Sunday, June 06, 2010

He is but a man

No columnist, no economist, no thinker, no substitute talk-show host in the world stands higher in my estimation than the great, the extraordinary Walter Williams.
Despicable as the Times Free Press is, I still look forward to Sundays because most Sundays, Dr. Williams' column appears, right beneath one by Thomas Sowell.
On 23 May, though, I was reminded of the pageantry of a victorious general leading his troops into Rome to be greeted and adored. He would be riding in a chauffeur-driven chariot pulled by gleaming white horses, and right behind him would be a slave murmuring into his ear (in the King James Latin), "Thou art but a man ... thou art but a man ..."
Just in case your senses have been dulled by too much reading of the TFP, the point was to keep the general's feet on the ground, to keep his head from swelling, to remind him he was a mortal, not a god.
Alas, Walter Williams is but a man. His 23 May column is titled "Immigration and liberty," but, double alas, he doesn't present his usual impervious argument in favor of liberty ... nor in favor of immigration.
He begins, "My sentiments on immigration are expressed by the welcoming words of poet Emma Lazarus' that grace the base of our Statue of Liberty: 'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.' Those sentiments are probably shared by most Americans and for sure by my libertarian fellow travelers, but their vision of immigration has some blind spots. This has become painfully obvious in the wake Arizona's law that cracks down on illegal immigration. ..."
Then he blots his copy: "There are close to 7 billion people on our planet. I'd like to know how the libertarians answer this question: Does each individual on the planet have a natural or God-given right to live in the U.S.?"
No one is asking such a silly question.
It is a straw man.
Worse, it deviates sadly from Dr. Williams' usual position that an individual is self-owned, that it is the individual that counts.
Such a question begins, instead, with the premise of the nation-state, with individuals being merely components thereof.
Even more worse, his last sentence begins, "Most importantly ..."
As I have told clients and students, "importantly" is nearly always wrong. Correct use of "importantly" might be in this example: "President Obama strutted around importantly."
Walter Williams remains one of the greatest minds on Earth, however he is but a man.


  1. Anonymous7:28 PM

    Yes, Walter Williams is the greatest, but I wonder if you don't need to reread his column. The last thing we need here is more illegal aliens.
    Ishibama Multipuntal
    Dalton, Ga.

  2. Well, what IS the libertarian position on illegal immigration? I would assume, since libertarians stand staunchly for the rule of law (or is that the conservatives?), they would oppose it. So where do they disagree with Dr. Williams?

  3. There is no ONE libertarian position, obviously, as witness that the Great Walter Williams and I disagree.
    There are three major issues on which libertarians disagree among ourselves: capital punishment, abortion, and immigration.
    I find it very easy to find the proper moral -- that is, libertarian -- position: Any act that does not initiate force, that does not violate the rights of another, should not be illegal.
    "Vices Are Not Crimes," wrote Lysander Spooner, and essentially any non-coercive act is not a crime, either.
    As to "the rule of law," laws should recognize the rights of individuals.
    But remember, every law is, at bottom, a gun. Even the most innocuous law, e.g., "Thou shalt not jaywalk," is enforced by a gun.
    All the "illegal immigrants" I know or even know of came here to work. In South Georgia, where Mexicans come to work on farms under a federal program, some local welfare bureaucrats go out to recruit: "Oh, but you have a right ... you need to sign up ..."
    Those bureaucrats are building their civil service empires and it is they, not the temporary immigrants, who are committing a sin.
    Oh, and those farmers who import workers? They plain cannot hire any local people, black or white, who will do the work.
    Another city has passed, or at least proposed, a local ordinance to force landlords to verify citizenship and to turn in (shades of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia!) people who don't show the correct papers.
    Even Ron Paul, sometime libertarian, said he wants employers to be fined or jailed for hiring "illegal aliens." Out of the other side of his mouth, he claims to support the Constitution.
    Well, either we support freedom, including property rights and rights of association, or we don't.
    I do.
    Thanks very much for reading and for asking.