfare Secretary
Patricia Harris, which speaks of you and Thomas Sowell—“They were born with silver
spoons in their mouths.” Where did that come from, and how did you respond?
WW: I think it was just born from laziness to do any research. Actually Tom grew up much
poorer than I did, and I grew up very poor in a north Philadelphia housing project. It wasn’t
the first time that someone made an unwarranted assumption about either Thomas or
MBY: Considering the source, and especially since both you and Mr. Sowell are
considered conservative Blacks, such a comment seems rather racist…
WW: I don’t know if it’s more racism as much as just plain stupidity.
MBY: Aren’t the two related—racism and stupidity?
MBY: You have mentioned in the past how influential your mother and grandmother have
been on your life. Looking back, what was the greatest impact each had on you?
WW: I was one of my grandmother’s favorites, and she got me to run errands for her and
spent quite a bit of time saying such things as, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” She
was a real source of wisdom that was very important to me during those formative years.
MBY: And your mother?
WW: She was quite a sergeant. She had to be. My father deserted us when I was three
and my sister was two. She raised us by herself as both mother and father, and she
demanded accountability from us. I remember many times that she would tell us, “If you
make your bed hard, you’ve got to lie in it.” She refused to bail us out all the time from the
problems we made, and forced us to take responsibility for our actions. I learned so much
MBY: People are shocked when they hear you say that you feel very lucky that you
managed to get your education before it became fashionable for white people to like black
people. How do people, regardless of race, react when you say or write such things?
WW: Sometimes they are simply puzzled. I tell them that one of the many unfortunate
things for many young Blacks today is that they encounter Whites (and Blacks, as well)
who take into account the fact that they have come from a poor home or come from a bad
neighborhood—and how this affects the educational expectations. This shouldn’t be taken
into account at all! So when I say that I got most of my education before it became
fashionable for white people to like black people, it means that when I got a “C” in college,
it was an honest-to-God “C” that I earned, and when I got an “A,” it was an honest-to-God
“A.” When I was in both school and college, my teachers and professors showed no
reservations at all to say, “Williams, that’s stupid! That doesn’t make any sense.” As a
matter of fact, I had one junior high teacher that used to assign two- or three-page essays,
and she returned mine on two occasions, torn into four pieces, with a little note that said,
“At least you can spell correctly! Rewrite.”
MBY: Ouch! It’s not exactly the affirming things that teachers are taught to tell students.
WW: Not at all.
MBY: Speaking of painful words. Tell us the story you have mentioned before on occasion
about your high school teacher that had such an impact.
WW: I was at Benjamin Franklin High School. It was the early Fifties. I was acting the fool in
a class taught by Dr. Martin Luther Rosenberg. He was truly an amazing English teacher,
so dedicated that he would conduct tutorial classes for students that wanted to go to
college. He required that we come to these English grammar drills at 7 a.m. sharp!
MBY: What happened?
WW: It was in a regular class, not one of the early morning drills. He used to write
sentences on the chalkboard and have students correct them. One day another student
had finished correcting the sentence, and Dr. Rosenberg was getting ready to erase the
work. I told him there was still another error. He said, “Well, what is it?” I shot back, “There’
s a lack of agreement between the subjective object of the verb, `to be.’” He congratulated
me and went on. I should have just said, “Thank you.” Instead, I said out-loud to the kid
next to me, “I’m paying taxes so the teachers can teach me, and I have to teach them.”
MBY: We can only imagine what Dr. Rosenberg thought…
WW: He was so frustrated that he said, “Williams, teaching you this material is like casting
pearls before the swine.” He was fully justified in saying it. But can you imagine a White
teacher saying that to a Black student today?
MBY: Can you imagine any teacher saying it to any student today, regardless of race? The
teacher would be probably be fired, sued or both!
MBY: That moment—as embarrassing as it must have been—could have destroyed you,
but instead you used it to define much of whom you are today. How did his quip from the
Bible about “pearls before swine” affect you so much?
WW: It was such a challenge to me, maybe the first of that magnitude in high school. I was
pretty good in English, the class he was teaching, and I used to laugh at the kids that
weren’t as good and poke fun at the ones who made mistakes in class. Dr. Rosenberg was
entirely justified in being frustrated with me. When he issued that challenge, my response
was a new determination to show him.
MBY: Show him?
WW: I wanted to show him that his lessons weren’t wasted on me, and that I could be one
of the school’s top students if I wanted.
MBY: Were you making good grades at the time?
WW: Not so good. At the time I was held in low esteem by most of my teachers, and I
deserved it because of my attitude. But all of a sudden, because of Dr. Rosenberg’s stern
words, I had something to prove. By the time I finished high school, I graduated
Salutatorian, second in my class.
MBY: Out of a huge class from many different races, right?
WW: Absolutely. His words changed my life forever.
MBY: Fast-forward over sixty years. You have since authored six books and more than 150
scholarly articles. Let’s talk about those books. Which of the ones you have authored has
been the most rewarding for you.
WW: Two of them, I would say. My first book was The State Against Blacks, where I
challenged the widely-held and conventional wisdom that discrimination explains the plight
that Black Americans face. My argument in the book was greatest problem was the many
government regulations that cut off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder…
MBY: Such as…
WW: Such as the minimum wage law and occupational licensing.
MBY: It’s a powerful, eye-opening study.
WW: I enjoyed writing that book a lot.
MBY: And you mentioned that another of your books had an especially great impact on
WW: South Africa’s War Against Capitalism. I had a lot of fun with that one. As a matter of
fact, my wife and daughter were in South Africa several times as I did research, and it was
amazing to see the regulations there. The book pointed to the fact that racial discrimination
does not explain very much about the problems in that nation. The greatest problem, as is
the case in so many countries, is the problem of government regulations.
MBY: But many people have been taught to feel that capitalism gives rise to the problems
that the underprivileged face…
WW: That’s what too many people believe. It’s not capitalism that is the problem. It’s
MBY: Let’s talk about your teaching style. Traditionally, the mention of the study of
economics tends to make people’s eyes glaze over. It’s not that way when you teach or talk
about it. In your words, what is the study of economics, and how has that study changed
over the past few decades?
WW: It hasn’t changed any more than two and two hasn’t changed, but when I teach my
students, on the first day of class, whether it is a Ph.D. Microeconomic Theory course or
an undergraduate course, I tell them, “Economics, more than anything else, is a way of
thinking about things.”
MBY: A way of thinking! It really does come down to that, doesn’t it?
WW: It is hard-minded, deductive logic. But if you want me to come up with a definition,
economics is the study of the allocation of scarce means among competing ends—when
the objective of the allocation is to maximize the attainment of those ends.
MBY: What does that mean, in lay terms?
WW: What that simply means is that we live in a world of scarcity. Scarcity refers to the fact
that our wants exceed the means to satisfy those wants. When that is the case, we have to
find out ways to allocate goods and services among people.
MBY: How is it done?
WW: There are any number of ways to do it. We can do it through government. We can do
it through violence. We can do it through the market mechanism. For the most part, in the
classes I teach, we focus on allocation by the market mechanism.
MBY: For people who are interested, as a background, there is a ten-part series that you
have written, “Economics for the Citizen,” available on your Website. This gives a rough
idea of what economics involves. We especially love the line in the study on your Website
that says, “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life…” from the old Jimmy Soul song.
You don’t read lyrics like those on most studies of economics.
WW: I point out that economics is broad. Many people have the misunderstanding that it is
only the study of the stock market or business, profits and losses. Economics includes
those things, but it is far broader and looks at nearly every aspect of a person’s life—from
crime to marriage—any area where there are costs and benefits.
MBY: Jumping to another subject…it’s not polite to ask a person’s age, but…
WW: I’m 71.
MBY: The point is that at 71, you could rest on your laurels and take it easy. You could
have a much more relaxing life. Yet your schedule would probably overwhelm most people
half your age. What keeps you going and doing all that you do?
WW: I am very fortunate. I love everything I do. I love my work. I look forward to teaching
and writing. I hear about people who don’t really like their work and look forward to
vacations, time off and retirement. I often say, “Vacations are for people who don’t like their
work!” I feel as if I’m on vacation all the time.
MBY: Your work is also varied—from a syndicated column to lectures, teaching at George
Mason University, writing, filling in for Rush Limbaugh on his top-rated radio program,
doing research. Is it all as fulfilling, or do you have certain things that you like more than
WW: I can truthfully say that it is all delightful to me.
MBY: Is there an autobiography in the works that will give people a better insight into the
world of Walter Williams?
WW: I’ve been asked to do one many times, but now I am actually working on it. My friend
Tom Sowell finally wrote an autobiography, and he has been after me to do one, as well.
MBY: Kudos to Mr. Sowell for getting you to do it!
WW: He says that with the kind of lives we have lived and with the controversy that we’ve
seen, we need to have our side of the story presented, as opposed to merely what others
MBY: Such as with the Patricia Harris quote about “silver spoons.”
WW: (laughs) The average person has no reason to question something like that. And that’
s just a tiny example. What Tom says makes sense; after I’m gone, I want people to see
things through my eyes, too, as opposed to just stories written by others.
MBY: Whether written viciously or, as you said
before, out of stupidity or ignorance…
WW. Right. I want to have my side out there for
people to read.
MBY: Do you have a title?
WW: The working title is Up from the Projects.
That may change when the publisher gets
MBY: They always seem to like to change those
things, don’t they?
WW: The editor has to justify his or her job. (laughs)
MBY: MyBestYears.com wants to feature another article about you when you get closer to
WW: That sounds good.
MBY: What’s the one thing in the autobiography that will truly surprise people.
WW: I point out that nobody succeeds by one’s own efforts. Each of us is also a result of
other people who have shown confidence in us along the way. I think people may be
surprised to read about some of the wonderful people who have influenced me so
MBY: Other surprises?
WW: There’s a chapter, "In the Army Now," that goes through my military career. I was a
draftee and spent two years in the service.
MBY: Good or bad experiences?
WW: Both. I had a lot of problems in the military. Most of them stemmed from being drafted
in 1959 and sent to the South without any preparation at all about the way life was like
there during that era. I definitely had some adjustment problems. I caused a lot of problems
and raised a lot of hell. Still, I got through it and learned a lot. Best of all, I got an
MBY: We can’t wait to read the autobiography. And speaking of books, other than the ones
you have written, what is the one book you wish every American would read?
WW: There is one written by a Frenchman, Frederick Bastiat—The Law. It was published in
1850, but it’s still available from the Foundation of Economic Education in New York. In
fact, I wrote the Preface to the most recent edition.
MBY: Why is this book so profoundly needed?
WW: The Law influenced so many great thinkers such as Milton
Friedman. It is a relatively small book. It spotlights on what
government should be doing, and what it definitely should not be
MBY: Such as?
WW: One of the questions Bastiat asks, as a signal whether a
government is engaged in illegitimate behavior, is this: “If you
did the same thing as an individual, would you go to jail?”
MBY: Amazing! Give an example of Bastiat’s test.
WW: Let’s say somebody that I know needs food or medical attention. If I came to you,
stuck a gun to your head and took your money by force, even for what I consider to be a
good cause, surely I would go to jail. But our government can take your money by force
and they don’t go to jail for it at all. In fact, they get re-elected again and again if they do it
well. Bastiat calls that legalized plunder.
MBY: What is the most important thing we need to change about our government right
WW: A lot of people look at the issue of taxes, and my argument is that spotlighting tax
reform is somewhat mis-focused. I think we need to look first at government spending,
which is the true measure of the effect that government has on our lives.
MBY: A quick glance back at our country’s history shows a lot about the devastating effects
of spending, right?
WW: From 1787 to 1920, for example, our federal government only spent 3% of the GNP
(Gross National Product), except during war times. Contrast that with today—our federal
government spends over 20% of the GNP.
MBY: The result?
WW: When the federal government spent only 3% of the GNP, any kind of tax system was
relatively acceptable. But when it rises to 20, 30 or 40% of the GNP, no system of taxation
MBY: Your answer is to focus more on out-of-control spending, right?
WW: Absolutely. Going back a bit, some taxes are worse than others. Some are better.
Look at the national sales tax, which others call the fair tax. It would be an improvement
over what we have now, but I would never support a national sales tax unless there was
also a repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment that created the income tax.
WW: The reason is that if the Sixteenth Amendment is not repealed, sooner or later we will
find ourselves with a national sales tax AND income tax.
MBY: Bureaucracies don’t tend to get smaller or go away, do they?
WW: Worse, they always seem to get bigger and more powerful. As a result, I don’t see us
repealing the Sixteenth Amendment, even if we went to a national sales tax.
MBY: What’s the answer?
WW: If we cannot repeal the Sixteenth Amendment, my second choice would be a flat tax at
17- or 18-percent of a person’s income.
MBY: Are you hopeful that the flat tax will ever happen?
WW: No. The two most powerful groups in Congress are the House Ways and Means
Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. These two groups are in charge of doing
tax favors for selected Americans. A flat tax would mean that these two committees would
have no purpose or power. That simply cannot be allowed to happen in Washington, you
understand. They wouldn’t get any campaign financing. It would change everything for the
members of those two powerful committees. So it is doubtful whether a flat tax could ever
happen in our country.
MBY: What else could we do?
WW: Let’s go a little deeper. The problems that we face in America are not just politicians
or our tax system. The biggest problem is the American people who elect politicians that
promise if they are elected to use their power to allow one American to live at the expense
of another American, whether through welfare, farm subsidies, business bail-outs, food
stamps, you name it.
MBY: But no one would dare try to get elected without making those promises…
WW: That’s why I say the problem relates to the way American people think today. Can you
imagine any politician today who’d run for office with the slogan, “Don’t expect me to bring
back aid to higher education, meals on wheels, and all the other programs that are not
authorized by the United States Constitution!”
MBY: He or she would never be elected.
WW: Never! We’ve reached the point where people expect their politicians to bring back all
the goodies to them.
MBY: It’s not exactly the way things were meant to run in our country, was it?
WW: To show you how far things have strayed from the ways our founders intended,
James Madison, in the Federalist Paper Number 45 (January 26, 1788), to explain what the
Constitution meant, wrote these words: “The powers delegated by the proposed
Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in
the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”
MBY: We’ve gone away from that just a bit, haven’t we?
WW: Light years away! Speaking of Madison, for example, as President of the United
States, he vetoed a public works project and said that it simply wasn’t in the Constitution.
MBY: As if that could happen today!
WW: No way! Can you imagine a U. S. President vetoing every hand-out and social
MBY: But so many people say, “We need the federal government to help these people out.”
WW: That’s nonsense. In 1871 we had the Chicago fire. In 1900 Galveston was destroyed
by a hurricane. In 1906, San Francisco was leveled by an earthquake. All these cities
came back without massive federal intervention or aid. It was that way for well over 150
years. People and communities took care of themselves.
MBY: Today is obviously very different…
WW: If a U. S. President said the same thing as nearly every President said until the
1930s, he would be run out of town on a rail by the American people today.
MBY: What you are saying, again, is that the big problem isn’t politicians…
WW: I don’t blame politicians nearly as much as the American people. Is it feasible to
expect a candidate or elected official to commit political suicide by doing what the
Constitution actually says? I don’t think so.
MBY: Are there many elected leaders who believe as you do?
WW: There are some. Ron Paul from Texas is a strict Constitutionalist, but he has little
power in Congress. His view is this: “If it’s not in the Constitution, the federal government
shouldn’t be doing it.” People like him are few and far between.
MBY: Who else believes in a way that can lead the way back to the way our founders
WW: There was a congressman from Arizona, John Shadegg, who introduced the
Enumerated Powers Act a few years ago. It never made it through Congress, but it said
that whatever Congress seeks to become a law, it has to specifically identify authority for
its passage in the Constitution. It didn’t see the light of day! Today’s politicians certainly
don’t want to be held to the Constitution because the American people also don’t want to
be held to the Constitution.
Learn more about Professor Williams by visiting his Website or by reading his
insightful books. However, please beware—his ideas are both life-changing and
contagious, as former students who are scattered all over the world can attest.
MyBestYears.com salutes this remarkable man who is, above all, a teacher of
ideas that will hopefully continue to spread like sunshine around the globe.
The main thing you need to know about Dr. Walter
Williams is that his economics classes at George Mason
University and his lectures around the world are always
jam-packed! That speaks volumes about this amazing
Still, since you undoubtedly want to know more about
the man featured in this INTERVIEW SPOTLIGHT, briefly…
Dr. Walter Williams was born in north Philadelphia. Since
1980 he has served on the faculty of George Mason
University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of
|"Capitalism is relatively
new in human history.
Prior to capitalism, the
way people amassed
great wealth was by
looting, plundering and
enslaving their fellow
man. Capitalism made it
possible to become
wealthy by serving your
|"I cannot find any
authority in the
Constitution for public
charity. [To approve the
measure] would be
contrary to the letter
and spirit of the
subversive to the whole
theory upon which the
Union of these States is
|"I can find no warrant for
such an appropriation in
the Constitution, and I do
not believe that the
power and duty of the
ought to be extended to
the relief of individual
suffering which is in no
manner properly related
to the public service or
Cleveland vetoing a bill
for charity relief (1877)
|"The issue today is the
same as it has been
throughout all history,
whether man shall be
allowed to govern
himself or be ruled by
a small elite."
|"It could probably be
shown by facts and
figures that there is no
American criminal class
—Mark Twain (1894)
|"Those who would give
up essential Liberty to
purchase a little
deserve neither Liberty
|"If a nation values
anything more than
freedom, it will lose its
freedom; and the irony
of it is that, if it is
comfort or money it
values more, it will
lose that too."
DR. WALTER WILLIAMS
...the Professor Speaks Candidly About Economics,
Plunder and Life