Walter E. Williams

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Earlier this month, the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, aka The Nation's Report Card, was released. It's not a pretty story. Only 37 percent of 12th-graders tested proficient or better in reading, and only 25 percent did so in math. Among black students, only 17 percent tested proficient or better in reading, and just 7 percent reached at least a proficient level in math.



When World War II ended, Washington, D.C.'s population was about 900,000; today it's about 700,000. In 1950, Baltimore's population was almost 950,000; today it's around 614,000. Detroit's 1950 population was close to 1.85 million; today it's down to 673,000. Camden, New Jersey's 1950 population was nearly 125,000; today it has fallen to 77,000. St. Louis' 1950 population was more than 856,000; today it's less than 309,000.



I don't mind saying that this column represents a grossly understated review of "Discrimination and Disparities," just published by my longtime friend and colleague Dr. Thomas Sowell. In less than 200 pages, Sowell lays waste to myth after myth not only in the United States but around the globe.



Here's a question for you: In 1950, would it have been possible for anyone to know all of the goods and services that we would have at our disposal 50 years later? For example, who would have thought that we'd have cellphones, Bluetooth technology, small powerful computers, LASIK and airplanes with 525-passenger seating capacity? This list could be extended to include thousands of goods and services that could not have been thought of in 1950. 



One of the unavoidable tragedies of youth is the temptation to think that what is seen today has always been. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in our responses to the recent Parkland, Florida, massacre. Part of the responses to those murders are calls to raise the age to purchase a gun and to have more thorough background checks -- in a word, to make gun purchases more difficult. That's a vision that sees easy gun availability as the problem; thus, the solution is to reduce that availability.



There are a couple of important economic lessons that the American people should learn. I'm going to title one "the seen and unseen" and the other "narrow well-defined large benefits versus widely dispersed small costs." These lessons are applicable to a wide range of government behavior, but let's look at just two examples.



Before we discuss violence with guns, I'd like to run a couple of questions by you. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day nearly 30 Americans die in motor vehicle crashes that involve drunk driving. What kind of restrictions should be placed on automobile ownership? Should there be federal background checks in order for people to obtain a driver's license or purchase a car?



A liberal-created failure that goes entirely ignored is the left's harmful agenda for society's most vulnerable people -- the mentally ill. Eastern State Hospital, built in 1773 in Williamsburg, Virginia, was the first public hospital in America for the care and treatment of the mentally ill. Many more followed. Much of the motivation to build more mental institutions was to provide a remedy for the maltreatment of mentally ill people in our prisons. 



A recent article in The Guardian dons the foreboding title "Robots will destroy our jobs -- and we're not ready for it." The article claims, "For every job created by robotic automation, several more will be eliminated entirely. ... This disruption will have a devastating impact on our workforce." 



Carter G. Woodson, noted scholar, historian and educator, created "Negro History Week" in 1926, which became Black History Month in 1976. Woodson chose February because it coincided with the birthdays of black abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.



Some people have called for a balanced budget amendment to our Constitution as a means of reining in a big-spending Congress. That's a misguided vision, for the simple reason that in any real economic sense, as opposed to an accounting sense, the federal budget is always balanced. The value of what we produced in 2017 -- our gross domestic product -- totaled about $19 trillion.



President Donald Trump reportedly asked why the U.S. is “having all these people from sh*thole countries come here.” I think he could have used better language, but it's a question that should be asked and answered. I have a few questions for my fellow Americans to consider. How many Norwegians have illegally entered our nation, committed crimes and burdened our prison and welfare systems? 



President Donald Trump said, "We are going to take a strong look at our country's libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts." The president was responding to statements made in Michael Wolff's new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.



Hillary Clinton blamed the Electoral College for her stunning defeat in the 2016 presidential election in her latest memoirs, "What Happened?" Some have claimed that the Electoral College is one of the most dangerous institutions in American politics. Why? They say the Electoral College system, as opposed to a simple majority vote, distorts the one-person, one-vote principle of democracy because electoral votes are not distributed according to population.



A frequent point I have made in past columns has been about the educational travesty happening on many college campuses. Some people have labeled my observations and concerns as trivial, unimportant and cherry-picking. While the spring semester awaits us, let's ask ourselves whether we'd like to see repeats of last year's antics.



We are a nation of 325 million people. We have a bit of control over the behavior of our 535 elected representatives in Congress, the president and the vice president. But there are seven unelected people who have life-and-death control over our economy and hence our lives -- the seven governors of the Federal Reserve Board. The Federal Reserve Board controls our money supply. Its governors are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate and serve 14-year staggered terms.



My recent columns have focused on the extremely poor educational outcomes for black students. There's enough blame for all involved to have their fair share. That includes students who are hostile and alien to the educational process and have derelict, uninterested home environments. After all, if there is not someone in the home to ensure that a youngster does his homework, has wholesome meals, gets eight to 10 hours of sleep and behaves in school, educational dollars won't produce much.



Before the question, how about a few statistics? The 20th century was mankind's most brutal century. Roughly 16 million people lost their lives during World War I; about 60 million died during World War II. Wars during the 20th century cost an estimated 71 million to 116 million lives. The number of war dead pales in comparison with the number of people who lost their lives at the hands of their own governments.



I'm approaching my 82nd birthday, and my daughter will occasionally suggest that modernity is perplexing to me because I'm from prehistoric times. As such, it points to one of the unavoidable problems of youth -- namely, the temptation to think that today's behavioral standards have always been. Let's look at a few of the differences between yesteryear and today.



Officials in Catalonia, Spain's richest and most highly industrialized region, whose capital is Barcelona, recently held a referendum in which there was a 92 percent vote in favor of independence from Spain. The Spanish authorities opposed the referendum and claimed that independence is illegal. Catalans are not the only Europeans seeking independence.