Great Free-Market Economist, Communicator, Walter Williams, Dead at 84

P. Gardner Goldsmith | December 2, 2020

One of the good people has passed away.

He was named Walter Williams, he was born in Philadelphia, PA on March 31, 1936; he grew up there, and went on to become one of the world’s most influential and admired economists, professors, communicators, and moral thinkers. News of his passing today is moving like a tidal wave through free-market economics circles.

Williams wrote over 100 publications, had a syndicated column, and was a member of the Board of Advisors for the Media Research Center’s Free Market Project.

Many might also know Dr. Williams from his recurring stints as the long-time guest host for Rush Limbaugh, where, with considerable humor and great energy, he would relate to callers and dissect collectivist myths, often turning a key freedom principle into a relatable story, and referring to himself in the third person, saying, “Well, you might say, ‘But WILLIAMS, how can you say…?”

His laughter was as infectious as his brilliant teaching, and for years, he helped eager students at George Mason University expand their understanding of free market economics from the Austrian perspective, explaining the practical problems of central planning, taxation, regulation, racial and gender-based (or any other) quotas imposed by the state, central banking and fiat currency, government spending that crowds out private investment, the moral hazards created by government (especially in areas such as home-buying and college loans), government-run medicine, and much more.

It was because of him that I was able to integrate the principles of individualist philosophy as espoused by the likes of Thomas Paine and Lysander Spooner with a greater understanding of the practical superiority of markets, especially when it comes to battling racial prejudice and circumventing race-based government edicts.

My friend, columnist and author James Bovard wrote this:

Rest in Peace, Professor Walter Williams. Walter brought a personal toughness honed as a Philly cab driver to fighting for freedom for more than 40 years. He did not flinch when he was vilified for taking unpopular positions. Instead, he kept smiling and explaining and helped legions of folks recognize the folly of trusting government to save their ass. He recognized that the Constitution intended to leash politicians, not vex Americans in perpetuity with elected dictators.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) offered this:

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.

Words of thanks and praise are rising to Heaven for this brilliant, warm, and driven man who spent years as the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason. As Veronique de Rugy wrote at National Review:

The great economist and freedom fighter Walter Williams has died. This is an (sic) incredibly sad news. Walter was a great communicator of ideas and a prolific, provocative and uncompromising writer. He was the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University. His voice, his happy-warrior demeanor, his cosmopolitan views, his endless fight on behalf of those with no political voices, and his generosity to all of us at Mason will be missed.

And Economic Policy Journal offered:

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.

It is easy to observe that Professor Williams was the greatest communicator of free market economics and individualism to rise to prominence since Milton Friedman released the “Free to Choose” series in the early 1980s on PBS, and his stance on liberty was, perhaps, even stronger than Dr. Friedman’s. In a 2015 podcast with economics professor, radio host, and author Tom Woods, Williams explained:

“I am my private property. I belong to Walter Williams, and Tom Woods belongs to Tom Woods.”

On a philosophical level and on a practical level, that says it all. Logically, it means that each individual is, by definition, an individual, and it also means that no individual has a moral right to control, harm, or threaten another individual.

Which is the foundation of Williams’ moral and practical argument against state authority over the individual.

Williams translated that into clear analyses of the importance of voluntary charity and personal connections, voluntary association and free markets, the right to self-defense, and the odious nature of political force. He was a principled, inexhaustible source of wisdom.

And now, after 84 years, he is gone. I, and many in my circles, mourn his passing, but we celebrate the gift of Walter Williams God gave us. His mind was like a life-nourishing spring.

Sadly, that fountain of wisdom will no longer flow.

Yet, the wisdom he gave us, and the example he set on a personal level, as a man, father, teacher, and friend to many, remain, like oases we can visit at any time.

From a man who only met Williams via voice and the written word, not in person, to his family and close friends, I and many of those around me hope you know how much he helped our lives and helped the eternal fight to support truth.  You, and he, will be in our prayers.

For those interested in reading some of Professor Williams’ work, I refer you to this, from Economics Policy Journal:

He was the author of over 150 publications which have appeared in scholarly journals such as Economic Inquiry, American Economic Review, Georgia Law Review, Journal of Labor Economics, Social Science Quarterly, and Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy and popular publications such as Newsweek, Ideas on Liberty, National Review, Reader's Digest, Cato 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 Guts, South 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 Socialism, Up From The Projects: An Autobiography, Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed On Discrimination? and American Contempt for Liberty.

Rest in Peace, Walter Williams.