Liberal Suffering and Confusion

An Article from




by Walter E. Williams

The liberal world vision and reality are often at variance, for example, with equal pay for equal work. I’ve often watched “Lockup,” a show that features California supermax prisons, including Pelican Bay and Corcoran. Often, a recalcitrant prisoner must be extracted from his cell through brute force. I’ve never seen female guards remove a prisoner. If they are part of the process at all, it’s to videotape the extraction for legal purposes. It’s my bet that female guards receive the same salaries as male guards while not having to risk injury. Along the same lines, women on aircraft carriers earn as much as their male counterparts, but I have yet to see women hefting a hernia bar to attach a 500- or 1,000-pound bomb to a fighter jet wing. All of this suggests that liberals are for equal pay for unequal work. Or could it be sex discrimination whereby equally qualified women are denied the opportunity to extract beastly inmates from their cells and load heavy bombs on fighter planes?

Here’s another bit of liberal confusion. Liberals deny that raising labor cost through minimum wages reduces incentives to hire. But if you asked a liberal for advice on how to stop rich people from shirking their tax obligations, they’d say raise the penalty. Ask low-information Harvard University doctors what should be done to stem gun violence and they answer that government should institute “a new, substantial national tax on all firearms and ammunition.” Ask Illinois’ Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle how to reduce purchases of bullets and guns. She’d say levy a nickel tax on each bullet and a $25 tax on each gun. Liberals demonstrate they understand the law of demand — that raising the cost of something lessens the amount taken — but they deny that it applies to labor. That’s as ludicrous as suggesting that the law of gravity applies to everything in the universe except cute creatures, such as pandas and puppies.

Liberals love political correctness that conceals information. For example, how does one know whether the “chair” of a board of directors or the chair of a city council is a man or woman? This issue arose during my (1995-2001) chairmanship of George Mason University’s distinguished economics department. At a chairman’s meeting or gathering, I was referred to as department chair. I told the speaker that I am a chairman and that I have empirical evidence as proof. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well, but academics don’t like the terms chairwoman or chairperson, either, but puzzlingly, God forbid that people refer to their idol as Chair Mao instead of Chairman Mao.

How liberals identify black people must be confusing to whites. Having been around for 77 years, I have been through a number of names. Among the more polite ones are colored, Negro, Afro-American, black and, more recently, African-American. Among those names, African-American is probably the most unintelligent. Let’s look at it. To identify their races, suppose I told you that I had a European-American friend, a South America-American friend and a North America-American friend. You’d probably say, “Williams, that’s stupid. Europe, South America and North America are continents and home to different races, ethnicities and nationalities.” You might suggest that my friend is a German-American instead of European-American. My friend from Brazil is a Brazilian-American rather than a South America-American, and my friend from Canada is a Canadian-American instead of a North America-American. So wouldn’t the same apply to people whose heritage lies on the African continent? For example, instead of claiming that President Barack Obama is the first African-American president, he’s the first partially Kenyan-American president. Obama is lucky; he knows his national heritage. The closest thing to a national identity for most black Americans is some country along Africa’s Gold Coast. Adding to the confusion, what would you call a white American of Afrikaner or Egyptian descent? Is he an African-American?

Liberals suffer confusion and cognitive dissonance because the rest of us don’t help explain things to them.


Professor Walter E. Williams is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.


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4 Responses to Liberal Suffering and Confusion

  1. Pretty poor article that takes a handful of jobs and then expolates a lot from it. The number of jobs that men do and women can’t is very few. Even in these few jobs women don’t work there unless they are equally capable (and therefore get equal pay). For example the construction sector is 99% male. That 1% of women has to be just as strong as man in order to get a job. Likewise its strange that the article mentions the military as that is an incredibly male dominated institution. I doubt any women perform the heavy lifting jobs, but are rather concentrated in the less physical roles (after all a pilot does not personally load weapons onto a jet). So as women get equal pay when they perform the same role. For example liberals strongly believe that women and male teachers should get the same pay. You should stick to that topic instead of dressing up strawmen if you wish to truly criticise liberals.

    The issue with the minimum wage is that labour is not a commodity like any other. It is different and acts differently. You’re (well technically the authors but I’m presuming you agree with him) one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work and ignores the point that workers with extra wages spend this money thereby boosting businesses. There is a circular movement lacking in the other examples you gave.

    “Liberals love political correctness that conceals information.”
    What is with these broad brush generalisations? Why does the author presume all liberals are the same? He seems to take one personal anecdote and presume that is representative of everyone he disagrees with. Again this is a strawman liberal, not a real one.

    Finally the reasons black people are referred to as African-Americans is that many don’t know what country they originate from (a side effect of slavery). Hence it is not possible for most to be any more specific than African. Secondly, most African countries are colonial creations that have little common history or culture. It is hard to claim to be Congo-American or Guinean-American when those countries did not exist when their ancestors were forcibly removed. How any of this is a criticism of liberals is beyond me.

    I’ll ignore the patronising and insulting last sentence of the article.

  2. Hey Robert , it seems as if Williams touched a nerve there. I just want to point out that his columns are not meant to be great economic dissertations. It exemplifies economic explanations for the layperson.

    Now as for the term “African American”….it is the evolution of various terms to describe Negroes…and is a creation of American liberals. If I were to emigrate to the US, I would be classified as African-Amerigan because I am a dark-skinned Jamaican. Why? Because I am not sure of my ancestry? Why am I not Jamaican- or Caribbean-American? I tend to go with “BLACK”.

    On any application or govt form, is there a European- or Irish- or German- or Norwegian-American box to tick?….as far as I am aware there’s a box called “White/Caucasian”.

    What about new immigrants from the African continent to the US, who know their country of origin? They are also denied their ‘correct’ label. There is no box for Kenyan-, Nigerian- or Nambian-American. They’re all lumped together as African-American. Or as Williams points out in the case of a South African Afrikaaner or an Egyptian, what label can they use? Aren’t they Africans too? Similarly Asian-Americans are all lumped together…but Hispanic/Latino are different…It’s all so stupid actually if you think about it.

    Robert, I am going to make an assumption that you are Keynesian. We “Amateur” Austrio-Libertarian Economists do not see spending as the driver of the economy, but instead it is productivity and the exchange of goods and services. From your tone, you seem to be attributing to labour, some higher moral weight in the economic cycle-mix. Artificially paying higher wages because people “deserve” it, or because higher wages and spending drives an economy is the angle I think you are coming from. Up to now, no Keynesian/Liberal/Democrat/Socialist/Leftist or Progressive can tell me what a “FAIR” wage is. Is it a wage that a worker deserves, or is it a wage to live?

    Giving money to any income earner to stimulate and drive the economy before producing something of value is only going to lead to inflation and the extra money is useless. More productivity, makes things cheaper.

    I will argue that if two individuals are doing the same job….let’s say #1) a 16 year old male high-school dropout, with no rent, no kids and no skills and…. #2) a 35 year-old female high-school dropout and single-mother of 4, with US$1200 per month rent to pay, food and clothing expenses; that the 35-year deserves more pay. But remember they are doing the same job!!! Who deserves anything? Trying to attribute some moral standard to wages is dangerous and foolish. Shouldn’t they be paid instead at their productivity level???

    As I pointed out in an earlier reply to you on another blog post, the market was already correcting salary differences between men and women decades ago. Secondly, as Williams pointed out why are individuals paid equally for unequal work? That is the argument you should look to destroy, rather than saying he used trivial examples.

    • Alright Ireland is a relatively homogenous society so I don’t have much experience with ethnic questions. What terms we use (for example why are White people called Caucasians when people from the Caucus have brown skin?) are a bit irrelevant and to be honest, not something to be worked up with. By the way, it wasn’t liberals but the Black Power movement that started using the term African-American to reconnect with their roots.

      Yes I am a Keynesian and it should be obvious that labour is not a commodity like any other. People have emotions and require motivation with machinery does not. So to treat the two the same is ridiculous. You seem to be hearing an argument that I am not mentioning, I didn’t say anything about fair or living wages. A stimulus will not cause inflation in a depressed economy and productivity has risen hugely in America since the 70s yet wages are stagnant. Productivity alone is not the key.

      Workers are never nor can they ever be paid their marginal productivity.

      Actually the market was not equalising wages and even today there are pay differences between men and women. You must seperate your ideology from how the world actually operates.

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