Some Thoughts About Walter

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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!

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30 COMMENTS

    • Hi Blue,

      In a better America, Williams would have been a household name. His columns would have appeared in most major papers and he’d have been a celebrated commentator everyone knew about. That he managed to achieve the prominence he did achieve in spite of the obstacles placed in his path because of his Wrongthinfulness says a great deal about his talent and tenacity.

      I shall miss him, a lot.

  1. My first experiences with Dr Williams was in college The campus rag which was really only good for getting sports scores from the various university teams carried his column in their opinion section. His writing stood out from all the other scribbling on the pages begging for more help to solve the world’s problems from Daddy Gubment. It was especially refreshing to see the opinions he espoused because at the time, there weren’t many who looked like me that dared say such things in public (in private there are FAR more melilanated, liberty-minded individuals than you would expect, they just can’t see past the two party stranglehold). Without Williams, I never would have discovered Sowell and my journey toward liberty may have never started.

      • I attended GMU in the late 90s. I wish I had the pleasure to know Dr. Williams, but honestly, I just remember having very liberal teachers, other than my Civics professor, Robert Marshall. I assume Dr. Williams was probably a dean of Economics by then and probably wasn’t teaching Economics 101 and 102, which were the only two Economic classes I had.

  2. Thank you for this eulogy Eric. Beginning to watch his videos, especially The State Against Blacks, began the process of turning me from a brainwashed snobby liberal chode to a rugged and real anarchist. Bless him and you.

  3. Eric, great personal eulogy for a great man. I don’t see our current culture as a fertile ground for replacements for men like this. Sad year.

  4. I have no idea when I first became aware of Walter Williams. Many, many years ago for sure. He was among the very first who pulled the wool off my eyes. He, along with Peter Schiff’s father Irwin, started me down the path of libertarian thought 30 to 40 years ago. For which I will be eternally grateful, regardless how frustrating that path has been. Better to be frustrated in the light than blissfully ignorant in the dark. Walter was most definitely a source of a very bright light, and will remain so long after his death.

  5. Eric,
    It was hard to hear of the passing of Walter Williams today. It’s a loss of someone I looked up to; a mentor I never had the honor to meet, but who influenced my view of the world and played a part in my personal growth.

    Your tribute to him is beautifully expressed. We will miss him.

    Godspeed, Walter.

    • Hi Mike,

      Amen – and thanks for the kind words. I was privileged to have gotten to know Walter a little bit during my years at The Times. I also got to know Joe Sobran and Pat Buchanan. I’ve had a fortunate life!

  6. It’s rare to experience a sense of loss and grief when someone passes away whom you didn’t know personally. But the death of Professor Williams is devastating. He was one of the great champions of liberty and reason (which are inseparable, of course) ever. His indefatigable humor, coupled with incisive analysis, provided wonderful entertainment along with brilliant instruction. It’s great that he enjoyed his life and his life’s work. I sorely miss him already. May he rest in peace.

  7. I loved his wry sense f humor- like his “buying Mrs. Williams a snow shovel for Christmas” quips.

    Have you ever noticed that Leftists have ZERO sense of humor? I think humor indicates a mastery perspective.

    • Walter Williams, at least for someone like me, was far better than Rush. Rush went from tolerable background noise to irritating. At worst with Walter Williams it was ‘I heard this story/joke before’.

      • Hey Brent,

        Pretty much the only thing I still respect about Gush Windbag is his promotion of Walter Williams. He was ok during the Clinton years, even pretty funny. But, his support for the loathsome chimp revealed his true nature. Also, he had an opportunity to reach conservative America about the insanity of the drug war, but chose to be a mea culpa douchebag instead.

        Cheers,
        Jeremy

        • I hadn’t thought of it that way, but that is the one thing to respect Limbaugh for, allowing millions to hear Walter Williams. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that I even realized there were other people who thought like me. I had watched Limbaugh’s TV program in the early 90s and that was close as I had found.

          I heard Walter Williams on Rush’s show and discovered LRC around the same time. Although I think I may have read an article or three on LRC in the late 1990s. At that time I found LRC to be a bit radical, but that’s because I hadn’t put the pieces together yet.

  8. Damn…. There goes a great man. 🙁 One of my favorite columnists. There are just too few men like him in this world…and now there’s one fewer. Maybe it’s better that he should be spared from the evil which is unfolding upon us…but we are certainly the poorer for no longer having him- though at least we have his writings to comfort us.

  9. ‘Walter helped me to see that cars were also about economics and economics is ultimately about philosophy.’ — EP

    In a C-SPAN interview with Brian Lamb, Walter Williams said:

    ‘I don’t think I missed anything [in life]. And as I used to tell my wife, the day I die I want to have taught that morning. I love teaching and I don’t see myself retiring. I just think I’ve led the charmed life in that I am happy doing everything I do – I look forward to doing what I’m doing.’

    We could all aspire to be as well-centered and engaged with life as the great teacher Walter Williams was.

    Farewell, Professor.

    • I remember hearing him on Rush’s show-good stuff! He was deep though, and it’s only been in recent years that I was able to grok what he said…

      • I especially used to love it when he tried to educate libtards about property rights! Even when he was patient and straightforward in his explanations, they totally MISSED what he said…

  10. The Torch of Liberty is a little less bright with his passing.

    He always generous with his time. I say that because he always found time to be on the Keith Larson Show when I called him to request an interview. He did this countless times in the 11 years I worked on the show.

    If you never heard him in a live conversation you might not know of his great sense of humor. It often came in the form of a rhetorical question. One time when discussing Congressional efforts to “fix” the economy he asked, “If your house was on fire would you call the arsonist who set the blaze to come help put it out?”

    The first time he was on the show Keith, at the end of the discussion, thanked him for allowing us to “steal” his time. He replied, “You’re not stealing. I’m giving it to you freely.”

    Prayers for his family.

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