Walter E. WilliamsWalter E. Williams, (1936-2020) Columnist, Professor of Economics at George Mason University

Walter E. Williams Quote

“Communism and socialism is [sic] seductive. It promises us that people will contribute according to ability and receive according to needs. Everybody is equal. Everybody has a right to decent housing, decent food and affordable medical care. History should have taught us that when we hear people talk this stuff -- watch out!”

Walter E. WilliamsWalter E. Williams
~ Walter E. Williams

Ratings and Comments

E Archer, NYC

People are equal in their natural-born, inalienable rights. However, there is no right to be taken care of by anyone else. The government does not owe us health care or even education -- it is our own responsibility to study what we need to learn in order to take care of ourselves. If we need the aid of our fellows, it is up to the discretion of those whose services we may require -- and typically we have many choices. AND if we were to add up all that we pay in taxes and interest, we would find that it is more efficient to pay for our own needs than to expect the government to do so. The price of government benefits ultimately is our own freedom. Once we give up our personal responsibilities, we become dependents and 'wards of the State'.

Mark Duehmig, Annapolis, MD

We are a compassionate, caring nation, and we will always have some sort of safety net out for those who fall. But when the government wants to take away all "risk" so we are provided the basics of what we need, they take away our our ability to succeed and improve.

SK, Oklahoma City


Bill, Sarasota

Prof. Williams is one of the most articulate advocates of free-markets and individual liberty, cornerstones of libertarian philosophy. We need more spokesmen like him.

John-Douglas, Sarnia, Canada

A very astute observation - but very slack usage of the English language.I find it incredible that a professor, even of economics, is unable to distinguish between plural and singular tenses. His intro should be written .... "Communism and socialism ARE seductive. THEY PROMISE us that people will (etcetera) . . . " Hence the loss of one star - four instead of five.

Joel, Rochester, MI

Very true. The people of the U.S. don't seem to be paying attention to our politicians.

Lawrence, Cheyenne, WY

Sad but true that most people don't understand this.

Raymong Reed Hardy, Green Bay, Wisconsin

Our nation is founded on the notion that "All men and women are created equal." It is the duty of government to protect the people from attack and privation. This is not a "communist" or "socialist" idea, it is a democratic ideal. All Americans should have the right to a decent place to live, decent food, decent health care, protection from attack from without, and protection from mahem from within. If our brothers and sisters in Australia can do it, we can do it.

Mike, Norwalk
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Mike, Norwalk Raymong Reed Hardy, Green Bay, Wisconsin 6/8/20

Raymong, your comment was incomplete, it should read: "All men and women are created equal BEFORE THE LAW". Government's duty exists within a very limited fundamental legal premise in a “republican form of government” that is: nemo dat quod non haben = You can’t give what you don’t have: Such such legal absolute and ideal are antithetical to socialism (communism to fascism, etc.) and democracy.

A “right”, as concerns the being man is: tangible matter’s inherent and inalienable preeminent prerogative to act without restriction at / in each and every, any and all way(s) within/at organic justice, natural law/the law of nature, equity, life, liberty, property and happiness. A right, being completely outside man’s lawful, moral and ethical administrative authority, power and prowess elucidates through that separate and equal station within the powers of the earth which exists as an absolute at / by / within “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”. Rights are unique to the individual (emanating from the “being”, rights are NOT, nor can they be: social, collective, or dependent on others). Rights are Divinely endowed by nature’s Creator (lawfully / legally / morally outside corporeal man’s legislative, executive and judicial authority, power and prowess to adversely regulate, injuriously affect, limit or otherwise deleteriously act upon – only by despots through tyranny are rights deleteriously acted upon).

Your "should" list of rights do not exist by definition at law. Your "should" list only exists at a religions moral dogma.

Yndrd1984, Ames, IA

Raymong, you may like both democracy and socialism, but they are completely separate ideas.

Logan, Memphis, TN

Nowhere does it say that "All men and women are created equal". The Declaration of Indpenedence says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." If you actually read the words of the founding father's, you'll discover that the "rights" that they were talking about were derived from "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God". These "natural rights" were what government was supposed to protect, not create. It is these "rights" in which we were are all "created equal" by our "Creator", not in our financial station in life, education, or any other field. It is ignorant to say that the socialistic ideal of equality in substance was what the founding father's meant when writing the Declaration, when it was equality in the protection of "natural rights", given by a "Creator", that they obviously sought for.

David L Rosenthal

Decent housing? We only have the right to comply with the housing codes of the municipality in which we live, or to move out of that municipality. No one should have to make that choice, but that is what we have. Beyond certain considerations for safety and health, municipal codes should not be permitted to impose standards of housing type or style or size or whatever..... Everyone should have access to food and housing and medical care, dependent upon what they could afford with the fruits of their labor or luck. But if you have no money and no luck, you take what you can get. Now we should help the truly needy, but that does not give the truly needy the right to ask that they be provided with any more than the bare necessities...... On the other hand, my personal belief is that the affluent, a group in which I include myself, are doing a great deal to harm the earth (and I do not mean global warming). You can only take so much out of a system before it changes. And if all people were living the way the affluent now live, the effects would be disastrous...... So how do you regulate justly a system that can maintain equitable access, limits, and sustainability? You can't. Too many people are just not interested in the values that would make such a system possible, and every human system seems susceptible to the universal corruption in which we love to indulge. We are equal in our right to be afforded respect and protection of the law (even though the law is corrupt and partial, but that's another subject). In all else, we must work it out for ourselves or with our allies.

Logan, Memphis, TN

It's all about personal accountability. Should we have housing codes? Absolutely not. Such things are there for an apathetic people to gain some level of confidence in their laziness. If I am going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars buying a home, and I took care of my own responsibility and accountability, I would look up all records pertaining to the house and all things concerned, and then I'd either buy it or leave it. Giving the only entity that has the power of legal coercion the ability to provide for the populace, through the redistribution of wealth, is a dangerous and destructive road to follow.

Anonymous, Reston, VA US

Raymong has it right...

Joe, Rochester, MI

We are "compelled" to comply with housing codes, which vary greatly, under penalty of law. An auto is not a bare necessity, but those on welfare would say we owe them one. 2,400 sq ft is a mansion for a welfare family, but not even bare necessity for the affluent. The affluent are entitled to the fruits of their labor, yet you don't want them enjoying their fruit because they are destroying the planet? People are NOT "entitled" to a decent place to live, healthcare, food, etc., relying on others to provide them, but they may earn them for themselves. Protection from without is gov't responsibility, protection from within is your responsibility, which is why there is the Second Amendment.

Michael, Houston, TX

Hey Raymond and Reston... There is one question that I would ask you when you begin speaking of the "rights" of people to a place to live, a certain type car, etc: At whose expense do they have these rights? That is the dramatic difference between real rights and contrived "rights." Real rights take nothing away from someone else, and certainly do not violate someone else's rights. But your contrived rights require exactly that... BTW: who is it that would make the decision as to who has the right to the fruit of someone else's labor--YOU? Thought so. Watch out is right!

David L Rosenthal

Logan: You want to do away with housing codes that deal with sanitary systems? Or with the safe installation of electrical systems? What about the millions of people who live almost on top of each other, who have no expertise to be able to discover serious problems in the construction of housing (and the thousands of contractors and workrs who don't obviously have a strong ethical base)?

Logan, Memphis, TN

Personally Associated Risk. Absolutely, yes, do away with all licensing, housing codes, mandatory compliance to move in inalienable right (mandatory insurance), etc. The problem is this: It's taken over a hundred years for us to arrive at this place, and it will take just as long for us to go back to "original intent". No, we can't suddenly get rid of housing codes; however, yes, we can start moving towards a society that we don't need it. In a capitalistic society, quality is king -- The man who is well known for shotty work will find himself out of a job very quickly. Competition for the best quality at the best price will take over. The problem with creating a minimum standard is that the lazy will do just the bare minimum to pass the standard-- thus, creating shotty work. And, again, if I'm going to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an investment, I'm going to know who built the house, when it was built, and what "privatized" standards were applied and followed when it was built.

David L Rosenthal

Logan: That sounds almost as utopic as "from all according to their ability, to all according to their need." Theoretically, what you say sounds great, but in practice, there are many practices that do not harm just the anwary individual or family in any given house or housing unit, but which harm entire communities of residents or large groups living in the proximity of unacceptable work. Certain practices have to be overseen for the good of all, or otherwise it will not be a question of whether some harm might be done, but a question of when much harm will be done. I want my water sources protected; and residents prevented from installing electrical systems in whatever way they think might be appropriate, and later having to explain to Smoky the Bear that they "didn'y mean to burn down the neighborhood;" and other residents from disposing of waste wherever and however they wish. Certain codes are in place for good reasons.

Mike, Mount Holly, NC

I see your point Logan, but where a house is concerned I'm not sure. What if you have a reputable builder who suddenly develops a crack habit ;-) and starts taking shortcuts? You can't see inside the walls to see what wiring or plumbing or stud spacing he used. You can't dig up the footings to see haw well he laid the foundation. Then again with our current system of building inspectors, you have the potential for bribes and other graft. Anyway, as you said, this is the least of our problems. If we could get back to a Constitutional government in all ways except building codes, I'd be OK with that ;-).

Mike, Norwalk

The issue here spoken of is individual liberty vs the religious patron of communism's credo "contribute according to ability and receive according to needs". Order is derived from law (in the U.S. from Nature's God not from the mob's will) Government is to do nothing but protect my individual right(s). In part, that is why the County Recorder records deeds. As man progresses in knowledge of law, including the quality of construction standards, codes should be written and recorded by the government for the individuals consumption. Logan is correct; with inspections and the recording of such inspections, a future property owner can make an informed decision as to the purchase (personal responsibility) As to larger public works, it is the individual who's rights that reign supreme again. For example: A dam must be engineered to the highest standards known and then contracted out as such. The contractor will have to build the dam to the contracted specs. The individual down stream is protected from the public works. If an individual is harmed for faulty workmanship (not following the code or contract) he becomes personally liable. The law and order of government is maintained and communism is done away with.

Mike, Norwalk

If the individual house is not built to code, the market should show that it is inferior and the financial reprocutions, possible personal liability, and threat to reputation to the contractor should drive the price and sell, not government. Individuals should pick their doctors, lawyers, accountants, investments, etc. the same way.

David L. Rosenthal

And if you want to do away with all government services, and transfer all of the responsibility for providing those services to private hands, go for it. The quick you transfer everything to private hands, the sooner you will see that government isn't the only organization that knows how to screw up anything and everything. Low standards are not limited to government.

Logan, Memphis, TN

You're right, David, Low standards are not limited to government; however, since we are living in such a mixed society of socialism, fascism, and capitalism, we cannot apply purely capitalistic principles to our present situation. Be this as it may, and as it has been said, philanthropy is still better than government, because philanthropy generally knows when to stop when something doesn't work or goes bad. If I'm spending my own money to do something, I'm much more cautious to see things work than if I were spending someone else's money. Government standards create an absolute minimum standard that absolutely everyone can get away with; free enterprise and privatization of an industry's standard cannot live upon a minimum standard, unless corporations get together and create a scam against the entire people; this, however, can be protected against in a people's Republic, while avoiding all aspects of socialism and communism. Can corporations do as much harm as Government? Yes and No. It can only do as much harm as government when (1) the government promotes the corporation's encroachment upon the little man's ability to provide for himself (as with Wal-Mart), or (2) the government is incompetent, and through either purposeful or ignorant neglect, fails to protect the individual's ability to provide for himself and be protected from the intimidation of the big corporation. The main difference between the big-bully corporation and the big-bully government is that the big-bully government does not have the legal ability to use coercion. So long as government does what it was originally intended to do (protect the individual from all encroachments upon his absolute liberty), there should be no threat from big-business.

Anon., USA
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Anon., USA    12/8/06

Gracious...I leave for a few days and someone runs a trememdous thread. My hat is off to all participants. Now...a few words....and lets be real. First, if you want to see low standards, go to any government buiilding or operation. If you want to see inefficiency, just compare Fedex to the Post Office. Anyone who compares universal healthcare to our healthcare system and choses the former, when they are sick, is simply an idiot. The simple fact is that the government is probably the worst way to accomplish most everything except, shock shock, national security, our Founding Fathers designed it. That is the very nature of government. There are great, effective, and efficient private solutions for most government programs. Their only draw back of course, is that they require particupation rather than a handout, and do not give power to someone over someone else. Does that mean free enterprise is perfect? Of course not-- Should it be monitored for illegal activity? Of course. But if you fear corruption, stay away from the government. If you want innovation and a rise in the standard of living...try the free enterprise system. Its not perfect. But, it has a really great record of success everywhere its tried to recommend it.

Richard, France

what history has to tell us, is when people talk about this stuff, he (the people) should watch out for those whose interests are to keep stealing these stuff from him ! Honestly ! Who is selfish and/or stupid enough to think that right for a place to live, right for decent food, and health is some kind of danger to humanity. Those who keep stealing from the people these things to protect their own individual privileges are the one we should watch out from ... wake up people, the right to reach happyness doesn't necessarely means the right to prevent others to have the same goal, just because being rich feels much better if you are a few to be ...

  • Reply
    Anonymous    3/12/09

    I don't think the idea of socialism is evil in itself. The main problem with it is that it corrupts too easily.

    Anonymous, Estes Park, Colorado

    In America greedy interests have successfully legalized situations where to have things like health care it is legal to bankrupt people. The special interest bought legislature has made it legal for unfair pricing and charging to so dominate and drive the costs up that bankruptcy for a real 'need' is possible and too often probable. In theory Williams words and many of your supporting arguments are right on the mark, but in practice in todays (corrupted, greedy) USA, there is a need for fairness in availability of health care and costs that only the government is able (and currently willing) to provide for the masses. Providing that vavailability and fairness does not reduce the USA automatically to socialism as so many of the beneficiaries of the current greedy, corrupt system want to espouse.

    Howard, Bangkok

    Rayong, All men are created equal In the SIGHT OF GOD, not equal to have the same possessions as all others. We have no right to decent housing, this is your responsibility, not for others to ensure for yourself. I have the right to my life, my liberty, and property. for without property, I am no more than a feudal serf on the land and cannot have true liberty. Unfortunately, there are no more property owners in the US. If you don't think so, try not paying the rent our government calls property tax. Then see who really owns the land. The government will quickly find a new tenant. I suggest you read in Frederic Bastiat’s THE LAW and learn the difference between equal plunder under the law and equal protection under the law. By the way, have you heard that Democracy is 2 wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner? 

    Mike, Norwalk

    In the past, I've had much to do with construction. The more controlling the government (such as is consistent in socialism = communism / fascism / etc., the lower the quality. The more unions, codes and licensing are brutally enforced as the norm, the norm screams "contribute according to ability and receive according to needs." (I was union trained but, the unions are not the same as they were 40 or 50 years ago) Las Vegas Nevada and Dallas Texas are great examples. In Las Vegas where licenses, codes, and union cards are almost checked hourly (tongue in cheek exaggeration) they have the poorest quality of construction I've witnessed in the US (60 miles from Harry Reid's home, what would one expect ) Most everything is built to minimum code standards, because that is what is enforced (the pay is equal, no matter if you do the best or required and enforced minimum). In Dallas Texas where there is no contractor's license or union required and codes are checked based on loan payments, they have some of the highest quality construction in the US. Its funny (not haha) how the medical field, insurance, food quality, etc. all work the same.

    J Carlton, Calgary

    History tells shows us quite plainly that Socialism / Communism do not work. Freedom, Liberty and a desire to achieve excellence are what made America great. But with the onslaught of me me me gimme gimme pathetic do nothings voting for freebies...America is on its way out as a great nation. It will soon be joining the rest of the third world.

    Waffler, Smith

    Is the opposite also true, that is should we rejoice when fewer and fewer people have decent housing, affordable health care

    Waffler, Smith

    J you seem to contradict yourself. At one stroke of the pen you bewail "socialism/communism" which is generally considered to be an other directed philosophy your equality and all of that stuff, then you bewail the "me" philosophy which is more related to "capitalism". It would appear that like neither he "me" approach of capitalism or the "use" approach of "socialism".

    cal, lewisville, tx

    Walter Williams is a self made man and one of my favorite Libertarians.

    Anonymous, Reston, VA, US

    Equality is the watch words of our nation's very creation. Basic compassion for our fellow humans has been taught as a religious value for many thousands of years now. Neither takes away the ability of those with added drive from improving their lot. Neither diminish us. And neither are the defining qualities of either communism or socialism. Fear more of fascism, hatred and corporate socialism than equality and compassion which provides for the basic human needs of every human being.

    jim k, Austin

    Raymong, perhaps you would be happier in Cuba, or maybe in North Korea were people are all equal, as in equally poor and enslaved. Except for the rulers who live in luxury. Naturally I'd be dissapointed if a lefty like Anonymous did not agree with you.

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    Anon    3/29/10

    "If you see a man approaching you with the obvious intent of doing you good, you should run for your life." -- Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

    J Carlton, Calgary

    Waffler, you don't seem to understand that an environment of free enterprise is conducive to contributing to the economy, as opposed to the system of theft you openly advocate. When I get up in the morning to produce something I keep other people employed directly and indirectly. So, I don't contradict myself at all. Socialism is based on selfishness by those too lazy to contribute, who feel the rest of us owe them something. We Don't.

    E Archer, NYC

    What the statist-collectivists ignore is that 'housing' and 'health care' are statist creations. When the costs of housing and health care are bloated out of reach by a funny money system in which money is created by loaning it at interest (!!), the common man loses one more check against economic enslavement. The only way Social Security and National Health Care could EVER be passed is with a money system in which the government can sell bonds that nobody will buy to the Federal Reserve (and the Fed just 'prints up' the money that the government 'borrows' at interest). The inevitable problem then becomes inflation which makes the prices of everything rise, and also those who are able to 'borrow' money that the bank merely created out of nothing can simply keep prices high, and thus the game is fixed by those that run it. The Amish can build a complete house in a week -- in our fiat-statist society, it can take 25 years before someone can own their house and still be required to pay annual rent (taxes) on it forever. Often the taxes alone are more than what renting the property would be. Same with health care being paid for by insurance -- it is because of insurance that health care is so expensive -- without it, physicians would not be able to charge so much. The profits behind pharmaceutical drugs is phenomenal -- and extremely risky compared to natural foods and medicines. A statist confuses privileges as rights, and uses the power of the state to take by force whatever it needs from the people. A statist is usually a proponent of an unarmed populace because he wants to steal from you without risk to himself. All in the name of the common good. This hypocrisy (and downright lies) have left millions dead and the rest enslaved in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Have we Americans learned anything? Frankly I would rather live in a cabin in the woods than live in government housing or even less, to check into a government hospital!

    takedeadaim, Kalamazoo, MI

    Community service, community development, community action, community volunteering, community safety, community organizing, community sanitation, community education, community relations -- all these things among a legion of others are universally accepted as 'good' in America. But 'communism,' a word sharing identical etymology and root meaning with 'community?' Oooh, bad, bad. Made obvious by the above preponderance of acceptable, 'patriotic' responses, Americans have been thoroughly trained to respond instantly, even violently to certain buzzwords. That they do it without thinking or consideration of obvious truths and alternatives is distressing. The flip side of Walter Williams' quote might mean that one day we'll all be forced by law to provide profit and capitalistic growth parameters for private corporations -- OH! Wait a minute....

    J Carlton, Calgary

    Kalamazoo..The part you missed was the word "voluntary". When accountable municipal organizations get together to create a better environment on a voluntary basis that's one thing...when an unaccountable government forces us into compliance you have authoritarianism...or communism if you prefer.

    Elisabeth, Astoria, NY

    The Government should make sure that the free enterprise environment of the country remains strong with true competition, so that everyone will have a chance to pursue in the Land of Opportunities.

    Waffler, Smith

    Kalamaazoo is really on to something. Egalitarianism is part of the American dream. Once we got rid of the King and noble then we all were conceptually equal. Some capitalists wish to re-establish a caste systme if they could. Corporations that corner the market with a group of investors and run and control communities are just as much a problem as big government. Watch the movie "Erin Brokovich" for a good lesson in corporate misdeeds, authoritarianism and srewing of the average man/woman.

    J Carlton, Calgary

    Waffler, that's an interesting hypothesis you have there, that a corporation could corner the market.That is something that has never been accomplished without government cooperation. A practice that flourishes today with the system that we have. So I have to ask, when and where in history and under a completely free enterprise system, free of government involvement, has a corporation ever cornered a market? It's never happened because it can't. It's never happened because we've never had a free enterprise system free of government.

    Waffler, Smith

    I think you are correct J and since it has never been it has never been desired. What is is what we want. Government exists all over the world, so it must be what is desired.

    warren, olathe

    As usual some have no concept of what equal rights are. To say that people have a right to equal stuff is to say that they have a right to take other peoples stuff. This obvious fact is way over the head of some.

    E Archer, NYC

    Socialism is corporate-government monopoly, so if you are against corporate rule, then stop socialism in its tracks. Obama has done plenty in his short term to shake down the corporate world to leave the last big monopolies standing having cornered the market with government guarantees. Mandatory health insurance is a prime example. Socialists think they are freeing themselves from the oppression of 'capitalist' corporations when in fact they but further private control and ownership of the public commonwealth. Socialists are easily duped, but then the word 'free' (not freedom) has always been the bait that hooks them.

    R. S. Hardy, MEMPHIS, TN 38128

    Socialism is not onl;y a creature of the federal government. What about the local socialism of states and cities? They enforce laws of death as much as the federal government does in wars. The differ- ence is we watch Washington while the states kill citizens too. Money is given to the few while the many suffer with weak schools, hospitals, etc. The poor can't climb all mountains by themselves. Sometime they need help just like millionaires do.

    jim k, Austin

    Walter is right on target .

    Ronw13, Logsden

    Building standards are based upon Natural laws of Physics. Not the fancy or slight of hand. Therefore we find that Structural integrity, and Moral integrity are joined as one. Hence a more Perfect Union is obtainable through sincerity and simple adherence to laws of nature. Socialism is a substandard product, quantity rather than Quality. but of course, that ship will sink, as that building will fall. The thing about climbing mountains, it take less and less gear to reach the top. !! Less is more. The United States of America was made great due to its Structural and Moral Integrity in the construction of its Republican Ship of State ! The effects of socialistic policy never live up to intentions.


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