Walter WilliamsDr. Walter Williams was a professor, economist, and journalist who focused on American politics, economics, history, and other topics often concerning race and gender. He was interviewed because of his thoughtful and always entertaining views concerning American history, politics, economics, ethics, family, and race.
On teaching as his calling
Well, I think that teaching is my calling, and I discovered this back in 1967, when I got my first job as a part-time teacher at Los Angeles City College. I said, “This is for me.” I wasn’t even finished my training at UCLA. And I have been teaching since that time continuously, except for one year when I was doing research at the Urban Institute.
But how come? Why does it-
Well, I like the idea of pushing back the frontiers of ignorance. And then also, teaching helps to keep me young because particularly in PhD courses that I teach, the students challenge the professor.
The GMU Economics Department’s Worldview
Well, yes. I think George Mason, our economics department… I was attracted to the department back in 1980, and I’ve been teaching. I’ve already started my 34th year and my colleagues are collegial, they leave me alone and then… But more importantly, they share my view of the world. I think virtually all of my colleagues and roughly, I think 35, 36 of them, are free market economists. And so I frequently boast that we may possibly have one socialist on our faculty or one faculty member that tends towards socialism.
Was the GMU faculty happy at the Fall of the Berlin Wall?
Well, George Mason University, it’s a university very much like most universities. It’s fairly liberal, except the economics department and the law school. And my colleagues in the economics department, we were very, very delighted to see the fall of the Berlin Wall, but maybe people in other departments might not have been so happy.
Global Liberty Increased and Socialism Discredited since 1989
Well, I think that there’s far more liberty in the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall. I think that the ideas of communism and socialism have been thoroughly discredited by the fall of the Berlin Wall and by the just people acknowledging in socialistic or communist countries that it does not work very well for the common man.
Is GMU’s Econ Department unusual within the Academy?
Well, I think it’s very difficult to find a substitute for George Mason University. And then another thing that’s not widely known, we have had a number of distinguished faculties. Matter of fact, two of my colleagues have won the Nobel Prize in Economics. James Buchanan won it in 1986 and Vernon Smith won it in… I think, 2002 or 2003. And so we’ve attracted some really, really high powered economists on our faculty.
And a kind of interesting thing about our Nobel laureates on the faculty… Well, Buchanan, he’s deceased and Vernon Smith is emeritus with us now. But the rather unique thing about the Nobel laureates on our faculty is that they did not have a Nobel when they came, that is, we grew our own, so to speak, in terms of a Nobel.
Does “George Mason,” the Founder, have anything to do with It?
Well, I don’t know whether George Mason as a founder or a namesake has much to do with that at all. But I think that George Mason University, it wins its reputation of being a free market school because of our law school and the economics department. But one has to keep in mind that the other departments around the campus, they are not free market. I would describe them as liberal, not the crazy liberals that you would find at the University of Massachusetts or Cal Berkeley in California. These are respectable faculty members, but they just share the liberal point of view.
What is the “free market” or “capitalism”?
Well, I think the free market or capitalism means that there’s a private ownership of the means of production and people engage in peaceable voluntary exchange with minimal intervention by the government.
How to define capitalism?
I don’t know whether there’s a lot of debate about capitalism, what capitalism is, and what free markets are. And free markets, just simply, it’s a very, very simple definition for free markets, and I prefer to use the term free markets rather than capitalism, is that free markets just simply means people engaging in peaceable voluntary exchange without third party interference. So a lot of people will disagree. They’ll disagree and they’ll say, “Well, gee, you need some third party interference. You do need some kind of regulation.” And while they’ll say, “Well, we do need some kind of regulation,” they’ll say, “Well, that’s not socialism to have more regulation.” They’ll justify it as making capitalism work.
“Democratic capitalism”? Is democracy good?
I have not detected that there’s a difference in reaction. I mean, I think that some of the terminology people use, like democratic capitalism, I know that’s a term that’s widely used by people who consider themselves free markets. And the fellow that you’re interviewing, I believe Novak uses that term. But democratic, I don’t look at the idea of democracy with much favor. I have the same level of contempt for the principles of democracy as the founders of our nation had. And matter of fact, in none of our founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, do you even find the word democracy.
Is man’s nature inherently good?
I don’t think that man’s nature is inherently good. I think that there must be constraints on human behavior because otherwise people will indulge their preferences. They will take from their neighbor. And I think that you have to do those kind of things and recognize, in the recognition, that we need controls on human behavior. I don’t think man’s nature is inherently good, or otherwise we would not see all of the horror, war, slaughter, genocide that we’ve seen throughout mankind’s history.
Why do humans have trouble accepting the truth?
I think a lot of people can’t… The truth is somewhat hard to accept because people would prefer to blame their problems on somebody else. They don’t want to say, “Well, look, I made a mistake.” Or, “I’m not that smart. I need to go back to the drawing board.”
How is wealth created in a free market system?
Well, I think the absence of capitalism. That is, keep in mind that free markets has been something that has only recently emerged during mankind’s history. That is, throughout mankind’s history, the way to accumulate great wealth was through looting, plundering and enslaving your fellow man. It’s been only relatively recent that to be able to create great wealth, you serve your fellow man. You did for your fellow man.
For example, the reason why Bill Gates is so very, very wealthy isn’t because he enslaved and looted and plundered his fellow man. He served his fellow man. He produced a product. He produced Windows, and his fellow man all around the world reached into their pockets and voluntarily gave him $300 or $400 for Windows.
So in the market system, people become wealthy or people have a claim on what their fellow man produced first by serving their fellow man.
How do you think about religion?
I think religion is, and I’m not absolutely sure about this, is that religion is something that we take on faith. That is we ignore evidence and we have to take on faith. Now I think that religion, at least Christianity, I think is very, very important in regulating human behavior. And as a matter of fact, if you look around the world and you say, “Well, in what societies is there greater humane treatment?” Well, it tends to be in Christian societies because one of the lessons of Christianity is the Golden Rule and the 10 Commandments. But that’s not what Marxism is about. Marxism is not about how to treat your fellow man decently, Marxism is about how to… Matter of fact, Marxism requires an attack on religion and attack on the family because Marxism wants people’s primary allegiance to be to government. Not to religion, not to their family, but to government.
The Role of Religion in America’s Founding Christian Founding
I don’t know whether… I don’t know how much of a role that religion played in the formation of our country. I do know that the founders were indeed religious people. They were God-fearing people for the most part. And I believe that the rules that they set up kind of acknowledge that we had a Christian founding. And the limitations that they gave us in the First Amendment, the freedom of religion, I think that was a recognition that people had a right to worship. And I think it’s a very, very important part of our founding.
How important is the family?
Well, I think the family is very, very important. The family is what carries us from one generation to another. The family is the unit that inculcates values in us. I think it’s very, very important, and I think it’s under siege.
What undergirds American freedom at its heart? The Limited Role of Government
I think what makes American freedom work, it’s so successful, is the limited role of government. That’s the limited role of government that was given to Congress by the founders. However, we’re getting in trouble in our nation because we’re moving away from that limited goal. And to give you an idea of what the founders saw as the role of the federal government, just read, let’s say, Madison’s, James Madison, the acknowledged father of the Constitution, look in Federalist Paper 45 when he was trying to convince the American people to ratify the Constitution. And he said, “The powers that are delegated to the federal government are few and well defined and restricted mostly to external affairs. Those left with the people and the states are indefinite and numerous.” Now, that’s the vision of the founders, but if you turn that upside down, you’d have what we have today. That is, the powers of the federal government are indefinite and … Excuse me, and ill defined, and those left with the people and the states are restricted.
Should the federal government have intervened in 2008-9?
Well, I would not call the actions by the government a rescue. I would call them intervention. And I would not have accepted… I would not have promoted or gone along with the intervention by the government. See, I think one of the things that people fail to realize is that these bureaucrats or these politicians, they don’t have enough information to be able to manage the economy. They can do little things here and there. And most often, it’ll make things worse, as during the Great Depression. Matter of fact, it was President Roosevelt’s Secretary of Treasury, Morgenthau, who said in 1939, he said, “Mr. President, we’ve spent more money than we ever spent before. And all we have to show for it is more debt.” And he was alluding to the fact that unemployment remained double digits throughout the entire 1930s. And Roosevelt’s New Deal spending and New Deal programs didn’t do anything to help the unemployment situation.
What would Friedrick Hayek say about 2008-9?
Well, I think he would say… He might call it “The Fatal Conceit,” that is the idea where people in government think that they can manage the economy. And he would recognize that it was the actions by the federal government that produced the recession that we’re still in. We say that we’re out of the recession. But if you ask a lot of people who don’t have jobs, they would say that we’re still in the recession. But I think Hayek would say, “Well, this is a result of government.”
What about the campaign of 2008? What does it say about Americans?
When I was just observing the campaign of 2008 for the presidency of our country and the Congress as well, I was very disappointed with my fellow American that could be sold into the idea of somebody talking about change. Or that the very fact for the first time in our history, a person, President Obama, a person could be elected to the highest office in the land who had a long time association with people who hate our country, such as Reverend Wright, such as Bill Ayers and people in the Weather Underground. And I thought that, “That’s a sad commentary on what has happened to the American people.”
And I think that maybe the American people have not learned. That maybe they will learn with this imperial presidency, where this guy just ignores the Constitution and ignores the rules of the game.
Has free economic spirit declined in America?
Well, I think at least in United States, there’s increasingly I guess since in 1930s, there’s been a, I guess, lessening of the capitalist spirit in our country. I think one key indicator of that is that we went from 1776 to 1930 and during that interval, we had depressions, we had recessions, sometimes they call them panics, and nobody thought that the federal government ought to intervene in the economy to correct the affairs, correct the economic affairs. Now it wasn’t until the Hoover administration and later the Roosevelt administration, they did intervene in the economy when there was the 1930 depression.
And as a result of their intervention, they created the longest and the deepest depression in US history. Matter of fact, the depression that started in 1930 really was not over until about the end of World War II. But however, a lot of people will say, “Well, look, unemployment went down” during this interval, during, let’s say, 1941. Well, of course, unemployment will go down if you take millions of men and put them in the army instead of on the street. But I think that our movement away from the vision of the founders has caused us a lot of difficulty and has moved us away from the free market system.
Does government create jobs?
What the government can do, it does not create jobs. What they do, they can shift unemployment from one segment to another. And I think that you have to recognize that the inability for the government to create jobs, it’s like the broken window fallacy that Frederic Bastiat, the very, very great economist of the 1800s talked about, that is the government can take money to, let’s say, create jobs on the highway with highway construction funds.
Well, you have to ask, well, where did that money come from? There’s no Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus that gave them the money. Well, the only way they can get that money is to tax an American, tax a taxpayer. And then you have to ask, “Well, what would the taxpayer have done with that money had it not been taken away? How many jobs would that have created? How many jobs would be created by the taxpayers spending his money if that money had not been taken away?” So what government does, it shifts unemployment from one area to another area.
Can government protect jobs?
Well, yeah that’s okay. But what about the million other people that don’t want to be stolen from? I believe in helping one’s fellow man in need. I think that reaching into one’s own pockets to help one’s fellow man in need is praiseworthy and laudable. Reaching into somebody else’s pockets to help one’s fellow man in need, I think is worthy of condemnation. It’s a despicable act. And, and for the Christians among us, they have to recognize that when God gave Moses the commandment “thou shalt not steal,” he didn’t mean “thou she not steal unless you got a majority vote in Congress.” He meant thou shalt not steal. And that’s absolute.
Indeed, what’s the definition of stealing? Stealing is taking the rightful property of one American and giving it to another American to whom it does not belong. That description explains two-thirds to three-quarters of the Federal budget, because that’s what the Federal budget is. It’s taking from some Americans, what they earn to give to other Americans, whether you’re talking about social security, whether you’re talking about business bailouts, whether you’re talking about farm subsidies, et cetera, et cetera. It recognizes what I call illegal theft.
The Inherent Evil of Government
I think that one of the things that has happened, at least in United States up until recently, is that people recognize the inherent evil of government. And in the founding of our nation, the founders tried to make government as small as possible. That is as Henry … as Payne said, Henry Payne has said, “Government, under the best of circumstances, is a necessary evil. Under the worst of circumstances, an intolerable one.” And our founders recognized this very well. We don’t, this current generation of Americans don’t recognize the inherent evil in government, but our founders did. And you just see this, if you just look at the language of the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights.
And look at the language of the Bill of Rights. It says, “Congress shall not infringe. Congress shall not disparage. Congress shall not prohibit.” And that’s a very, very suspicious language of Congress. And if the framers of our Constitution did not believe that Congress would do all these things will, why in the world did they say this? They must have suspected that Congress would do these kind of things.
Matter of fact, I’ve suggested to people that when we die and if at our next destination, we see anything like a Bill of Rights, we know that we’re in hell because a Bill of Rights in heaven would be an insult to God. It would be saying, “We can’t trust God,” but you do need a Bill of Rights in hell. And this is one of the reasons, this deep suspicions of the government, is one of the reasons why the framers gave us the Second Amendment to the Constitution, to say that we had the right to keep and bear arms. They didn’t give us the Second Amendment so that we can go deer and duck hunting. They explicitly gave us the Second Amendment to enable Americans to have some kind of, be able to put up some kind of resistance against tyranny in government, not the British government, but the United States government.
Is It OK to Agree to Theft? What is Theft?
Well yeah, that’s okay. But what about the million other people that don’t want to be stolen from? See, I think that one has to recognize… And I believe in helping one’s fellow man in need. I think that reaching into one’s own pockets to help one’s fellow man in need is praiseworthy and laudable. Reaching into somebody else’s pockets to help one’s fellow man in need, I think is worthy of condemnation. I mean, it’s a despicable act.
And for the Christians among us, they have to recognize that when God gave Moses the commandment, “Thou shall not steal,” he didn’t mean, “Thou shall not steal, unless you got a majority vote in Congress.” He meant, “Thou shall not steal.” And that’s absolute.
And indeed, what’s the definition of stealing? Stealing is taking the rightful property of one American and giving it to another American to whom it does not belong. And that description explains two-thirds to three-quarters of the federal budget, because that’s what the federal budget is. It’s taking from some Americans what they earn to give to other Americans. Whether you’re talking about social security, whether you’re talking about business bailouts, whether you’re talking about farm subsidies, et cetera, et cetera, all it recognizes what I call illegal theft.
A Potential Moral Issue with The Welfare State: Taxation as Legalized Theft
I think what government does it engages in legalized theft. That is, for example, and you see this, if I see an elderly lady sleeping on the grate in the dead of winter, she’s hungry, she needs some medical attention, and she needs some shelter. Well, I could walk up to somebody with a gun in my hand and say, “Give me your $200.” Having gotten that person’s $200, I then go down and buy the lady some medical attention, some food, and shelter. Well, I think that the average American would find me guilty of theft regardless of what I did with the money. Now, the problem is, for the average American, is there a distinction between that act where I walked up to somebody and took their money to help this lady out, is there a distinction between that act and where Congress takes the $200 from somebody and they go down and help the lady out?
I assert that there’s no distinction to be made between those two acts. And the both acts involve taking the rightful property of one person and giving it to another to whom it does not belong. And if you press me for a distinction between the two acts, the first act where I walked up to somebody and took their $200, that is illegal theft. The second act where Congress takes somebody’s money to help somebody else, that is legal theft. It’s theft nonetheless. It’s just a matter of legality. And some people say, “Well, look, Williams, all these things you complain about, we live in a democracy, and it’s majority rule.”
Well, I first tell them… Well, I try to tell them, “Well, the framers did not intend for us to be a democracy.” But even more importantly, just because something is legal does not make it moral. After all, slavery was legal. Did that make it moral? Stalinist purges, the Nazi acts, they were all legal, but were they moral? And so what moral people have to ask, is there a moral case for taking by force the property of one person and giving it to another to whom it does not belong?
Should America model the European welfare states?
Well, I think we should avoid the European welfare state and we have gone a lot… A great distance towards the welfare state in our country, but I think we need to withdraw. We need to go the other direction, but how successful we’ll be in moving in the other direction is in question.
Some people have asked me in the past, they have said, “Well, Walter, what can we do about the direction our country is headed into? The big spending and this program and that program?” And I ask people, “Well, what’s the basic difference between Americans as human beings and the Romans? Or the French? Or the Spanish? Spanish or the Portuguese? Or the British?” These are great empires of the past, but they went down the tubes, and they went down the tubes for doing precisely what we are now. That is bread and circuses, the growth of government, and the restrictions on individual liberty.
What is socialism?
Well, I think socialism or communism, they mean roughly the same thing. It means government ownership and/or control over the means of production. That’s what socialism is. And you’ll find within this definition of socialism, you find it can describe United States today, that is there is extensive government control over the means production. Not so much ownership of the means of production, but control over the means of production. We’re moving towards socialism as opposed to moving away from it.
What does socialism require? Coercion
I think that socialism always requires force. It always requires some kind of coercion because people will not voluntarily be socialists. You have to make them, that is people will not voluntarily to the degree that many people think they should, will not voluntarily give people money for alcoholism treatment, give people money for this, giving people money for that. You need some kind of course of agency, namely the government, to come in and take their money, take their money and give it to somebody else.
That is Americans, for example, would not bail out General Motors or Chrysler. You need for the strong government to come in and take their money and give it to General Motors or Chrysler. For example, the farmers of our country, they know where I live. I live in Pennsylvania. They can come and knock. If the farmers who are having trouble, they can come and knock on my door and say, “Williams, can you spare a dime?” Now, I’d probably tell the farmers to go play in the traffic. And so the farmers know that, so they’ll go to Congress and say, “Look, if we ask Williams to voluntarily help us out, he’s going to tell us to go play in the traffic. So could you use your agents at the IRS to take his money and give it to us?” So that’s socialism and you need some kind of force. You need some kind of force in order to make socialism work.
Is Scandinavia free?
No, by no means the Scandinavian countries that are Sweden, for example, that’s a socialist country. It’s not voluntary. That is, they have agents that come and take the workers’ money. They have a very, very high tax rate. What taxes is, taxes represent confiscation, and they need this level of confiscation to carry on their socialist state.
Where does your morality or worldview begin?
Well, I’m not quite sure where morality comes from, but I think that when I talk about morality, I make an initial assumption, and my initial assumption is that I am Walter Williams’ property. I belong to Walter Williams, and you belong to you. Okay. Once we accept the idea of self-ownership, then there are acts that are moral. We can easily find acts that are moral and immoral. The reason why rape and murder are immoral is because it violates private property. It uses my property the way I do not intend. Theft is immoral because, again, it violates private property. To forcibly use one American to serve the purposes of another American, it violates private property. Matter of fact, forcibly using one person to serve the purposes of another is a very, very good working definition of slavery, because that’s the essence of slavery.
Well, we have slavery in a sense today. It differs not in kind, but differs in degree. That is, when you tell one American, “Look, you’re going to work 40 hours a week, and the amount of money that you make in five of those hours, we’re going to take away from you and give to somebody else.” Well, that’s forcibly using one person to serve the purpose of another. And I think that’s immoral. And I think that if the government gives somebody something that they did not earn, of necessity, it means that you must deprive somebody else of something that they did earn. And I find that to be immoral.
Do Americans value personal responsibility today?
In my upbringing, now keep in mind my upbringing was a long time ago as a youngster, but I think that was a value widely shared in earlier parts of our history in the 1930s, 1940s, and before, that people bore responsibility for their actions. You just could not blame other people, and you had to kind of get out and make it. You had to tough it out.
And I remember my stepfather, he used to say to me, he said… He used say that any job is better than begging and stealing… Begging or stealing. And that’s not so much a value today. We don’t call it begging. We call it dependency, where people are willing to live off their fellow man. I think I was very, very fortunate to come along at a time that I did. I don’t think I would want to be born in the ’70s or the ’80s, because that’s a different period in our history.
Do people have a right to equality?
I think that people have a right to be free, to be free from oppression by others, to be free from control by others. The only way you can say that people have the right to be equal only makes sense equality before the law. Any other kind of equality that we try to impose will restrict liberty. That is, the law should look at each of us as equal human beings just by the virtue of the fact that we’re equal. But if you say equality in results or equality in outcome, that just does not make any sense at all. No, we can’t be free and equal at the same time.
Does Washington have a power or money problem?
I think the power that congressmen have creates various interest groups, various lobbies, and I think that it doesn’t bode well for liberty in our country. A lot of people will say, “Well, gee, we need to somehow limit the money going to Washington by these various lobby groups. They spend billions and billions of dollars lobbying congressmen for this and lobbying congressmen for that.” Well, people say, “Well, we need to restrict the amount of money coming to Washington.” I say, “No, you’re making a mistake. What you need to do is to restrict the power that congressmen have.” That is, if we allow them to have all the power that they do have over our lives, well then surely somebody wants to buy it. But if you restrict their power, then you don’t have to worry about the money coming to Washington.
You don’t find people spending a whole lot of money getting their congressmen … They’re not spending millions and billions of dollars getting their congressmen to uphold the United States Constitution. What they do spend money or on, they want special favors. They want special laws written in their favor. Matter of fact, if you look at the two most powerful committees of Congress they are the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, and those two committees are in charge of distributing tax favors. People will go and spend a lot of money trying to influence the decision of those committees and as other committees as well, but those just happen to be the two most powerful ones.
Was the Civil War a “civil war”?
It’s probably wrong to call it a civil war because a civil war suggests that there are two or more parties fighting each other, trying to take over the central government. Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, he no more wanted to take over Washington D.C. than George Washington wanted to take over London. That is, the War of 1776 and the War of 1861 were both wars of independence. That is, the Confederate States wanted to leave the Union. And as a matter of fact, the Constitution of the United States would’ve never been ratified had states thought that they could not succeed from the Union. Matter of fact, the ratification documents of Rhode Island, New York and Virginia, they explicitly say in their ratification document that if the federal government becomes abusive of the powers that we’ve delegated to it, we have the right to resume those powers.
Now, the bottom line of the Civil War or the War between the States I should call it, the War of 1861, it settled the issue of succession. That is, states cannot secede. It settled the issue of secession through brute force, the loss of 600,000 lives. Now, once it’s settled that states cannot secede, then the federal government can do anything it wants to the states because the states just have to take it. I mean, it’s very much like a marriage. That is, if I tell your wife that she can’t divorce you, then you can treat her any way you want to because she has no options. That’s the same thing. That’s the same result of the War between the States.
Now, a lot of people will say that the North fought the Confederacy to end slavery. Well, the war did end slavery, but that was not the motivating factor of the war. And matter of fact, people even say that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves. It did no such thing. That is, if you read the Emancipation Proclamation, it only freed the slaves in the state … It actually says in the proclamation, it frees the slaves only in those states that are in rebellion against the Union.
What did the War of 1861 accomplish, and was President Lincoln the person we think he was?
The War of 1861 has settled the issue of secession, that state states cannot secede. It’s settled through brute force. 600,000 people lost their lives. Now, once it’s settled that states cannot secede. Well, then the federal government can do anything it wants to the states. It’s very much like in the case of a marriage. That is, if we make it so that your wife cannot divorce you, then you can treat your wife anyway that you want to, because, well, she has no alternative. That’s the same thing happened as a result of the War of 1861. Now, many people say that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves. And many people say, “Well, that’s the cause of the war.” Well, nothing can be further from the truth.
And if you read the Emancipation Proclamation, it explicitly free slaves only in those states that were in rebellion against the Union. It didn’t free slaves in Maryland, didn’t free slaves in Delaware. It didn’t free slaves in Kentucky. And matter of fact, in Louisiana, it only freed slaves in those parishes that were on the side of the Confederacy. Some of the parishes were on the side of the Union, and those slaves were not free. Matter of fact, Abraham Lincoln’s, I think, his Secretary of State told him that, “Mr. President, we’ve freed slaves where we have no power to do so, and have not freed them where we do have the power to do so.”
And the reason why… Sorry. The reason why Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation was because, at the time, the war was going very badly for the Union. And the Confederacy was negotiating with England and France to enter the war on their side. But however, in France and England, they had freed their slaves. And so, Lincoln thought it was a wonderful strategy, and it was successful strategy, to write the Emancipation Proclamation, so that if England and France came in on the side of the Confederacy, it would appear as though they were supporting slavery. And so, Lincoln, he was not the kind of president that many Americans think he is.
How successful have been blacks in America? A Great People and Nation
By any stretch of imagination, one has to recognize that black Americans have made the greatest gains over some of the highest hurdles in the shortest period of time than any other racial group in the history of mankind. Now, why might I say that? Well, if you add up the amount of income that black Americans earn each year and just thought of us as a separate nation, we would be the 17th or 18th richest nation on the face of this earth.
It was a black American, Colin Powell, who headed the world’s mightiest military. There are a few black Americans who are among the world’s highest income earners. There are black Americans who are some of the world’s most famous people. Now, the significance of this is that in 1865, neither a slave nor a slave owner would have believed that this kind of progress would be possible in just a little bit over a century. As such, it speaks to the intestinal fortitude of a people, but just as importantly, it speaks to the greatness of a nation because this kind of progress could not have been made anywhere in the world except in the United States of America. So, black Americans, we have made tremendous progress.
Now, the question that remains with us today is how can that progress be extended to that 25 or 30% of black Americans for whom these gains appear elusive? The so-called highly dependent and poor black Americans.
How do we cure poverty in the U.S. and abroad? Does poverty exist in substantial quantity?
In United States, there is no material poverty. That is if you look at the people whom the Bureau Censes defined as poor. It turns out that 60% own one car and 17% have two or more cars, 90% have microwave ovens, some even have swimming pools. I think 30-some percent own their homes outright. And so, there’s no material poverty in the United States. There might be spiritual poverty, poverty of the spirit, but there’s not material poverty. Matter of fact, if you are a unborn spirit in heaven, you’re not born yet, and God says to you, “I condemn you to a life of poverty, but I allow you to be free to choose which country you’re going to be poor in.” I think that most people would choose to be poor in United States. Now, what about poverty in other parts of the world? I think that what we need to do, we need to sell those people on the idea of liberty and limited government.
And my reason for saying this is that if you go to the United Nations and you list countries according to per capita income, then you go to International Amnesty and list countries according to human rights protections, and then rank countries to, on whether they’re closer to the free market end of the economic spectrum or towards the communist and socialist end of the political spectrum. You’ll find a very interesting thing, that is those countries that are towards the free market end of the political spectrum, they have the greatest human rights protections and the highest income. Those countries towards the socialist end of the economic spectrum, they have fewer human rights protections and they’re much poor. So, it seems like it’s a no-brainer to say, “If you want wealth, you want liberty as well.”
What about the future?
What I see in the future in many of our institutions is it’s not very flattering for us. It doesn’t bode well. I mean, there’s attack on the family. There’s attack on the values that we’ve had over the years and that have accounted for much of our success.
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Praxis Circle Contributor George Weigel is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, New York Times bestselling author, and world-leading Catholic theologian. Mr. Weigel because he is among the most influential spokespersons for Christian orthodoxy and Western freedom in the world.
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