Walter Williams, a veteran black economist at George Mason University, has written a new autobiography, "Up from the Projects." The 75 year-old Williams wasn't always conservative (or libertarian), but facts and evidence took control of his thinking: "I learned that you have to evaluate the effects of public policy as opposed to intentions."
Jason L. Riley of the Wall Street Journal published an interview with Williams.
"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."
. . . 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."
The facts led Williams to conclude that "minimum wages caused high rates of teenage unemployment, particularly among minority teenagers."
" . . .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."
Williams sees the Tea party movement as something positive: "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."
Williams advocates a constitutional amendment:
"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.'"
What about blacks and conservative economics?
"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."