How Walter Williams Helped Me Lose a Job
The passing of economist Walter Williams this week is a blow to anyone who cares about free markets and the negative effects of government intervention on human progress. Professor Williams articulated the role of markets, prices, and private property about as well as any economist outside of Ludwig von Mises or Murray Rothbard.
Like Mises and Rothbard, he was uncompromising in his views. Free markets, Professor Williams believed, provided the best way for humans—and especially people born on lower rungs of the economic ladder—to advance materially and in other ways, too, and he never passed on a chance to bring those views to the larger public. While he published in the “scholarly” journals such as American Economic Review, he is better known for his columns and books that dealt with race, discrimination, and economics.
My personal history with Walter Williams goes back to September 1982 at the meetings of the Mont Pelerin Society, which were held at the Intercontinental Hotel in what then was West Berlin. I had won the Olive W. Garvey Economic Essay Contest, entering at the encouragement of William H. Peterson, who became an early mentor for me in learning economics, and especially from the Austrian school.
Professor Williams, his wife, and his daughter (then age seven) attended the meetings, and I took the opportunity to meet him and pick his brain, so to speak. He was tall, imposing, uncompromising—and approachable. Our very first encounter was instructive of the man.
At the opening meeting, we heard speeches by F.A. Hayek and others, and I accepted my award (given by Arthur Shenfield). By the end of the meeting, we were tired (most of us had jet lag) and more than a bit tipsy from all the Rhine wine the waiters were pouring into our glasses. We also were anxiously awaiting the meal that came with the banquet and looked forward to eating whatever cuisine the Germans had prepared for us.
The long meeting mercifully ended, and as they announced that dinner would be served, someone pulled open the curtains on the side of the hall and there stood a long table full of food, with smiling men in chef’s hats standing by. If you wanted to eat, it was “Come and get it.” And we did, sort of.
There was no orderly line, just a crush of people grabbing plates and trying to get whatever they could from the dwindling food supply. Here were people whose academic lives were dedicated to presenting an orderly view of the universe engaged in pushing, shoving, and grabbing in hopes of getting a few morsels of whatever the German chefs had prepared before the platters were emptied. I don’
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