A great man has died, as many of you already know. Walter Williams.
He was an economist by training but that is not what made him great. What made him so was his ability to convey complicated economic – and moral – ideas in easy-to-understand terms.
Which made him a great writer. Which is to say, a great communicator.
I knew Walter, a little.
When I worked on the editorial page staff of The Washington Times in the late Cretaceous period – the early-mid 1990s – I spoke with him occasionally as The Times regularly carried his syndicated column. Walter was always friendly and more than that, took the time to chat with a young unknown who admired his work. I am also a graduate of the university where he taught – George Mason in Fairfax, Virginia – so we had that in common, too.
But the most fundamental thing we had in common was our respect for the individual’s decisions, which formed the basis of Walter’s economic and moral concepts. What people refer to as “the market” is nothing more complex than the aggregated choices of millions of people acting according to their preferences, those preferences sending signals of value that govern the free exchange of goods and services in the most efficient manner possible because only those involved in these transactions truly understand their needs and how best to meet them.
Other economists torturously obscure this fundamental idea.
Walter made it as as self-evidently obvious as the flowing of water downstream.
He also managed to be moral without being self-righteous or angry, which is a hard thing when one feels passionately about the assault on moral things by those who don’t care about moral things. He had a knack for pointing out – gently – what happens when misguided compassion – to give the misguiding the benefit of the doubt – is allowed to guilt-trip those who know better into not objecting.
As a writer myself I have always greatly admired this talent of his though I have never been able to emulate him to the extent I would like. However, Walter was enormously influential in other ways and I wish I had been able to tell him so.
It was during my years at The Times that I began to smuggle Libertarian ideas into my car columns, which were supposed to be about cars only. But Walter helped me to see that cars were also about economics and economics is ultimately about philosophy.
Being a car guy, I liked the individuality expressed by cars and the freedom to act, individually, they gave each individual car owner. I began to elaborate these ideas in my car columns, which helped those ideas reach a much wider audience than a mere car column could have.
This became the basis for all my writing since that time and while I have yet to reach as many people as Walter did, it is Walter who helped me to reach those I have and for that I will always be grateful and also for the fact that he was one of those bipedal Aurochs this country needs more of.
He was a human being.
A man you could talk to, who would listen and respond – with reason and logic. Who understood that we have differences but that’s okay so long as we are willing to allow them.
He probably would have used a gentler term – like respect them.
This has been a hard year. It just became a harder one. But the future will be a better one because of the influence of men like Walter Williams.
Thanks for all you did – for all of us.
. . .
Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!
If you like what you’ve found here please consider supporting EPautos.
PS: Get an EPautos magnet or sticker or coaster in return for a $20 or more one-time donation or a $10 or more monthly recurring donation. (Please be sure to tell us you want a magnet or sticker or coaster – and also, provide an address, so we know where to mail the thing!)
My latest eBook is also available for your favorite price – free! Click here. If that fails, email me at EPeters952@yahoo.com and I will send you a copy directly!