By Chet Yarbrough
All It Takes Is Guts (A Minority View)
By: Walter E. Williams
Narrated by Peter Kjenaas
Walter E. Williams (1936-2020, Economist, essayist, political pundit)
Walter E. Williams addresses the conflict between what he perceives as “reality” and “darkness” in essays on Libertarianism. Williams essays were written in the 1980s, but they resonate with Libertarians today.
The focus of Libertarians’ is on individual freedom and objection to any coercion by government to compel actions of an individual for the good of society. They generally endorse individual liberty and private property. They defend civil liberties like equal rights for all; some argue for decriminalization of drugs, and open borders. They oppose most military interventions.
To some, Williams is a hero of democratic, capitalist freedom. To others, Williams is a nihilist like Kurtz in “The Heart of Darkness” who implies there is little difference between most government representatives (“civilized” people in Kurtz’s world) and savages. Williams argues that government regulation distorts the American constitution’s explicit guarantee of freedom.
Williams consistently argues that any government tax collections promoting the general welfare of Americans is stealing from one American to give to another. He suggests individual liberty and defense are the only Constitutionally mandated requirements of American government. To Williams and many Libertarians, taxes should only be collected for those two fundamental purposes.
However, in 1937 the Supreme Court defined “the welfare clause” of the Constitution as a right of the federal government to legislate welfare for American citizens.
Benjamin N. Cardozo (1870- 1938, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Wrote 7-2 majority opinion on the welfare clause of the Constitution.)
Williams joins an elite cadre of educated Black Americans that have achieved success in America. Like avid abolitionist Frederick Douglas, fellow economist Thomas Sowell, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Williams is a convert to Libertarianism. They feel they have the right to their Libertarian arguments because of their achievement. They infer their success is available to anyone who exercises their right to freedom of choice.
Libertarian Americans believe American government should not legislate or promote equality based on race, ethnicity, or any measure of human difference. Government should only legislate or promote based on public defense and individual freedom.
Williams argues public education, food stamps, care for the homeless or disabled should not be paid by government because it denies individual freedom of choice and reinforces perpetual economic dependence. Williams’ argument is based on the belief that American economic prosperity and common good come from capitalists’ freedom to choose.
Libertarians argue for no government legislation that provides help to the unemployed, homeless, and indigent. They suggest legislation that supports such service should be abolished. Libertarians believe that “individual freedom of choice” made America the richest country in the world. Libertarians believe any infringement on individual rights diminishes America’s competitive spirit, innovation, and economic opportunity.
To a Libertarian, a rising economic tide raises all boats.
Williams implies the poor are poor because of their choices; not because of their genetic makeup, economic circumstance, or discrimination. Williams and other Libertarians argue that choices made by government to help others diminishes freedom and steals money from tax-paying citizens.
One must ask oneself, what would have happened to America without President Roosevelt’s government intervention in the depression? What would have happened without George Bush’s decision to bail out America in 2007? What would have happened without Barack Obama’s rescue of General Motors, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac in his first term in office? What would have happened if the federal government had responded more forcefully when the pandemic infected America?
What would have happened if President Trump had managed the beginning of Covid19 better?
Some are pleased by William’s argument; others are appalled. The “some” that are pleased are those who have overcome life’s challenges. The “some” that are appalled suggest genetic circumstance is a matter of luck and birth.
Drive for equality of opportunity and treatment is affected by genetics and how one is raised. Genetics, family love, and life’s challenges are affected by economic well-being, homelessness, education, and health that can be positively influenced by good government.
Overcoming adversity is the sine non quo of Williams’ argument. Williams aptly observes the waste that is inherit in America’s legislative system. Pork barrel negotiations between the Senate and House of Representatives create legislation that reminds one of blind men touching an elephant. Each describes a different image–a tree trunk, a hose, a feather duster; with none realizing it is an elephant.
Omnibus Congressional legislation regularly stretches to more than 1,000 pages which few elected representatives fully read or understand.
This is a part of a Libertarian’s objection to use of tax dollars for the common good. It often benefits the few rather than the many, and inevitably has unintended consequence.
One might agree with the legislative’ waste argument of a Libertarian, but legislation that serves the homeless, the hapless, the ill, and the hungry throws out valuable help when circumstances are beyond their control.
The Covid19 pandemic is an example of circumstances beyond individual human control.
America is the richest country in the world. Capitalist democracy is messy, but freedom is only part of America’s history of economic prosperity. We are free but freedom has always been qualified.
American legislators are humans trying to represent disparate interests. We are a nation of laws that have unintended consequence, but laws change as our system of checks and balances recognizes their failures.
Democracy is a constant work in progress; not a means to an end.
Every American who survives and prospers from American democracy deserves their success, but each has an obligation to help those who are failing. Democracy is too complicated for a singular person or company to provide for health, education, and welfare of a nation.
Williams essays leave out good government as an essential ingredient of success for any Democracy. Taxes are the obligation of every American to insure that success. There should be no homeless, uneducated, or hungry citizens in America, the richest nation in the world.