Book Review: Walter Williams – All It Takes Is Guts: A Minority View

Walter Williams – All It Takes Is Guts: A Minority View (Washington: Regnery, 1987)

A collection of Williams’ syndicated columns. He covers a variety of issues including race and gender, regulation, economic policy, and more. While much of the numbers and political personalities are dated at this point, the core debates are very much alive.

Many of the best columns come from William’s overlooked research on apartheid-era South Africa. He went on a research and speaking tour there in 1980. He found that apartheid, as most racism does, had a sharp anti-capitalist underpinning. This directly contradicts many Western activists’ views. If socialism means significant state ownership of the means of production, then South Africa had a socialist economy. Williams argued that “if socialists would convert to Christianity, they would find themselves quite comfortable in South Africa.”

State intervention was necessary to enforce apartheid because discrimination is bad for business. It denies shuts out large numbers of people from the economy for no good reason. A lot of South Africans would not follow apartheid-style rules voluntarily, including many people who were genuinely racist. The South African government overruled markets’ anti-racism with state-owned media, oil, and other industries.

Labor regulations such as minimum wages were enforced for openly racist reasons. Blacks generally were paid less than whites, so minimum wages essentially either shut Black workers out, or gave white workers first crack at any job. Minimum wage regulations in America were passed during the Progressive Era for the same reason. They continue to have similar effects on minority employment, even though this is no longer intended.

Williams also argued that well-meaning American efforts to disinvest from South Africa would backfire for two reasons. One, American investment in South Africa was a small share of total foreign investment there, and an even smaller share of total investment. Few people would notice. Two, the areas where Americans did invest tended to disproportionately involve Black workers, such as mining. American disinvestment would hurt Black workers there, while doing nothing to end apartheid. Fortunately, this became a moot point before too long. Racism remains a severe problem in South African culture, though, and likely will for generations to come.

From a historical perspective, it is interesting to see how far ahead of the curve Williams was during apartheid. He opposed racism the same as everyone else with a conscience. But he took the time to actually research the situation, travel to South Africa, learn about the situation on the ground, and then propose policies—economic and political liberalization and cultural engagement—that would actually do good, rather than just signal good intentions.

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