The prominent economist, educator and socioeconomic commentator Walter E. Williams died a couple nights ago, apparently in his sleep, of causes yet known at this writing. His best friend and fellow longtime economist and columnist, Dr. Thomas Sowell, penned this brief tribute within a day.
I related well to him, though we were vastly different in looks and age. 🙂 Williams was raised in a rough area of Philadelphia, by a single mom, and understood poverty better than almost everybody else who ever talks about it on social media, simply because he had lived it. He saw, by plenty of good and bad examples and bad, first-hand (which is the best way), how to either succeed or fail in life. A late bloomer — college dropout and cab driver as a young adult — he ultimately chose the former.
The world should be grateful he did. Alas, too few will appreciate his brilliance, because he not only didn’t conform to the prevailing welfare-state advocacy orthodoxy, nor the ridiculous “woke” social-justice herd mentality, he actively and resoundingly refuted it. This was not despite, but because, he knew better from both his own academic study and, most importantly, seeing the effects of economic hardship directly.
When I found his columns and Sowell’s as a kid and young teen, it was as if I was reading future versions of myself (adapted to becoming an atmospheric scientist instead of economist, of course). They not only served a poor city kid like me by sharing their understanding on a weekly basis, but by life example.
Sure, I strayed for a few college-age years from capitalistic enthusiasm and economic conservatism, but then a combination of simple mental maturation and first-hand witnessing the deep inefficiencies of government bureaucracy set me straight. And there they still were: Williams, Sowell, and a few others, like old friends and mentors I’d never met, still conversing, teaching me again about economics, societal issues and writing, this time with even greater appreciation on my part.
Though they traveled different paths from childhood poverty to achieve their well-deserved intellectual accolades, it’s no wonder he and Sowell became best of friends. I didn’t realize until Sowell’s post-mortem tribute that Williams was slated to be Sowell’s literary executor (younger, but still in his 80s). Can you imagine some of the discussions they had over the decades? I’d love to be a fly on the wall for just any random few of them. Between casual pleasantries, imagine the deep socioeconomic insights from such powerful thinkers.
Here’s a snippet from one of Williams’s video appearances, on the counterintuitive impacts of minimum-wage laws:
Rest in peace Dr. Williams. Maybe someday, more will grasp the simple, truthful, real-life-tested, yet oft-slandered socioeconomic concepts that you have been teaching for decades.