Libertarian Walter Williams: Gov't Harms Black Americans

| by Reason Foundation

By Damon W. Root

In a wide-ranging interview published this weekend by The Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason L. Riley, the great libertarian economist Walter Williams explains how government intervention has harmed black Americans:

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."...

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.