Book Review: Race & Economics: How Much Can be Blamed on Discrimination? by Walter E. Williams

I was first motivated to buy this book by the blizzard of negative articles and news pieces about it when it was first published. I also realize that I am opening myself to charges that I am not competent to comment or even post a review of this book because I am white, as the picture on the About Me page clearly shows. I am going to review it anyway because I think the book was worth reading and worth talking about even if someone disagrees with its conclusions.

Williams makes several highly controversial points in this book about policies that have kept black people and other minorities from achieving success in America. One of the things I liked the most about the book was that Dr. Williams makes extensive use of citations throughout the book so that the reader can look at his sources for the assertions he makes if they want.   This is not a common practice in books that seek to make controversial points with a political aspect to them and I applaud Dr. Williams for doing it.

The book is organized into seven chapters that cover the history of the black economic situation in America through to analysis of why and what policies have caused that situation to worsen.   The first and second are are historical overviews of the economic condition of blacks throughout American history and the real effects of discrimination on black employment and economic achievement.   One particular passage in chapter two that struck me discussed the practice of slaves being able to hire themselves out and how this discomfited free whites – “In 1856, white builders in Smithfield, North Carolina, complained that they were being underbid by quasi-free blacks in the construction of new houses and boats, and criticized white contractors who pursued such policies.” (p.21)  I had read before that the practice of slaves being allowed sell their labor was condemned in the antebellum South but this is one of the few concrete examples I have ever seen in print, the other being in a book about slavery I purchased at the Tuskegee University Museum bookstore about slavery a few years ago.

the next chapter deals with minimum wage laws and how they are self defeating from the standpoint of actually achieving what they are supposed to.   More importantly, he makes the point that minimum wage laws are not just harmful to blacks but to everybody, blacks and other minorities just being hit harder by these laws.   He includes a detailed discussion of the exact manner in which such laws are discriminatory. This chapter alone is worth the cost of the book.

The fourth and fifth chapters deal with licensing and the ways in which licensing laws tend to be discriminatory by increasing the cost of entry to a trade and driving up the cost of services delivered by those trades.   He does not blast all regulation but instead points out how ridiculous the licensing laws fro some profession really are.   The most illuminating portion of this chapter is the discussion of the historical background for some licensing requirements.

Chapter six is a discussion of racial terminology and its use and misuse in print and language.   The final chapter is a summary and conclusion of the arguments in the rest of the book.   His conclusion is elegant in it’s simplicity.   It is unlikely t be taken up by policy makers because he essentially blasts most liberal policies of the last forty plus years as being the failures that they are.   The unwritten subtext is that liberal policy makers like matters just the way they are despite their rhetoric to the contrary.

This provocative book should be require reading in all race/ethnic studies classes in America and should also be on the reading list of anybody who wants to look for realistic solutions to income inequality in America, especially policymakers.   That is unlikely to happen though.   Dr. Williams has produced a well written, damning indictment of social policy going back to the days of the New Deal and I highly recommend this book as food for thought, if nothing else.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Race & Economics: How Much Can be Blamed on Discrimination? by Walter E. Williams”

  1. You might find Thomas Sowell’s book The Economics and Politics of Race: An International Perspective of interest as well. Sowell, like Williams, is an African American economist with a strong preference for market solutions over government regulation. In his book, Sowell examines the immigrant experience of Jews, Chinese, and other ethnic groups.

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