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Walter E. Williams, an economist and writer who was one of the country’s leading Black conservative public intellectuals, known for his outspoken views that included opposition to the minimum wage and affirmative action programs in colleges, died Dec. 2 in Arlington, Va. He was 84.
The death was confirmed in a statement by George Mason University, where he had taught since 1980. According to university spokesman Michael Sandler, Dr. Williams taught a graduate course in microeconomics on GMU’s Arlington campus that ended at 10 p.m. on Dec. 1. Several hours later, police found him unresponsive in his car in a university parking lot. He reportedly had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Dr. Williams was a provocative scholar and writer who challenged orthodox ideas on economics, race relations and the role of government. He often held verbal sparring matches on television with such figures as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and former NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks. He published more than 10 books, was a syndicated newspaper columnist and was an occasional substitute host of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. He was considered something of a rock star in conservative and libertarian circles. Republican senators Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) tweeted their condolences.
Dr. Williams said he formed his views from several sources, ranging from his youth in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia to the free-market economic ideas of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek and the novels of Ayn Rand. “I’m not a member of any party — I’d call myself a Jeffersonian or Madisonian liberal,” Dr. Williams said in a 2011 interview with National Review.
He maintained that the role of government was to provide for the common defense, policing, road-building and little else — although he cited “typhoid eradication” as “clearly in the general welfare.” Dr. Williams, who taught at taxpayer-funded public universities throughout his career, considered taxation a form of stealing and believed that many of society’s problems were caused by too much government intervention, rather than too little.
“Two-thirds of the federal budget goes for things that could be considered legalized theft, and I might add, unconstitutional,” he told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in 1995. Social Security, government-provided health care and other safety-net programs were part of that “legalized theft.” In one of his first books, “The State Against Blacks” (1982), Dr. Williams wrote that much of the unemployment in Black communities was the result of two forms of government mismanagement: minimum-wage laws and deficient public schools. “The minimum wage, in effect, discriminates against young people, and particularly against minority-group youths,” he told U.S. News & World Report in 1980, “who share the additional burden, in many cases, of having gone to poor high schools that graduate them unprepared for work.”