Liberty Matters

Reflections on Essays Dedicated to Professor Walter Williams

The essays on Walter Williams are like an anthropologist shifting through layers of earth with a small brush and scrapper in an attempt to discover how artifacts inform us about the people who lived in an ancient world.  Walter Williams’ basic ideas lay in his published research and his public appearances.  There are similar themes and lessons that were brought to the surface by my colleagues who used their intellectual scrappers to understand themes that run through the work of Professor Williams.
Donald J. Boudreaux's essay Informs us how ideas are passed from generation to generation and how they can influence future generations' outlooks on important issues of the economy; in this case, Boudreaux listens to a black scholar who had an interesting story on how the discipline of Economics modeled the world.  Already leaning toward Economics, Walter Williams provided the incentive for Boudreaux to think about questions of the economy in different ways. Does government destroy poverty or does it ensure its continuation? How can a scholar of Economics see economic models, and their outcomes, in such a way that is so different from flow of ideas from the mainstream? Can it be that labor unions are bad and that people are responsible for themselves? Can certain government policies make things worse?  How does one understand how to put liberty at the center of economic thought when there are so many policies designed by government, which are supposed to protect the people?  The lesson that Boudreaux's analysis reveals is that as scholars construct their expectations of the economy, they are grounded in a perspective which guides their thoughts.   In Williams' case, liberty and markets are the things that move and shape the economy.   
Tarnell S. Brown's essay juxtaposes the socialization of Walter Williams, the racism and opportunity exclusion that he experienced as a youth, with the reality that Williams did not see those dynamics as denying the racial progress of black Americans.  As Brown notes, "To say that Williams continued to go against the grain is a matter of great understanding." Williams understood that changing laws is only the start, and that the continued poverty of people has to be understood in the strategies that they chose in the face of racism and discrimination.   In a real sense, Brown is tapping into an underlying theme which has been passed down by economically successful blacks since free blacks created communities of success. This theme appears in my work, Entrepreneurship and Self-Help Among Black Americans and other works such as Price M Cobbs My American Life.  The basic idea is that there is an internal force which directs people to create their own entitlements, which are different from government entitlements that place people in economic chains and keep them from moving.  Through history and learning, people look into their inner selves to produce that which all are entitled to- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Government will never produce those things.  Price Cobbs synthesizes this well when he talks about generations of Blacks who have looked within to entitle themselves.  It comes through education In one's history, Identifying role models who are doers rather than complainers, and understanding how self-entitlement is standing on the shoulders of those who have understood themselves and that strategy.  In his own way, Williams utilized economics to argue that generations of Blacks in America have been successful as a result of examining their history and those who were successful in the past.  This is amazing for Williams because he was not raised in that group of self-help blacks who for generations have looked into themselves and created paths forward for future generations.   The more we look back, the more models of success there are.   Over the years, scholarship which documents successful models for black Americans have been replaced by models of failure which must be solved by government.  The Lesson that Tarnell Brown brings out is that what seem to be contradictions in Williams work is really Williams’ attempt to bring into the equation how successful Blacks have helped themselves by understanding liberty, the free market, and successful blacks since the 1700s.
Harold Black’s essay continues the idea of an inner self and producing one’s own entitlement writing that Williams reminds us that during segregation, black high schools exhibited a tremendous amount of success.  It is ironic that when any great black American dies, the obituary seems to start by noting that they attended segregated high schools in the south; this is true not just of great scholars, but business people and others.  Beneath this system of legal segregation was a network of committed teachers, businesspeople, and community leaders.  Black reiterates the idea that Williams could not attribute the experiences of poor Blacks to systematic racism and the actions of the police.  Running underneath this is the protective system of achievement under segregation from a historical point of view, and black communities were enclaves of success.  My research examines economically secure Blacks from the inception of the country. When I look at myself, by the time I finished college a mere 100 years after slavery, I became a fourth generation college graduate.  As a son of Louisiana, I still get criticized for not attending Dillard, Xavier, Southern or Grambling.  The lesson provided by Harold Black’s analysis is that data for black America success rests in the history of those who have been successful under racism and not by those who have been beaten down by racism.