BRIAN LAMB: Doctor Walter Williams, I want to try some word association and to get you to talk about people in your life. Start with Rush Limbaugh.
WALTER E. WILLIAMS: Well, a lot of people ask me how do I get the how did Rush Limbaugh call me to substitute for his show? And so I tell them well, Rush was looking in the mirror and he wanted to take a vacation so he said who is the second best talk show host in the world? We kind of joke about that.
No, but actually what happened is that Bob Dornan, Congressman Bob Dornan used to fill in for him and he was interviewing me on air and a lot of times when I’m being interviewed on radio, on the air, I take over the show and they just kind of liked it.
And so Rush called me and said, ”Would you want to host my show? I’m going out for a couple days.” And I said, ”I never hosted a show in my life.” And so he says, ”It’s easy. My people show you what to do.”
And so that was in October, 1992 and I’ve been doing it off and on since then.
LAMB: What does it do for you?
WILLIAMS: Well, I it’s my big classroom. I love you know, I love talking to people. I love to trying to explain economics to people and I think that the combination of a talk show doing talk show and also writing a syndicated column, I get a lot of feedback from my fellow Americans. And people will write or they’ll call in and say well, did you think of this? Or you’re wrong about that.
And so it causes me to get more information than the average person would have. And so I’ve benefited immensely from my exposure to, you know, talk show and television and writing a syndicated column.
LAMB: How powerful is that show?
WILLIAMS: Well, in the maybe it’s I think it’s the it’s the biggest talk show in the history of radio anywhere in the world and you know, 20 million people a week and so I think it’s very, very significant. And I think that what it does, talk radio in general, has ended the monopoly by the major media. That is, you have different ideas coming in and challenging the conventional wisdom. I think that’s very, very powerful for the American people.
LAMB: Next name, Bill Cosby.
WILLIAMS: Bill Cosby. That’s a funny one. When I was young and we were I was living in the Richard Allen Housing Project in north Philadelphia and my mother used to say to me, ”See that boy out there? Don’t be he’s silly and he’s foolish and he’s never going to get anywhere.”
And she was referring to Bill Cosby. He was we grew up in the same neighborhood in North Philadelphia. And mom was right about most things, but she was wrong about that.
LAMB: How well do you know him?
WILLIAMS: Well, I knew him fairly well as a kid and I-I haven’t seen him in years. We served on the board of trustees of Temple University together and I guess, that was about the mid ’80s and I have not seen him since.
And by the way, some of the people that he talks about on his show like Weird Harold and Fat Albert, they were really guys in the neighborhood.
LAMB: Julius Irving, Doctor J.
WILLIAMS: Well, Doctor J., I’ve only I’ve only seen him once well I’ve seen him many times on television but he’s a second cousin of mine and of course, I don’t play basketball as well as he does.
LAMB: So, as a second cousin you don’t really have a relationship with him.
WILLIAMS: No. He actually, I found about him is after my father died, he’s a second cousin on my father’s side of the family and I guess, one of my second aunts called and she said, ”Well, do you know you have a very, very famous cousin?” And that’s how I found out about that we were related.
LAMB: What were your parents like?
WILLIAMS: Well, my mother, she was a my mother and father, they got separated and then they ultimately got divorced around, I guess 1948 or 1950 and I saw very, very little of my father growing up but my mother was a mother and father. She was very, very demanding and she was the kind of woman that even though we were poor, she used to say, ”Look, we have a bare pocketbook but we have champagne taste.”
And she was always expect- expecting us to do the best although I disappointed her a number of times by not doing the best. She had to come to school to talk to principals or teachers about me on numerous occasions.
LAMB: When did you think you might become a professor, a columnist, a public figure?
WILLIAMS: Heck, I it’s nothing that I planned. When I was a when I graduated from California State University with a with a BA, I had planned to, you know, work for a bank or something like that and it turned out that my father’s third wife she was a member of a sorority and they were her sorority, and Seagram’s Gin, they were holding an essay contest for scholarships and I and the essay contest, they was it was decided at UCLA, that is, it was judged by professors at UCLA.
And I wrote an essay and I got I think I came in third or fourth place and I was very, very disappointed but the dean at one of the deans at UCLA said he ran down the hallway. He said, ”No. Don’t go away disappointed.” He says, ”The tuition’s not that much so why don’t you apply to UCLA’s graduate school?”
And I applied and I and I was accepted. And I think my second or third year at UCLA I got a job at Los Angeles City College, a part time job. And then, you know, teaching in the evening. And I loved teaching so much I said, ”Well, this is going to be my life.” Now, as for being a columnist, being a public figure; that was not in my plans at all.
LAMB: How did the column start?
WILLIAMS: Well the column started in I wrote for the Philadelphia Tribune. There was this it’s a black new one, very, very old black newspaper in Philadelphia and it turned out that the President of the Philadelphia Tribune, he contacted me and he said, ”Well, I want to change the focus of the newspaper a little bit. I want some more I want some economics in it.
And so he hired me to write a column once a week and then it was I was discovered, as it was, by in 1980 when the Heritage Foundation was starting a syndicated column and they invited me to be on their syndicate.
And a fellow, Ed Grimsley, he’s he was the editorial page editor of the Richmond Times Dispatch and he said that he just loved the columns but he says nobody’s reading it. You ought to really accept this syndication and if you write a column we will carry it. And the Richmond Times Dispatch, by the way, has been carrying my column for about 30 some years.
LAMB: What’s the story on the Creators Syndicate?
WILLIAMS: Well, the Creators Syndicate represents a it was a friendly takeover of the Heritage Features. Heritage Features was a syndicate and then I think maybe five, six, seven years, it was taken over by Creators and Newcombe Mister Newcombe, he’s the he was President of Creators Syndicate and he gives you a lot of degrees of freedom and he respects writers and I just enjoy working with him.
LAMB: Another name association. Malcolm X.
WILLIAMS: Malcolm X. Actually, during the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X was kind of a hero of mine, much more so than Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement because I was one of the I was I was quite a radical as a young person and I was the one that thought that the, you know, the we shall over singing We Shall Overcome was a really not a very very effective way of gaining civil rights.
And I think that I thought that more confrontation was needed.
LAMB: What made you a radical? And what does that mean?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think a radical I’m still a radical today. That is, I believe that a radical is any person who believes in personal liberty and individual freedom and limited government. That makes you a radical. And I’ve always been a person who believed that people should not interfere with me. I should be able to do my own thing without so long as I don’t violate the rights of other people.
LAMB: What’s the difference between following Malcolm X or following Martin Luther King?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think Martin Luther I well, at that time, I thought the mark the Martin Luther Martin Luther King was too much of a compromiser. I was willing to go in to confront people, to demand things. And my career in the Army was a was a part of that vision of confronting racial discrimination.
LAMB: How tall are you?
WILLIAMS: Six feet five.
LAMB: And you were that were you that height when you were in the Army?
WILLIAMS: Oh yes. I was. I was not as heavy. I was in better condition. I was about 185 when I was in the Army.
LAMB: How did you get into the Army?
WILLIAMS: I was I was getting ready to say I was drafted. I’d much rather say my labor services were confiscated.
WILLIAMS: In 1959. I was matter of fact, I was driving a taxi cab in Philadelphia and I was making about $300 or $400 a month driving a cab and I got I essentially got this letter saying well gee, you’re going to stop making $300 or $400 a month. You’re going to begin to make $68 a month.
And so, normally people don’t switch voluntarily in that direction. So, my labor services were being confiscated.
LAMB: What was the service like for you?
WILLIAMS: Well, I was to give you an idea, I was sent to Fort Stewart, Georgia without a very good orientation on the southern way of life and so I had some adjustment problems.
WILLIAMS: I well, I did things like I organized the black soldiers to go to the dance on the wrong night. That was a you know, they had separate dances on post and I matter of fact, I was threatened with court-martial as a result of it because one of my friends, he asked a white girl to dance and it started some a bit of a ruckus and MPs were called.
And the next morning the company commander had me in his office for inciting to riot. And I told him, I say, ”Well, it’s a military function on a military base.” And I’m a I was a private and I was eligible to participate.
He said, ”You know how it is down here.
I said, ”No, sir. I don’t know how it is down here.”
And he would never say that, well, down here there’s segregated dancing.
LAMB: Well, supposedly Harry Truman stopped all that for the military. What who’s setting the rules down there in Georgia?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know what Harry Truman did; he ended the segregation of forces. That is there were black units and white units before Harry Truman ended that. But now the units were, you know, they were mixed at the time I was in. That is black soldiers slept in the same barracks and did the you know, went to the same mess hall to eat as white soldiers. And that was not true before.
LAMB: What was the difference you mentioned you weren’t familiar with the south? I mean, you came out of Philadelphia. What were the differences in the attitude of race in Philadelphia versus Georgia?
WILLIAMS: Well, it was well, to give you an example of this is 1959 and when I was going to Fort Stewart, Georgia I was on the bus and I remember stopping, I believe, in well, some town just south of you know, just as you get into Virginia and I saw it was it was Saint it was Petersburg, I think. Petersburg, Virginia and the bus stopped and I was I woke up and I saw a sign. It said white waiting room and colored waiting room. And that was the first time I was exposed to that.
And in Savannah when we got down to Savannah, the I got off the bus to kind of walk around. I got back on the bus and there’s a lady sitting on my seat. I was sitting right behind the driver because I got on the bus in Philadelphia.
And this white lady sitting beside sitting in my seat and I said, ”Excuse me, ma’am.” And so she said, ”Well this boy, this seat is taken.” And so I said, ”I know it’s taken. It’s my seat.” And so, the it was it was a bit of a commotion but the bus driver came back and he say told the lady, ”Well, the boy got on the bus in Philadelphia and so it’s his seat.”
And the lady started you know, saying back in back in my day this would never have happened. And to end that particular story, to let you know what kind of person I was, when we got to Hinesville, that’s where Fort Stewart is located, the bus is pulling into a stop and I was standing in the well waiting to get off and the lady rolled her eyes at me and I stuck my tongue out at her and she opened the window of the bus and told the there was a sheriff parked across the street.
And he said, catch that nigger! Catch that nigger. And the sheriff came up to me and says what’s wrong? I said I didn’t call you. She called you. And so, he the lady said the lady told him that i8 stuck my tongue out at her and the sheriff, he just fell out laughing and he called the MPs and I was escorted to my new post assignment by MPs.
LAMB: Another name. John M. Olin.
WILLIAMS: Well, John M. Olin, a very, very wealthy person. He’s a and his and the Olin Foundation is responsible for the endowed chair that I held for a number of years at George Mason University. And the and the Olin foundation is a free market foundation and at the time it was headed by Bil Simon, the former Secretary of Treasury, I believe, under the maybe Ford or Regan administration one of
LAMB: Nixon Administration.
WILLIAMS: Nixon, I’m not sure.
LAMB: No, maybe it was Ford. But did you ever meet John M. Olin?
WILLIAMS: No. I didn’t. No, I never met him.
LAMB: And how does an endowed chair work and what did they expect you to do? Did you have to have a certain point of view in order to get that professorship?
WILLIAMS: I probably had to have a certain point of view. But what they did, what Bill Simon told me, he said, look the Olin he was in charge of the Olin Foundation, he says the Olin Foundation, they won’t give George Mason $2 or $3 million for as your the endowment and let you live off the income, he said, because if we did, that you might die. You might move, go somewhere else. And they’ll just hire they’ll hire a Marxist in your place and we couldn’t do anything about it because they would have the money
So, he says, ”What we do, in effect, is to keep the endowment at the Olin Foundation and we send you the income each year to the 501(c)3 base at George Mason University. And so, and he says all we want from you is an address. And so, as a matter of fact, one of my friends, I was explaining I was describing my chair to one of my colleagues. And he says, ”Well, that’s not really a chair. It’s a wheelchair.” That is, it goes wherever you go.
And so I guess they, you know, I was a free market person a free market economist and they were very, very satisfied with it.
LAMB: That foundation gave away, I think, something like $375 million but unlike most foundations, it shut down.
WILLIAMS: Yes. That’s right. And matter of fact, Bill Simon told me. He said that Old Man Olin made him promise that the people that he appointed to the board of directors that the foundation would not exist beyond the lives of the people that he put in charge.
And he said the reason why, he says, that there’s mission drift. That is, he said that Rockefeller and Ford and maybe Carnegie and Pew, they there’s great men that amassed huge amounts of wealth, they would be they would be rolling in their graves if they knew what the foundation was doing with their money supporting all kinds of causes, anti-capitalist causes, by the way, that they would never, never accept.
And so Olin thought that a good idea would be for the foundation not to exist. Rather than risk this mission drift.
LAMB: So, did the chair dry up, then when the foundation shut down. What was it, 2005?
WILLIAMS: Yes. 2000 Yes, 2005. One of the deals they made with the with the university is that since they paid my salary, my they that my salary plus my secretary and assistants, they paid for, I guess maybe around 25 years or so. And so they made a they told the university that when they when it came to an end that the university would assume the responsibility for paying me.
LAMB: So, what are you doing now?
WILLIAMS: Well, I teach I’m still teaching economics. In the fall, I teach our first PhD microeconomic course. In the spring I teach intermediate microeconomic theory course and I write columns. I write articles and I get a book out every now and then.
LAMB: What, you’ve had eight? Eight books?
WILLIAMS: It’s 10.
LAMB: Ten books.
WILLIAMS: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: All right. Another name associating F. A. Hayek.
WILLIAMS: F.A. Hayek, I think, is one of the great economists of the of the 20th century. He’s a he’s the fellow who wrote The Road to Serfdom. He wrote it during you know, I guess in the middle of the about 1946. And he was sending up a warning about the move towards socialism and its threats on liberty.
He’s written a number of books, The Constitution of Liberty. And he’s written a number of papers. And he, along with Milton Friedman and some others were they founded the Mont Pelerin Society which, in 1946 which I’m proud to say I’m a member of and our society, I think we can boast of somewhere between either eight or nine Nobel Laureate economists around the world who’s who are members of our society.
LAMB: What does that society do?
WILLIAMS: Well, we what we do? We have we have a meetings in different places around the globe and we discuss the threats on liberty. We’re not we had no we’re not politically affiliated. We avoid you know, news conferences and things like this, although our particular, you know, individual members can do that.
But the Mont Pelerin Society is you know, kind of, I guess, bipartisan if you want to call that or at least they were not publicity seeking
LAMB: Thomas Sowell.
WILLIAMS: Well, I think Thomas Sowell is another great economist of the of the well, he’s not he’s not he’s still alive and still kicking. So, right as a matter of fact he’s written I just sent me a copy of his 46th or 47th book.
But he is he is a brilliant economist. He’s a he’s probably done some of the best stuff best writing on issues having to do with race. And but, however, while a number of people know him about it because of his writings on excuse me a number of people know him or are familiar with him because of his writings on race.
Some of his greatest work has been the history of economic thought. He’s done some of the top writing on people like Sismondi and John Baptiste Say and other economists of the 16th, 17th, 18th Centuries.
LAMB: So, if we took a survey of your previous students about you and how you teach, what do you think they’d say about you?
WILLIAMS: Well, they might say I’m tough. And actually you can you can go to there’s a website called rate my professors DOT com. And students, they make comments there. They point out that I’m demanding and they and I and they like my class.
LAMB: But how do you what’s demanding about you?
WILLIAMS: Well, let’s say to give you an idea, the first day of class I don’t do this with the graduate students but for the undergraduates, there may be sophomores and juniors. I tell them the first day of class. This is a real college course. You’re going to be able to you’re going to be required to start sentences off with capital letters, find a subject, an object and a verb. And you’re going to have to do some baby calculus. And I tell them the first day of class, if this is too much, if you’re looking for a mickey course, then nothing’s wrong with wanting a mickey course but you’re in the wrong room.
LAMB: What do you what do you want them what do you want them to learn? The broad picture.
WILLIAMS: Well, I tell the graduate students and the undergraduate students the - economic economics more than anything else, I think, it’s a way of thinking. It’s a it’s a way of reasoning. It’s deductive logic. And I want them to be able to apply economics to everyday occurrences, to be able to think systematically and logically and that’s what that’s the - I think that’s the job of an economics professor.
LAMB: But when did they discover that you’re tough?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think that well, to give you an idea for my class this spring, this semester, it starts at 7:30 in the morning. And so, you know, getting up at 7:30 is character building. And so I get the students who at least have enough stick-to-it-iveness to get up consistently at 7:30.
And I tell the students the first day of class. I say look, this is the class start at 7:30, even the cold days of winter. It starts at 7:30 when it’s snowing and it starts at 7:30 on nice days in May and April when you’d much rather lay in bed. And so, I tell them these are the requirements.
So then, also, the I give unannounced quizzes. That is, about five or six unannounced quizzes and I tell the students at the beginning of the semester, each day you come to class you’re to bring a number 2 pencil and a Scantron because you know, you never know when you’re going to get a quiz.
And then I then my mid-terms are essays and that’s why I tell them that you have to learn how to, you know, read and write and spell and practice writing legibly.
LAMB: If you were to define your political economic philosophy in a paragraph, what would it be?
WILLIAMS: That’s pretty challenging. I would say that my political philosophy is very, very much like my economic philosophy. It’s laissez-faire, that is, people have the right to do whatever they wish so long as they don’t violate the property rights of others.
And my thinking about many, many issues, my initial premise that I make is that I own Walter Williams. I am the property of Walter Williams. You are the property of Brian Lamb. And so, what that means when you when you start off with the idea of self-ownership. Well then, there are certain things that are clearly immoral.
And the reason why they’re immoral because they violate private property. That is, the reason why murder is immoral is because it violates private property. Rape is immoral. It violates private property. Theft is immoral. It violates property private property.
And many Americans can go along with this but I say something else violates private property that many Americans would not agree with me. That is, I think that the forcible use of one person to serve the purpose of another, it violates private property because keep in mind, a working definition of slavery is, in fact, the forcible use of one person to serve the purpose of another.
And if you look at all these the government spending in our country that Americans are being forcibly used to serve the purpose of another. That is, your money your money is being taken by you know, under intimidation, threats and coercion to serve the purposes of some other American and I think that’s immoral.
LAMB: Can you remember when you started to really feel strongly about this?
WILLIAMS: Oh, I don’t remember. But I think maybe it was like in the in the ’60s or in the ’70s because in my younger days, I was I think I was far more liberal, if you want to use that term, of and thinking that government should play a bigger role than I think government should play now.
So, I think that maybe when I started going to graduate school at UCLA or finishing up my undergraduate work, I started asking questions.
LAMB: Do you know why you did? I mean, do you remember anything happening in your life that ...
WILLIAMS: No, I can’t think of anything. I just think I became exposed to the writings of people like Frederic Bastiat and Hayek and I’ve some very tenacious mentors at UCLA that just would not tolerate nonsensical statements.
For example, I was I was a supporter of the minimum wages and so I had a professor at UCLA ask me, well, are you more concerned about the intentions behind the minimum wage law? Or the effects of minimum wage law. And so, he said well, why don’t you read some stuff by Milton Friedman and Yale Brosen and so they I became convinced that the effects of the minimum wage law were very, very counterproductive to low-skill people.
LAMB: I wrote down a quote of yours I found, ”Evaluate the effects of public policy as opposed to intentions.” Which is basically what you’ve been saying.
WILLIAMS: That’s right and think that to come up with compassionate policy requires that we engage in dispassionate analysis. That we separate ourselves away from a compassion because if we get if we become compassionate in our analysis well then we’re going to wind up with a dispassionate policy.
LAMB: I’ve read that you like greed.
WILLIAMS: Oh yes, when I say greed, I’m not talking about let me go back. I think greed if you if you ask the question, what’s that human motivation that gets the most wonderful things done, I would say greed. Now, I’m not talking about misrepresentation, fraud, stealing and other kinds of immoral acts. I’m talking about people trying to get as much as they can for themselves.
And if you ask the question maybe the article that you might have read, if you ask the question, look this last winter you had Texas cattle ranchers getting up in the dead of night running out, feeding stray cows trying to take care of stray cows making this huge, personal sacrifice to make sure New Yorkers have beef on their shelves.
You had this summer you’ll have Idaho potato farmers getting up in the morning doing back breaking work, sun beating down on them, bugs biting them, dirt underneath their fingernails making this personal sacrifice to make sure New Yorkers also have potatoes. Now, the question I would ask, do you think they’re doing this because they love New Yorkers?
No, they’re doing it because they love themselves. That is, they want more for themselves. Now, in a free market the way that you get more for yourself is to serve your fellow man, to make your fellow man happier, to cater to his needs and his desires.
Now, if you ask the question how much beef and potatoes New Yorkers would have if it all depended on human love and kindness? I’d be worried about New Yorkers.
LAMB: When you write a column what’s the most successful? What grabs your attention? And how often do you do that when you find that out?
WILLIAMS: I don’t think of it in that term. I just I’m watching the news or I’m talking to somebody or I get an idea and I write about a matter of fact, some of my columns from years ago, and it’s less so now now, the thinking for my column was formed while I was out on my bike, you know, maybe going up a very, very steep hill and your muscles in your legs are burning and you want to think about something else. And I’m kind of composing a column when I’m out on my bike.
LAMB: How often do you bike?
WILLIAMS: I don’t bike as much as I used to. Matter of fact, between April and November for many, many years I used to bike maybe 2,000, 2,300 miles during a year. And the reason why it’s April to November, October is because it’s not as cold. And I bike on the road. But now I bike maybe once or twice a week and not and not in the winter.
LAMB: Do you bike long distances? Or are these back and forth.
WILLIAMS: No, they well, it’s no, it’s not long distance. It’s maybe 20 miles, 25 miles round trip.
LAMB: We’ve got a number of places that people can find your column. And we’ll put it on the screen. And there’s TownHall.com; JewishWorldReview.com; WorldNewsDaily.com and there’s LibertyPenBlog.com.
WILLIAMS: And then there’s also my webpage WalterEWilliams.com.
LAMB: And where do you can you remember the column that got the most attention? Or one of them? I that’s always a tough question. And why, do you think?
WILLIAMS: Well, recently, the columns that bring in the most attention and some of the uglier mail is when I talk about Social Security and Medicare or government programs for the for the elderly. And I, matter of fact, I think that there’s no constitutional authority for Social Security. I think it’s a bad it’s a it’s unconstitutional in the first place but I think it’s a bad deal as well. And the reason why I think it’s a bad deal is because the rate of return’s very, very low.
But it turns out that some people benefit immensely from Social Security. That is, according to statistics a person who starts drawing who started drawing Social Security in 1980, he gets all that he ever put into Social Security plus interest out in 2.8 years.
The person entering the labor force in 1980, he’ll have to live until he’s 92 to break-even with Social Security. So, I think that and I point this out in my columns that Social Security and Medicare is a perverse form of income redistribution from people who have less money to people who have more money.
People over 65 have the highest net worth among any other age group in our country and I believe close to 70 percent of them own their homes outright. You cannot find any other age group having that kind of net worth or actually own their houses.
So, you say well, how much sense or how just is it to take money from a 25 year old through the tax code or 30 year old to subsidize somebody who is far more wealthy than he is.
LAMB: I want to show you something you said in 1991 at a Citizens for a Sound Economy session here in Washington D.C.
Male: I think we all recognize that we’ve had one balanced budget in the United States in 34 years. And I believe, in 28 of those years we’ve had some kind of tax increase and very often the justification was to balance the budget.
We even had the 1978 balanced budget act signed through Congress. Now, with all this evidence, I don’t think that it’s being too unkind on my behalf to suggest that we have a Congress that is a bunch of liars and hustlers and exploiters of public ignorance.
LAMB: Liars and hustlers?
WILLIAMS: I don’t think much has changed since then.
LAMB: What’d you mean?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, well, they say we’re having this tax increase to balance the budget. Well, when where is the balanced budget, you know?
I think that the Congress misleads the American people on let’s say the recent the recent unemployment statistics where the congress and the president say well look, where you know, unemployment is going down when they fail to include the people who have just dropped out of the labor market and a lot of people say well look if you look at real unemployment statistics you might be paying about 15 % rather than 8%.
LAMB: What are the chances that a balanced budget doesn’t mean anything?
WILLIAMS: . Well, I think that no, a balanced budget doesn’t really a balanced budget doesn’t really protect us because look, right now the federal government spends out of our GDP close to four trillion dollars a year. OK, now, our GDP is like 15 trillion.
Well, the government could the federal the federal government could spend 10 trillion dollars and tax us 10 trillion dollars. We’d have a balanced budget but how free would we be? And so the true issue, I think the issue having to do with our liberty is federal spending. Not what the taxes are but what federal spending is, that is and keep in mind that for most of our history from 1787 until 1920 the federal government was no more than 3 % of the GDP except during war time. Today the federal government is 25 I think somewhere between 25 to 40% of the GDP.
LAMB: Here you are in 1988 in the middle of, well, let’s see, leading up to or no, you’re still in the middle of the Ronald Reagan or the end of the Ronald Reagan term.
WILLIAMS: Well, I would say that the Reagan administration has not delivered on its campaign promises. Things like dismantling the Department of Education, getting rid of the Department of Energy, cutting down government spending. Clearly, government spending is far more than when Reagan took office. Taxes are greater than.
So, in terms of performance, in terms of delivering on campaign promises in 1980 I think that it is indeed a failure in that a sense. Now, it’s a success in another sense. Namely that I think that the level of debate has been raised in our country on a whole range of issues.
A key one is the legitimate role of government in a free society.
LAMB: That was a call-in show here, middle of the end of the Reagan administration. What’s your reaction when you hear that today?
WILLIAMS: Well, I there’s not much to change. I think that the we still need to ask or settle, you know, what is the legitimate role of government in a free society? And a legitimate role of government in a free society is not that of government taking what belongs to one American and giving it o another American to whom it does not belong.
LAMB: Have you ever, in your lifetime of writing and all that known a president to keep his promise?
WILLIAMS: No, no, no, I don’t. and you can’t fully blame this on a president. That is or and I suggest to the people that you can’t blame the problems that we face fully on politicians because politician you can blame them a little bit for violating their oath of office but politicians are doing precisely what the American people elect to office to do.
And what do the American people elect politicians to office to do? They elect them to office to use the power of their office to take what belongs to one American and bring them back. Bring it back to them. That is, they want politicians to do for them what if they did did the identical thing privately they would go to jail. That is, if I -0- if I took your money to help some elderly person or some poor person, if I took it by force today and helped somebody, I would go to jail.
LAMB: Why didn’t the public hold these elected officials accountable?
WILLIAMS: Well, because they because they’re doing what the public wants them to do. Imagine you know, some of the some of the viewers might be upset about this but imagine this. Imagine I’m running for the United States senate from let’s say North Carolina any state and I go back and forth across the state and I tell my fellow North Carolinians look, if you elect me I’ve read the United States constitution.
If you elect me to office don’t expect for me to bring back aid to higher education. Highway construction funds, other public projects, meals on wheels, senior citizen prescription drugs. Because it’s not in the constitution. It’s not in Article 1 Section A of the United States Constitution. Well, do you think I would get elected to the Senate from North Carolina?
No. I would not because I would not be doing what North Carolinians would want me to do and that is use the power of my office to take what belongs to one person and bring it back to the people of North Carolina.
Now, here’s the tragedy for our country is that North Carolinians would be acting absolutely correctly in terms of their own interest. The reason why is that because if I, as Senator Williams, don’t bring back these goodies, it doesn’t mean that North Carolinians will pay a lower federal income tax. All that it means is that it will go to South Carolina instead.
That is, once legalized theft begins, it pays for everybody to participate and those who don’t participate, they’ll wind up holding the brown end of the stick, if you will.
LAMB: Here you are in 1995 talking about the debt ceiling.
WILLIAMS: And if the, you know, when you look at bond markets or stock markets they are future oriented. And so, if the market, when we had this debate in Congress, if the market perceives that we’re going to get our deficit in spending under control, well then it’s just as easy for the bond market to shoot up and the long-term bond market to go up.
However, if we focus on the crisis, the immediate crisis and just kind of give away all the spending programs and not really cope with the deficit, the bond market can go down because it says look, these guys aren’t serious about the future.
LAMB: In 1995 our debt was 5.5 trillion and today it’s 14.3 and that’s probably higher than that. Can you how far can we go with this debt?
WILLIAMS: I think I think there is a limit. I think one of the one of the things that has happened to serve us very well is that the our country has been maybe the most stable country in the world and people are willing to buy our debt. That is, the Chinese and the Japanese and other people, they’re willing to pick up these treasury instruments.
Let me put on the screen so you can see it the exact numbers as of the end of December. There’s mainland China at 1.1 trillion, own 23 percent of our foreign debt. Japan’s up 1 trillion. United Kingdom 415 million. Oil exporters 234 billion. All this is trillion or billion. And Brazil, 207 billion.
What do you see there?
WILLIAMS: Well, if they weren’t buying our debt if they weren’t we would be in deep we’d be in deep trouble.
LAMB: Why are they buying it?
WILLIAMS: Well, because where else can they put their money? That is, United States so far, has been a fairly safe place for people to put their money and so they’re not going to buy bonds from Greece or Portugal or Spain or England or many of the many other countries that have relatively unstable economies and relatively and or politically unstable.
LAMB: Well, from what you know about economics, though, how far can this go?
WILLIAMS: Well, there’s a limit. There’s limit. And you know, what a lot of people don’t realize is that our country can become just like Greece. I mean, that and if you look at the numbers the per capita debt in the United States right now is around $44, $45 million for each American. And Greece, it’s somewhere around $42 million.
And so, I think that as we spend as we as government gets large and larger we’re going to be less able to take care of our debt. And what’s going to happen is that the government’s just going to repudiate the debt. There’s no way in the world that we’re going to be able to pay $14, $15, $16 trillion in debt. We’re going to repudiate it and one way that nations typically repudiate debt is by inflating the currency.
LAMB: When you’re teaching, how often do you see your students change their attitude about anything from the beginning of the course to the end?
WILLIAMS: Well, actually, the kind of conversations that we’re having now or the subjects of my syndicated columns, they never appear in my classroom.
LAMB: Why not?
WILLIAMS: Well, because I think that I think that it’s dishonest academically dishonest for a professor to use his classroom to proselytize students. And that, matter of fact, I tell the students the first day of class, that this is an economics course and we’re going to talk about positive economics, not my values and not your values because I think that giving students my values is academically dishonest.
Now, however, I think that students will come to share my values. All they need to do is know how think rigorously. And if they know how to think rigorously, they’re going to share the same values that I have.
LAMB: Now, the man that you often pinch hit for, Rush Limbaugh, doesn’t think much of academia.
WILLIAMS: And I don’t blame him.
WILLIAMS: Because you know, a life of you know, academics live a very, very charmed life. They don’t they’re under-worked and over-paid for the most part.
LAMB: But yourself.
WILLIAMS: And that includes me as well. That is but I think I do a fairly good job.
And then on top of it, most of my money for a number of years has come from the Olin Foundation as opposed to the taxpayers. But I think that academics leave a lot to be desired. That is, they have a vision of the world that they think is superior to their fellow man and they think that one of their jobs is to be able to use government to impose that vision on others.
And then if you ask the question people say ”Well, gee, well academics are smart or this politician is smart. He’s smarter than that one.” Being smart does not carry a lot of weight with me because I think that the world has been messed up by smart people.
Dumb people have not messed up anything in this world that I can think of. It’s been smart people.
LAMB: You speak about organ donorship. This is from let’s see, 1999, the Independent Institute at Oakland, California.
WILLIAMS: I believe people have the right to sell their organs. I believe that people should have the right to bequeath their organs to their heirs. Matter of fact, my doctor some years ago, he was trying to get me to stop smoking and so I told him, I said you know, what sense does it make to put pink lungs in the ground?
I said I said I told him that you know, when you die you should go out in a big bang. That’s the (INAUDIBLE) way. That is everything should be wrong with you because yes, and you kind of feel sorry for the guy who died with just one thing you know, a heart attack. Because his liver is good it means that he did not drink enough. Lungs are good, he did not smoke enough.
Now, I was telling my doctor, I said now, if I could sell my organs. If I could bequeath my organs, let’s say to my daughter I would have incentive to take better care of them.
LAMB: Why can’t we sell our organs?
WILLIAMS: I don’t know. That is a I think that it’s a violation of private property rights. That is, if my test of whether I own something is whether I can sell it. And now, if the Congress owned my organs, well then it makes sense. I don’t have the right to sell them because they belong to somebody else.
But if I own my organs I think I have the right to sell them. And I believe that having a market for organs would be it would be very, very good for people who need it. That is, there are people there are huge lists of people on the organ transplant list that are not being served because people cannot sell their organs.
LAMB: But you can give them away.
WILLIAMS: You can give them away but there’s I can I can just imagine. Here I am laying in the hospital dying and the doctor asks my daughter well, can we have his organs? Can we have his liver? And she might be crying and very upset and saying I want my daddy to be buried just like he came in this world with everything that belongs to him. But if the doctor said well, we’ll give you $100,000 for his liver, she’ll say yes, you can have the liver and you can have the eyes, whatever you want. You know?
It would it would create incentive for people to give their organs or take care of their organs as well.
LAMB: Where is your daughter today?
WILLIAMS: She is I don’t think I want to talk about it on the show but she’s doing very well. She’s a she’s a teacher and she’s taking graduate courses.
LAMB: How old is she?
WILLIAMS: She is 37. My wife and I, we had children late. I don’t look like it but I’ve been you know, I’ve been alive 1/3 of the time our country has been in existence. But I hold it very well. But we my wife who is now deceased, we were married 14 years before my daughter’s born.
LAMB: When did your wife die?
WILLIAMS: She died in 2007.
LAMB: What was she like?
WILLIAMS: Oh, she was a she was a charming lady. She was the she was a person that civilized me. I was not I was not as nice a person before I met her.
LAMB: Where did you meet her?
WILLIAMS: I met her in Philadelphia when I was driving a taxi. And it turned out that a bunch of drivers and their girlfriends used to get together after work, after our shift was over and I met her on one of the times when we when the guys got together.
LAMB: Why do you feel you are less civilized back when you were driving that taxi?
WILLIAMS: Well, imagine for one when we first got married we went to move to Los Angeles and my wife is very, very pop she is very, very popular lady. Good looking lady as well. And so we used to get invited to parties. And we used to come home after the party and she’d say to me while we were in bed, she’d say did you have to say that to a person? Or do you always have to prove that you’re smarter than other people and other things like that.
You know, civilizing you know, and so I got a lot of lessons from here. And then on top of it she was a great partner. She shared a vision. We both grew up poor in the in north Philadelphia and we both shared a vision that we just wanted much more and she cooperated.
LAMB: Are by the way, how long was the marriage?
WILLIAMS: Forty-eight years and we were together for a half century.
LAMB: Did you do you feel any different today now that you’re no longer poor in your mentally, I mean, did you is there are people better off if they have more money?
WILLIAMS: Oh, by all means, by all means. And I think that and my wife before she passed away, we were just kind of complimenting ourselves that we were sitting at a table and saying well gee, isn’t that really wonderful that when we can say we don’t need money anymore. We’re not super rich but we’re you know, for the first time in our lives, we, you know, we just had everything that we wanted and we were in no debt.
That’s one of the old fashioned things about us is that when we walked out of a later on in our years when we walked out of a car sales room, we owned the car. We paid off our houses. Not right in cash but we paid them off, you know, doubling up on mortgage and we just you know, I’m part of the era that believe that to be in debt was not really a great moral thing.
But today, you know, being in debt is no problem to people.
LAMB: By the way, how did the smoking go?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think I I think it’s this will be the fourth year without smoking.
LAMB: Did you have a hard time stopping?
WILLIAMS: I tried a number of times but it turns out that Chantix, I took Chantix and that worked out very well. It’s a it’s a blocker it blocks the part of your brain that makes you feel good from smoking.
LAMB: That’s the one that the ad that spends half its time telling you your arm might fall off, your eyes will go bad
WILLIAMS: Right. yes.
LAMB: Anyway, one more clip from the past. This is 1992.
WILLIAMS: Are cities supposed to be in the business building convention centers which are losing propositions no matter where they’re built.
Are they supposed are they supposed to be in the business of feeding homeless? People that I think are more accurately described as bums and parasites?
Are cities supposed to be in the business of urban renewal? Some people call it urban removal.
Are they supposed to be in the business of issuing condoms in high school?
Well, cities are doing all these kind of things, that, I don’t think they’re supposed to be doing, and as my grandmother used to say to me, she says well you know, if you if you doing something you not supposed to be doing you not going to be able to do those things you supposed to be doing.
WILLIAMS: Well, I think I think I’m still right. I mean, if you if you look at some of the things that cities have traditionally done, namely protect people, produce law and order, maybe provide public education to the extent that you thought cities ought to be involved in public education, well, those kind of things that cities were supposed to be doing are not being done very well.
You know, Washington D.C. is a classic example of rotten schools and unsafe streets and many other cities are in the same straits. And so, and you know, and again the kind of quoting my grandmother when you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be doing participating in drug programs, condoms and pregnancy and all these other things that cities are involved in doing. You can’t do what you’re supposed to be doing.
LAMB: What can you tell us about your grandmother?
WILLIAMS: Well, gosh, she was a wonderful lady. Matter of fact, she her mother and father were slaves and she used to talk about the kind of things they told her about slavery. And she grew up in Newport News, Virginia and she was very, very proud of me and one of the reasons she was proud of me in my as my youth goes, I accomplished a number of things. Matter of fact, I was the first person in our entire family to graduate from high school. And she just felt so very, very proud of that.
LAMB: And where did you come in contact with her the most? Now, which side was she on?
WILLIAMS: She was on my mother’s side. Yes.
LAMB: And where did she live?
WILLIAMS: She lived she lived in the housing project down the street from us in Richard Allen housing project in north Philadelphia. And one of the I was one of her favorites and sometimes my mother would force me out of the house with no breakfast and the reason why was I was supposed to get my breakfast but I was involved in teasing my sister and my mother just would not allow my sister in the house to be to be in the house alone and so I was forced to leave when she went to work.
She did days work and so I used to go down to my grandmother’s house and tell her that my mother didn’t give me any breakfast.
LAMB: Did she feed you?
WILLIAMS: Oh yes, she fed me royally. And then she fussed with my mother.
LAMB: You met we talked a bit about your daughter. Do you have other children?
WILLIAMS: No. Just one daughter yes.
I wanted my wife did not want any children because she’s a she’s the youngest of nine and I wanted about five. And so we settled with one.
LAMB: So, how long you going to teach?
WILLIAMS: Well, I’m going to teach until I can I’m going to teach as long as I can maintain my mental faculties.
LAMB: Have you missed anything?
WILLIAMS: In what sense?
LAMB: Things you wanted to do in your life besides write a column and write books and speak and be a professor and pinch hit for Rush Limbaugh on his radio show?
WILLIAMS: No. I don’t think I don’t think I missed anything. And as I used to tell my wife the day I die I want to have taught that morning. I love teaching and I don’t see myself retiring. I just and I think I’ve led the charmed life in the following ways that I am happy doing everything I do I look forward to doing what I’m doing.
And you know, like around August or late part of July I begin to get lonesome for the students and so I and looking forward to classes beginning.
LAMB: And year-round where do you live? George Mason’s here in our suburbs or where do you live most of the time?
WILLIAMS: Yes. My primary residence is in, in my opinion, far more patriotic port, part of our country namely Valley Forge.
LAMB: And why do you do that and commute?
WILLIAMS: Well, I was teaching at Temple University and I took a job at George Mason University and the thing about George Mason University is that they were a free market department and people leave me alone and I and I like my colleagues and actually we’ve developed since I’ve been there since 1980 a very, very distinguished department.
We have two Nobel Laureates on our faculty. One James Buchannan who came who won the Nobel Prize in 1986 and while I was chairman I hired our second one, Vernon Smith who won he was on our faculty for a year and-a-half before he won the Nobel Prize and I think it’s 2002 2001 2002. Yes.
LAMB: So, when’s the next time we can hear you for three hours on the Rush Limbaugh show?
WILLIAMS: I don’t know. Whenever they decide to give me a call. Most times I can make it but sometimes we can’t get our schedule together.
LAMB: Where do you do it when you do it?
WILLIAMS: I do it in I do it from New York. Even though I’ve done it a couple times out of Washington D.C. but I like doing it in New York because I have a staff at my disposal. They can help me and then I can actually see the engineer and being able to see the engineer and the call screener makes a difference.
LAMB: Doctor Walter Williams. We’re out of time. Thank you very much.
WILLIAMS: Well, thank you. Appreciate it.