‘The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do. . . . And that is to destroy the black family.’
‘Sometimes I sarcastically, perhaps cynically, say that I’m glad that I received virtually all of my education before it became fashionable for white people to like black people,” writes Walter Williams in his new autobiography, “Up from the Projects.” “By that I mean that I encountered back then a more honest assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Professors didn’t hesitate to criticize me—sometimes to the point of saying, ‘That’s nonsense.'”
Mr. Williams, an economist at George Mason University, is contrasting being black and poor in the 1940s and ’50s with today’s experience. It’s a theme that permeates his short, bracing volume of reminiscence, and it’s where we began our conversation on a recent morning at his home in suburban Philadelphia.
“We lived in the Richard Allen housing projects” in Philadelphia, says Mr. Williams. “My father deserted us when I was three and my sister was two. But we were the only kids who didn’t have a mother and father in the house. These were poor black people and a few whites living in a housing project, and it was unusual not to have a mother and father in the house. Today, in the same projects, it would be rare to have a mother and father in the house.”
Even in the antebellum era, when slaves often weren’t permitted to wed, most black children lived with a biological mother and father. During Reconstruction and up until the 1940s, 75% to 85% of black children lived in two-parent families. Today, more than 70% of black children are born to single women. “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do, what Jim Crow couldn’t do, what the harshest racism couldn’t do,” Mr. Williams says. “And that is to destroy the black family.”
Government programs and regulations are favorite butts of the professor, who is best known today for his weekly column—started in 1977 and now appearing in more than 140 newspapers—and for his stints guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s popular radio program. Libertarianism is currently in vogue, thanks to the election of a statist president and the subsequent rise of the tea party movement. But Walter Williams was a libertarian before it was cool. And like other prominent right-of-center blacks—Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele—his intellectual odyssey began on the political left.
“I was more than anything a radical,” says Mr. Williams. “I was more sympathetic to Malcolm X than Martin Luther King because Malcolm X was more of a radical who was willing to confront discrimination in ways that I thought it should be confronted, including perhaps the use of violence.
“But I really just wanted to be left alone. I thought some laws, like minimum-wage laws, helped poor people and poor black people and protected workers from exploitation. I thought they were a good thing until I was pressed by professors to look at the evidence.”
During his junior year at California State College in Los Angeles, Mr. Williams switched his major from sociology to economics after reading W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Black Reconstruction in America,” a Marxist take on the South’s transformation after the Civil War that will never be confused with “The Wealth of Nations.” Even so, the book taught him that “black people cannot make great progress until they understand the economic system, until they know something about economics.”
He earned his doctorate in 1972 from UCLA, which had one of the top economics departments in the country, and he says he “probably became a libertarian through exposure to tough-mined professors”—James Buchanan, Armen Alchian, Milton Friedman—”who encouraged me to think with my brain instead of my heart. I learned that you have to evaluate the effects of public policy as opposed to intentions.”
Mr. Williams distinguished himself in the mid-1970s through his research on the effects of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931—which got the government involved in setting wage levels—and on the impact of minimum-wage law on youth and minority unemployment. He concluded that minimum wages caused high rates of teenage unemployment, particularly among minority teenagers. His research also showed that Davis-Bacon, which requires high prevailing (read: union) wages on federally financed or assisted construction projects, was the product of lawmakers with explicitly racist motivations.
One of Congress’s goals at the time was to stop black laborers from displacing whites by working for less money. Missouri Rep. John Cochran said that he had “received numerous complaints in recent months about Southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics.” And Alabama Rep. Clayton Allgood fretted about contractors with “cheap colored labor . . . of the sort that is in competition with white labor throughout the country.”
Today just 17% of construction workers are unionized, but Democratic politicians, in deference to the AFL-CIO, have kept Davis-Bacon in place to protect them. Because most black construction workers aren’t union members, however, the law has the effect of freezing them out of jobs. It also serves to significantly increase the costs of government projects, since there are fewer contractors to bid on them than there would be without Davis-Bacon.
Analysis of this issue launched Mr. Williams’s career as a public intellectual, and in 1982 he published his first book, “The State Against Blacks,” arguing that laws regulating economic activity are far larger impediments to black progress than racial bigotry and discrimination. Nearly 30 years later, he stands by that premise.
“Racial discrimination is not the problem of black people that it used to be” in his youth, says Mr. Williams. “Today I doubt you could find any significant problem that blacks face that is caused by racial discrimination. The 70% illegitimacy rate is a devastating problem, but it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with racism. The fact that in some areas black people are huddled in their homes at night, sometimes serving meals on the floor so they don’t get hit by a stray bullet—that’s not because the Klan is riding through the neighborhood.”
Over the decades, Mr. Williams’s writings have sought to highlight “the moral superiority of individual liberty and free markets,” as he puts it. “I try to write so that economics is understandable to the ordinary person without an economics background.” His motivation? “I think it’s important for people to understand the ideas of scarcity and decision-making in everyday life so that they won’t be ripped off by politicians,” he says. “Politicians exploit economic illiteracy.”
Which is why, he adds, the tea party movement is a positive development in our politics and long overdue. “For the first time in my lifetime—and I’m approaching 75 years old—you hear Americans debating about the U.S. Constitution,” he says. “You hear them saying ‘This is unconstitutional’ or ‘We need limits on government’—things that I haven’t heard before. I’ve been arguing them for years, but now there’s widespread acceptance of the idea that we need to limit the government.”
Still, he’s concerned about how far the country has strayed from the type of limited government envisioned by the Founding Fathers. “In 1794, Congress appropriated $15,000 to help some French refugees,” he says. In objection, “James Madison stood on the House floor and said he could not take to lay his finger on that article in the Constitution that allows Congress to take the money of its constituents for the purposes of benevolence. Well, if you look at the federal budget today, two-thirds to three-quarters of it is for the purposes of benevolence.”
Mr. Williams says that “if there is anything good to be said about the Democratic White House and the [previous] Congress and their brazen attempt to take over the economy and control our lives, it’s that the tea party movement has come out of it. But we have gone so far from the basic constitutional principles that made us a great country that it’s a question of whether we can get back.”
The place to start, says Mr. Williams by way of advice to the new Republican House, is on the spending side of the federal ledger. “We need a constitutional amendment that limits the amount of money the government can spend,” he says. “Let’s say 18% of GDP to start. The benefit of a spending limitation amendment is that you’re going to force Congress to trade off against the various spending constituencies. Somebody says, ‘I want you to spend $10 billion on this,’ and the congressman can respond, ‘My hands are tied, so you have to show me where I can cut $10 billion first.'”
Mr. Williams says he hopes that the tea party has staying power, but “liberty and limited government is the unusual state of human affairs. The normal state throughout mankind’s history is for him to be subject to arbitrary abuse and control by government.”
He adds: “A historian writing 100 or 200 years from now might well say, ‘You know, there was this little historical curiosity that existed for maybe 200 years, where people were free from arbitrary abuse and control by government and where there was a large measure of respect for private property rights. But then it went back to the normal state of affairs.'”
Hoping to end our conversation on a sunnier note, I pose a final question about race. “A Man of Letters,” Thomas Sowell’s fabulous book of correspondence, includes a letter the Stanford economist sent in 2006 to Mr. Williams, whom he’s known for four decades. “[B]ack in the early years,” writes Mr. Sowell, “you and I were pretty pessimistic as to whether what we were writing would make an impact—especially since the two of us seemed to be the only ones saying what we were saying. Today at least we know that there are lots of other blacks writing and saying similar things . . . and many of them are sufficiently younger that we know there will be good people carrying on the fight after we are gone.”
Asked if he shares his friend’s optimism, Mr. Williams responds that he does. “You find more and more black people—not enough in my opinion but more and more—questioning the status quo,” he says. “When I fill in for Rush, I get emails from blacks who say they agree with what I’m saying. And there are a lot of white people questioning ideas on race, too. There’s less white guilt out there. It’s progress.”
Mr. Riley is a member of The Journal’s editorial board.
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A13
Expenditures for public safety services in corrections, parole, probation and rehabilitative services have increased in recent years. Many states, including New York State, have experienced increases in their prisons’ populations and a rise in prison related expenses (CJCJ, 2002, para 5). An increasing prison population is partially attributed to mandatory sentencing laws and stiff penalties for non-violent offenders imposed by state and federal governments. According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (2002):
“62.5% of all the people sent to prison in New York in 1997 were convicted of non-violent offenses. There are 22,670 drug offenders in the New York State prison system, about one-third of the entire inmate population. Over 90% are there because of two mandatory sentencing laws that were passed 25 years ago, in 1973. The Rockefeller Drug Laws require harsh prison terms for minor drug offenses. The Second Offender Law requires a prison term for all repeat felons regardless of the nature of the offense or the background or motivation of the offender. It costs the state over $680 million a year to keep these non-violent drug offenders in prison. By way of comparison, since 1988 the state has reduced its higher education funding by $615 million. (para. 8, 9)”
These figures are devastating. Criminals, more so than victims, monopolize public funds. If current crime trends continue, and if current drug enforcement laws and penalties remain, at what cost are the law-abiding citizens made to feel safe?
Not only does the deliberate criminal strain the budgets of the many state and local governments, but also the mentally ill. With the safety and well-being of society as a whole in mind, the criminal justice system has also the responsibility of protecting citizens from those untreated and undiagnosed mentally-ill populaces; many whom become violent or threatening without proper medical treatment, but in general are simply unable to follow the rules of society. Some law enforcement agencies are forced to detain the mentally ill until one of a decreasing number of viable treatment facilities becomes available. In many instances the primary offense of the mentally ill is being a public nuisance. Regardless of the reason, rising prison populations have led to huge financial burdens for taxpayers.
Even more staggering is the financial impact that illegal immigration has upon the criminal justice system. Many people debate whether illegal aliens should be entitled to services paid for with taxpayer dollars. Currently, illegal aliens, those who owe no allegiance to our country and who have “violated our laws by illegally establishing residence in our country” (Adversity, n.d.), receive many services and benefits from the American government. In some instances, they receive more services than many American citizens do. According to statistics from the Center for Immigration Studies (2004):
“Illegal immigrants cost the Federal Government nearly 10 billion a year and amnesty would nearly triple the costs . . . Illegal alien households are estimated to use $2,700 a year more in services than they pay in taxes, creating a total fiscal burden of nearly $10.4 billion on the federal budget in 2002. Among the largest federal costs: Medicaid ($2.5 billion); treatment for the uninsured ($2.2 billion); food assistance programs ($1.9 billion); the federal prison and court systems ($1.6 billion); and federal aid to schools ($1.4 billion).”
The Center for Immigration studies also suggest that legalization would be more costly because most illegal aliens are uneducated and unskilled laborers, and once legalized, they would be eligible for more governmental services, but contribute only a small portion in tax dollars.
Many Americans argue that it is inhumane to send illegal aliens back to their own country where they most likely face death due to intolerable living conditions; and the children of the illegals born in the U.S. are citizens according to the 14th amendment. I will not minimize the complexity of this moral dilemma and the debate is a valid one. However, I will say this; “The original intent of the 14th Amendment was clearly not to facilitate illegal aliens defying U.S. law at taxpayer expense” (The American Resistance, n.d.). Furthermore, crime has consequences and any American burglar that is found illegally entering another’s dwelling is dealt with swiftly and promptly regardless of their motive.
My quandary is, if illegal aliens, not to be confused with the undocumented workers who are granted temporary stay in the country by the government to work, are rewarded instead of penalized for breaking our laws by illegally crossing our borders then crime really does pay. What good are the laws in this country if some groups of people are made to follow them and others are not? What good are borders at all? It is an oxymoron to speak of the “criminal” illegal aliens, but that is the only way to distinguish the law breakers from the law breaking law breakers when speaking of illegals in this country. For public safety officials, “the number of illegal aliens incarcerated total 345,680 and the cost of incarceration since 2001 is $1, 454, 110, 881 and rising (Immigration Counters, n.d.).”
Besides that, American taxpayers can scantily afford the 22 million illegal immigrants in this country that have already cost over 398 billion dollars in total services since 1996 (Immigration Counters, n.d.). Publically funding the activities of illegal aliens beyond the costs associated with enforcing the immigration laws already in place, sets an awful precedent to those immigrants, or permanent legal residents, who follow our immigration laws and respect our borders and to those 275 million U.S. citizens, many who are denied the very same services allowed the illegal aliens. God forbid we continue to spend billions in governmental services to illegals, when within our own borders we are already drowning in hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens who willfully accept unearned and undeserved entitlements from the government without contributing one single tax dollar, and criminals who drain taxpayer dollars to the tune of one and one half billion dollars per year.
American Resistance, n.d. Anchor Babies. Retrieved on September 9, 2007 from
Center for Immigration Studies (2004). The costs for illegal immigration. Retrieved on
September 8, 2007 from http://www.cis.org/articles/2004/fiscalrelease.html
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (1998). New york state of mind? higher education vs.
prison funding in the empire state, 1988-1998. Retrieved on September 8, 2007 from http://www.cjcj.org/pubs/ny/nysom.html
Definitions: Alien, Immigrant, Illegal Alien, Undocumented Immigrant, n,d,. Illegal Alien.
Retrieved on September 8, 2007 from http://www.adversity.net/Terms_Definitions /TERMS/Illegal-Undocumented.htm
Immigration Counters (n.d.). Real-time data. Retrieved on September 8, 2007 from
Pollock-Byrne, J. (2004). Ethical dilemmas and decisions in criminal justice, (5th ed.).
Belmont, CA. ThompsonWadsworth
By Crystal Wright
Today, we honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s triumphant fight to gain freedom for the Negro “crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” His I Have A Dream speech delivered in 1963 on steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington before an estimated crowd of 300,000 blacks and whites, ultimately led to passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
As we reflect upon his legacy in 2011, Americans have elected their first black president Barak Obama and black Americans have attained the freedom King so desperately wanted for his people. I suspect if he had lived, he would have wept during Obama’s inauguration to see generations of blacks having overcome the brutalities and humiliations of segregation to have one of their own rise to the highest office in the land.
Regardless of your political beliefs, the election of Obama was a defining moment in our country. But as much as things have changed for black Americans, they have also tragically remained the same for many. While blacks have attained equality and the freedom to vote, work, live, eat and shop wherever they like, they as an ethnic group on average have not achieved economic parity to whites. In fact, the gulf between low-income blacks the black middle and upper classes has widened at an alarming rate since passage of the Civil Rights Act.
King described the state of the Negro in his Dream speech: “One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.” Sadly, nearly 50 years later this could well describe the state of low-income blacks today which is much worse now then it was in 1963.
In 2011, more than 70% of black children are born out of wedlock compared to 30% of white children (Princeton-Brookings 2010 Fall Policy Brief Strengthening Fragile Families). According to “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008,” published by the Pew Center on the States, one in nine black men between the ages of 20-34 are in prison compared to one in 30 other men of the same age. Many studies demonstrate the per-capita welfare spending is higher for black recipients because the percentage of the total black population that receives welfare is greater than the percentage of the white population that receives welfare.
Why is it that other ethnic groups can come to this country, particularly first generation Asians and some Latinos, and climb the economic ladder faster than some blacks who’ve lived here for generations? All ills plaguing poor blacks can be attributed to one thing: the disintegration of the black family.
What’s eerily troubling is former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicated this demise in 1965. I remember interviewing Senator Moynihan years ago when I worked for ABC News and being very impressed by him. A colleague recommended I read Moynihan’s 1965 report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, also known as the Moynihan Report written to President Johnson. I was forever changed by it, as made complete sense and couldn’t understand why Moynihan was so vilified at the time for publishing it.
He warned “the family structure of lower class Negroes is highly unstable, and in many urban centers is approaching complete breakdown.” Moynihan attributed this to the alarming rise in blacks not marrying and having illegitimate children. In 1963, illegitimate birth rate among blacks was 23.6%. Today it is 70%.
Moynihan predicated the breakdown of the black family among poor blacks would doom generations of blacks to the cycle of poverty. “The steady expansion of this welfare program, as of public assistance programs in general, can be taken as a measure of the steady disintegration of the Negro family structure over the past generation in the United States.” This is where poor blacks find themselves today in many cities across the country relegated to ghettos where generations of blacks have been on welfare. I’m reminded of reporter George Will’s column published shortly after Hurricane Katrina in which he noted that three and four generations of blacks living in New Orleans were relying on welfare and how this was not a sign of progress. This doesn’t represent good public policy for the millions of blacks enslaved by this pathology of poverty and crime or the government which serves them.
It would seem King’s dream for blacks as an ethnic group has been only partially realized. Blacks have physical freedoms yes, but economic freedom as a class is falling far short of the prosperity Martin Luther King envisioned for “little black boys and black girls.” Black political, spiritual and intellectual leaders along with our government must publically decry we are not satisfied with this reality and find ways and policies, as Moynihan boldly advised “to strengthen the Negro family so as to enable it to raise and support its members as do other families.”
The time is now!
New York State is facing the most difficult of times. Every single day, New York is losing businesses and jobs to more job-friendly states. The new year, new Governor and new Senate Leadership in our State government brings with it real opportunity for change. It’s time to take firm and decisive action to turn our State around.
The states that encourage business and job growth will be the states that will succeed in the next decade. I am committed to making the changes necessary to change the direction of our State and to renew hope and prosperity for all New Yorkers. My immediate priorities for New York State in 2011 are:
New York cannot continue to spend as it has in the past. During one of the worst recessions in our Nation’s history, New York City legislators forced through two state budgets that increased spending by more than 12.5%. We must simply cut spending, and no agency or program should be immune from a thorough review and analysis.
PROPERTY TAX RELIEF:
Soaring school and local government property taxes are suffocating property owners. I will work aggressively to enact a property tax cap with corresponding mandate relief that would limit property tax increases to 2 percent or less- the same cap that brought Massachusetts from having the 3rd highest property taxes in the Nation down to the 33rd highest.
REPEAL TAXES THAT DIRECTLY IMPACT FAMILY BUDGETS:
Spiraling tax increases over the past two years have cost the average family of four nearly $5,000 in new taxes and fees. These outrageous taxes must be rolled back.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY PLAN:
New York must take the steps necessary to bring jobs back and encourage businesses to stay, grow, and prosper right here in our local communities, region and state. Providing tax incentives for private-sector businesses, and especially small businesses, would help create the jobs necessary for New York’s economic recovery and would be a good first step. We must also implement a business tax moratorium and reduce the amount of red tape that are forced upon businesses by government.
Unfunded mandates from Albany unfairly pass additional costs on local taxpayers. These unfunded mandates must stop.
New York taxpayers pay more for Medicaid than any other state. In fact, we pay more than North Carolina, Texas and Florida combined, and twice as much per person than California! As a member of the Legislative Task Force on Medicaid Reform, I am working to find common sense solutions to eliminate billions of dollars in waste, while preserving critical services for those truly in need.
EMPOWER NEW YORK TAXPAYERS:
We must have open, transparent budget negotiations and bipartisan conference committees in order to create timely and responsible budgets. All budget negotiations must provide for input from the taxpayers of New York.
We need only look to the example of our neighbor the State of New Jersey and its Governor, Chris Christie, to see how we can change the direction of our State and create a brighter future. Despite New Jersey’s massive deficit, Governor Christie was adamant that the budget could not be balanced with job-killing tax hikes- and he delivered on his promise – no tax hikes, borrowing or short-term fiscal gimmicks! Governor Christie has also reformed New Jersey’s crushing property tax burden, enacting a law to cap property taxes at 2%.
The time is right. The time is now. By cutting spending, reducing taxes and focusing on ways to allow our businesses to grow, we can return New York to its rightful status as the Empire State and a place where people will want to live, work and raise a family. Working together, upstate and downstate, Republican and Democrat, we can revive our economy, restore the Empire State, and make 2011 a genuinely happy new year.
Senator, 54th District