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Walter Williams
Walter E. Williams
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Presidential Nonsense


Last week, President Barack Obama, at a Capital Hilton fundraising event, told the crowd, "We can't go back to this brand of you're-on-your-own economics." Throughout my professional career as an economist, I've never come across the theory of "you're-on-your-own economics." I'm guessing what the president means by — and finds offensive in — "you're-on-your-own economics" is that it's a system in which people are held responsible for their actions, that they take risks and must live with the results, that people can't force others to pay for their mistakes, and that they can't live at the expense of other people.

President Obama's vision was shared by our Pilgrim Fathers of the Plymouth Colony in modern-day Massachusetts. They established a communist system. They all farmed together, and whatever they produced was put in a common storehouse. A certain amount of food was rationed to each person regardless of his contribution to the work. Many Pilgrims complained that they were too weak from hunger to do their share of the work. As deeply religious as the Pilgrims were, they took to stealing from one another. Gov. William Bradford, writing his history of the colony in "Of Plymouth Plantation," said, "So as it well appeared that famine must still ensue, the next year also if not some way prevented."

In 1623, after much debate, a new system was set up, in which every family was assigned a parcel of land, and whatever they produced belonged to the family. Gov. Bradford then observed, "The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression." After Gov. Bradford's establishment of what Obama calls "you're-on-your-own economics," harvests were so bountiful that Bradford is credited with establishing what we now call Thanksgiving.

There are several seemingly immutable, hard-wired characteristics about humans that socialists, liberals and progressives find difficult to deal with and would like to change.

People tend to work harder and produce more when they own what they produce. Property is better cared for when it is privately owned. People love to exchange, what Adam Smith called a "propensity to truck (and) barter." To suppress these characteristics requires brute force.

President Obama also told the Washington Hilton crowd that "we are not a country that was built on the idea of survival of the fittest." Obama is not by himself, but "survival of the fittest" is one of the greatest misunderstandings of Charles Darwin's pathbreaking work "On the Origin of Species." When Obama and most other people use the expression "survival of the fittest," they suggest that a bunch of people or animals are competing with one another and the strongest, smartest or cleverest survives. That's not what Darwin and evolutionary biologists have in mind. Instead, what they have in mind is that those who survive have characteristics that make them better-equipped to survive and hence reproduce themselves in a particular environment. They are not laying waste to their competitors.

Let's try a few survival of the fittest questions. Which companies do you think should survive and expand, those that can meet the changing wants of their customers in a least-cost fashion or those that cannot do so? If the means of communication become cheaper through fax machines, the Internet and telephones, should subsidies be expended to help the U.S. Postal Service survive? Years ago, typing was done on a mechanical typewriter; milk was delivered to doorsteps via horse and wagon; slide rules were used to make calculations. Should any of these products and practices have survived, or was it OK for natural selection to consign them to the dustbin of history?

Try cornering the president or his supporters, and ask them whether they believe government should ensure that the unfit survive and rather than "you're-on-your-own economics" there should be "you're-on-somebody-else economics."

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



9 Comments | Post Comment
Well said, Mr. Williams.
Comment: #1
Posted by: RaeMarie
Wed Jan 18, 2012 5:48 AM
Your assertion is illogical and nonsensical, your argument specious. Wall Street executives were very publicly not required to "pay for their mistakes." Your criticism of President Obama should be redirected towards those executives and their actions of questionable legality that led to the Great Recession. Your article is silly.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Dr. Charles A. McCaffrey
Wed Jan 18, 2012 11:03 AM
The above comment misses the point. Personal responsibility is the key to growth. Why work hard if someone will pay your bills for you i.e. 99 weeks of unemployment. Suppose I was offered a job earning the same rate of pay as unemployment, why would I take it. Without these benefits I would take the job every day and twice on Sundays. People need to pay for their mistakes. We should end the bailouts. Perhaps the banks knew they would get bailed out. If so would that not encourage extra risk. End the bailout culture permenantly.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Ethan Roninson
Wed Jan 18, 2012 11:58 AM
Walter Williams nails it again. It's all about incentives. Bank that get bailouts have few incentives to play it safe, as another reader has noted. When there's an industry on the fritz, we should look at the subsidies that government is providing. Chances are, they're the reason things aren't working well.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Joy Schwabach
Wed Jan 18, 2012 1:56 PM
You are an educated man but you are NOT intelligent. Have you ever heard the term "educated idiot"? You call people who care about their fellow man "socialists". Have you ever heard of "Love Thy Neighbor"? Most likely you are an atheist. Won't you be surprised when you stand before God and have to explain yourself. You will have alot of company. There are a whole lot of filthy greedy Republicans in our country who only care about themselves and how much money they can accumulate. Greed will destroy all you pigs.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Richard
Fri Jan 20, 2012 11:53 AM
You are a brilliant man! This is my first time at your site, and it won't be my last. I have heard you on Rush Limbaugh's show, and have always found you insightful and relevant in the topics you have discussed. Have you thought of running for President? You would have my vote!
Comment: #6
Posted by: Sharon Peterson
Fri Jan 20, 2012 2:11 PM
Richard, I just had to comment again. I am a public school teacher, a woman, a Evangelical Christian and a Republican. I give to many charities, as do my friends and family, and my church family. We reach out across our neighborhoods, and well past our own communities to support missions to foreign countries. I have been on three mission trips that I paid for myself, and brought clothing, medicine, and school supplies to needy people. I have helped build orphanages, schools, etc.
When I was in Ireland I saw exactly what Mr. Williams is saying in his article. The Irish travelers are a nomadic group of people that the government has provided free housing for. I also gave the children clothing and toys. But since they didn't work for it, they treated it like garbage. They have trashed these homes, and turned the yards into junk yards. You take away a person's dignity when all you give them are handouts. Instead we need to educate and enable them to be productive. This is what will end the cycle of poverty and violence in our country, NOT more government handouts.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Sharon Peterson
Fri Jan 20, 2012 2:23 PM
There is no free lunch, someone is paying for your lunch. People give to charity voluntairily, they pay taxes at gunpoint. Surely you must see the difference. Richard if you had a serious point to make, why bother with the ad-hominem attacks.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Ethan Roninson
Mon Jan 23, 2012 7:54 AM
Dr McCaffrey: Wall Street was enabled by the governmental agencies who were in charge of oversight; if they were greedy, it was with the collusion of the "regulators". Where the housing market went bananas is when the banks were encouraged to make loans that they did not have to keep and be responsible for. Too many times the government gets involved in something that isn't their job and that carries no financial accountability. I notice that when politicians say that "we should give workers this (or whatever)" what they are saying is that they are being generous with my money, not theirs. The original Old Testament welfare system was farmers leaving some crops unharvested so that poor people could come and gather them, putting forth some effort of their own.
Comment: #9
Posted by: partsmom
Mon Jan 23, 2012 4:50 PM
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