Walter E. Williams
An American economist, commentator, and author of Liberty Versus the Tyranny of Socialism
Latest from Walter E. Williams
With all of the union strife in Wisconsin, Indiana and New Jersey, and indications of more to come, it might be time to shed a bit of light on unions as an economic unit.
First, let's get one important matter out of the way. I value freedom of association, and non-association, even in ways that are not always popular and often deemed despicable. I support a person's right to be a member or not be a member of a labor union. From my view, the only controversy regarding unions is what should they be permitted and not permitted to do.
According to the Department of Labor, most union members today work for state, local and federal government. Close to 40 percent of public employees are unionized. As such, they represent a powerful political force in elections. If you're a candidate for governor, mayor or city councilman, you surely want the votes and campaign contributions from public employee unions. In my view, that's no problem. The problem arises after you win office and sit down to bargain over the pay and working conditions with unions who voted for you.
It is truly disgusting for me to hear politicians, national and international talking heads and pseudo-academics praising the Middle East stirrings as democracy movements. We also hear democracy as the description of our own political system. Like the founders of our nation, I find democracy and majority rule a contemptible form of government.
You say, "Whoa, Williams, you really have to explain yourself this time!"
Why is it that Egyptians do well in the U.S. but not Egypt? We could make that same observation and pose that same question about Nigerians, Cambodians, Jamaicans and others of the underdeveloped world who migrate to the U.S. Until recently, we could make the same observation about Indians in India, and the Chinese citizens of the People's Republic of China, but not Chinese citizens of Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Let's look at Egypt. According to various reports, about 40 percent of Egypt's 80 million people live on or below the $2 per-day poverty line set by the World Bank. Unemployment is estimated to be twice the official rate pegged at 10 percent.
Much of Egypt's economic problems are directly related to government interference and control that have resulted in weak institutions vital to prosperity. Hernando De Soto, president of Peru's Institute for Liberty and Democracy (www.ild.org.pe), laid out much of Egypt's problem in his Wall Street Journal article (Feb. 3, 2011), "Egypt's Economic Apartheid." More than 90 percent of Egyptians hold their property without legal title.
Sam Kazman's "Drug Approvals and Deadly Delays" article in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (Winter 2010), tells a story about how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's policies have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. Let's look at how it happens.
During the FDA's drug approval process, it confronts the possibility of two errors. If the FDA approves a drug that turns out to have unanticipated, dangerous side effects, people will suffer. Similarly, if the FDA denies or delays the marketing of a perfectly safe and beneficial drug, people will also suffer. Both errors cause medical harm.
Kazman argues that from a political point of view, there's a huge difference between the errors. People who are injured by incorrectly approved drugs will know that they are victims of FDA mistakes. Their suffering makes headlines. FDA officials face unfavorable publicity and perhaps congressional hearings.
In my "Black Education Disaster" column (12/22/10), I presented National Assessment of Educational Progress test data that demonstrated that an average black high school graduate had a level of reading, writing and math proficiency of a white seventh- or eighth-grader. The public education establishment bears part of the responsibility for this disaster, but a greater portion is borne by black students and their parents, many of whom who are alien and hostile to the education process.
Let's look at the education environment in many schools and ask how conducive it is to the education process. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nationally during 2007-2008, more than 145,000 teachers were physically attacked. Six percent of big-city schools report verbal abuse of teachers and 18 percent report non-verbal disrespect for teachers.
An earlier NCES study found that 18 percent of the nation's schools accounted for 75 percent of the reported incidents of violence, and 6.6 percent accounted for 50 percent. So far as serious violence, murder and rapes, 1.9 percent of schools reported 50 percent of the incidents. The preponderance of school violence occurs in big-city schools attended by black students.
National debt is over $14 trillion, the federal budget deficit is $1.4 trillion and, depending on whose estimates are used, the unfunded liability or indebtedness of the federal government (mostly in the form of obligations for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and prescription drugs) is estimated to be between $60 and $100 trillion.
Those entitlements along with others account for nearly 60 percent of federal spending. They are what Congress calls mandatory or non-discretionary spending. Then there's discretionary spending, half of which is for national defense. Each year, non-discretionary spending consumes a higher and higher percent of the federal budget.
Some Americans have strong, sometimes unyielding preferences for Mac computers, while most others have similarly strong preferences for PCs and wouldn't be caught dead using a Mac. Some Americans love classical music and hate rock and roll. Others have opposite preferences, loving rock and roll and consider classical music as hoity-toity junk. Then there are those among us who love football and Western movies, and find golf and cooking shows to be less than manly. Despite these, and many other strong preferences, there's little or no conflict. When's the last time you heard of rock and roll lovers in conflict with classical music lovers, or Mac lovers in conflict with PC lovers, or football lovers in conflict with golf lovers? It seldom if ever happens. When there's market allocation of resources and peaceable, voluntary exchange, people have their preferences satisfied and are able to live in peace with one another.
Think what might be the case if it were a political decision of whether there'd be football or golf watched on TV, whether we used Macs or PCs and whether we listened to classical music or rock and roll. Everyone had to comply with the politically made decision or suffer the pain of fines or imprisonment. Football lovers would be lined up against golf lovers, Mac lovers against PC lovers and rock and rollers against classical music lovers. People who previously lived in peace with one another would now be in conflict.
Here's the House of Representatives new rule: "A bill or joint resolution may not be introduced unless the sponsor has submitted for printing in the Congressional Record a statement citing as specifically as practicable the power or powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact the bill or joint resolution." Unless a congressional bill or resolution meets this requirement, it cannot be introduced.
If the House of Representatives had the courage to follow through on this rule, their ability to spend and confer legislative favors would be virtually eliminated. Also, if the rule were to be applied to existing law, they'd wind up repealing at least two-thirds to three-quarters of congressional spending.
Harvard University Professor Stephan Thernstrom's recent essay, "Minorities in College—-Good News, But...," in Minding the Campus (11/4/10), a website sponsored by the New York-based Manhattan Institute, commented on the results of the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress test: The scores "mean that black students aged 17 do not read with any greater facility than whites who are four years younger and still in junior high. ... Exactly the same glaring gaps appear in NAEP's tests of basic mathematics skills."
Thernstrom asks, "If we put a randomly-selected group of 100 eighth-graders and another of 100 twelfth-graders in a typical college, would we expect the first group to perform as well as the second?" In other words, is it reasonable to expect a college freshman of any race with the equivalent of an eighth-grade education to compete successfully with those having a twelfth-grade education?
Dr. Thomas Sowell, in "Dismantling America," said in reference to President Obama, "That such an administration could be elected in the first place, headed by a man whose only qualifications to be president of the United States at a dangerous time in the history of the world were rhetoric, style and symbolism — and whose animus against the values and institutions of America had been demonstrated repeatedly over a period of decades beforehand — speaks volumes about the inadequacies of our educational system and the degeneration of our culture." Obama is by no means unique; his characteristics are shared by other Americans, but what is unique is that no other time in our history would such a person been elected president. That says a lot about the degeneration of our culture, values, thinking abilities and acceptance of what's no less than tyranny. As Sowell says, "Barack Obama is unlike any other President of the United States in having come from a background of decades of associations and alliances with people who resent this country and its people." In 2008, Americans voted for Obama's change. Let's look at some of it.
Obama's Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius threatened that there would be "zero tolerance" for "misinformation" in response to an insurance company executive who said that ObamaCare would create costs that force up health insurance premiums. That's not only an attack on our constitutionally guaranteed free speech rights but an official threat against people who express views damaging to the administration.
Immorality in government lies at the heart of our nation's problems. Deficits, debt and runaway government are merely symptoms. What's moral and immoral conduct can be complicated, but needlessly so. I keep things simple and you tell me where I go wrong.
My initial assumption is that we each own ourselves. I am my private property and you are yours. If we accept the notion that people own themselves, then it's easy to discover what forms of conduct are moral and immoral. Immoral acts are those that violate self-ownership. Murder, rape, assault and slavery are immoral because those acts violate private property. So is theft, broadly defined as taking the rightful property of one person and giving it to another.
If it is your belief that people do not belong to themselves, they are in whole or in part the property of the U.S. Congress, or people are owned by God, who has placed the U.S. Congress in charge of managing them, then all of my observations are simply nonsense.
How about this: The law of gravity is applicable to the behavior of falling objects on the U.S. mainland but not applicable on our Pacific Ocean territories Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands. You say, "Williams, that's lunacy! Laws are applicable everywhere; that's why they call it a law."
You're right, but does the same reasoning apply to the law of demand that holds: The higher the price of something, the less people will take of it; and the lower its price, the more people will take of it? The law of demand applies to wages, interest and rent because, after all, they are the prices of something.
Do federal, state and local governments have a right to intervene in our lives when it comes to choices affecting our health? Recently, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to forbid restaurants from giving gifts with meals that contain too much fat and sugar, a measure aimed at McDonald's Happy Meals. The reasoning of these tyrants is to prevent McDonald's from using toys to lure children into liking foods the board deems non-nutritious. Fortunately, San Francisco's mayor, Gavin Newsom, by no means a libertarian, has threatened to veto the measure saying, "Despite its good intentions, I cannot support this unwise and unprecedented governmental intrusion into parental responsibilities and private choices."
At the recent Group of 20 (G 20) meeting, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner called upon the largest industrialized economies to get their current account balance — whether a surplus or a deficit — below 4 percent of their gross domestic product by 2015. Four countries have current account surpluses exceeding 4 percent: Saudi Arabia (6.7 percent), Germany (6.1 percent), China (4.7 percent) and Russia (4.7 percent.) Countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia that are "structurally large exporters of raw materials" would be exempt from the 4 percent limit, so the pressure of the U.S. proposal falls mainly on China and Germany. Our annual trade deficit of $500 billion is less than 4 percent of our GDP.
Acting on behalf of various interest groups, politicians fret over trade deficits but is it something that ordinary Americans ought to worry about? What politicians and inept people in the news media, whose duty is to inform, never bring up is that in the international trade arena, there are two accounts. One is called the current account, which consists of goods and services exchanged between Americans and foreigners. That's the account where we have a large trade deficit. Americans buy more goods and services from foreigners than they buy from us.
Most people whom we elect to Congress are either ignorant of, have contempt for or are just plain stupid about the United States Constitution. You say: "Whoa, Williams, you're really out of line! You'd better explain." Let's look at it.
Rep. Phil Hare, D-Ill., responding to a question during a town hall meeting, said he's "not worried about the Constitution." That was in response to a question about the constitutionality of Obamacare. He told his constituents that the Constitution guaranteed each of us "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Of course, our Constitution guarantees no such thing. The expression "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is found in our Declaration of Independence.
The National Transportation Safety Board has again recommended that airlines require a separate seat for all children, regardless of age, eliminating the current practice of permitting children under the age of 2 to fly for free on the lap of a parent. Will mandating child restraint systems make air travel safer? The answer is probably yes but that's the visible.
Having to purchase an extra airplane ticket, some families will opt to drive to their destination instead. Thus, mandated CRS will force some families to switch to a less safe method of travel and some highway fatalities will represent the invisible victims of NTSB policy. By the way, if parents wanted a greater measure of safety for their infant, it's available to them right now. They can purchase a seat and seat restraint for their infant.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is charged with ensuring that drugs are safe and effective. Drugs must meet FDA approval before they can be marketed. FDA officials can make two kinds of errors. They can approve a drug that has unanticipated, dangerous side effects that might cause illness and death. Or, they can err by either not approving or causing huge delays in the marketing of a safe and effective drug. Statistically, these are known as the Type I and Type II errors.
FDA officials have a bias toward erring on the side of over-caution. If FDA officials err on the side of under-caution, approving an unsafe drug, they are attacked by the media, patient groups and investigated by Congress. Their victims, sick and dead people, are highly visible. If FDA officials err on the side of over caution, keeping a safe and effective drug off the market, who's to know? The victims are invisible.