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Williams: How Times Have Changed

By Walter E. Williams

Having been born in 1936 has allowed me to witness both societal progress and retrogression. High on the list of things made better in our society are the great gains in civil liberties and economic opportunities, especially for racial minorities and women. People who are now deemed poor have a level of material wealth that would have been a pipe dream to yesteryear's poor. But despite the fact that today's Americans have achieved an unprecedented level of prosperity, we have become spiritually and morally impoverished compared with our ancestors.

Years ago, spending beyond one's means was considered a character defect. Today not only do people spend beyond their means but also there are companies that advertise on radio and TV to eliminate or reduce your credit card and mortgage debt. Students saddled with college loans have called for student loan forgiveness. Yesterday's Americans would have viewed it as morally corrupt and reprehensible to accumulate debt and then seek to avoid paying it. It's nothing less than theft. What's worse is there's little condemnation of it by the rest of us.

Earlier this year, as a result of a budget crunch, the Philadelphia School District had to lay off 91 school police officers. During the 1940s and '50s, I attended Philadelphia schools in poor neighborhoods. The only time we saw a policeman in school was during an assembly period when we had to listen to a boring lecture about safety. Because teacher assaults are tolerated -- 4,000 over the past five years in Philadelphia -- school police are needed. Prior to the '60s, few students would have thought of talking back to a teacher, and no one would have cursed, much less assaulted, a teacher.

I couldn't have been more than 8, 9 or 10 years old when one time, on the way home from school, my cousin and I were having a stone fight with some other youngsters. An elderly black lady walked up to my cousin and me and asked, "Does your mother know you're out here throwing stones?" We replied, "No, ma'am," praying that the matter rested there. Today an adult doing the same thing risks being cursed and possibly assaulted. Fearing retaliation, adults sit in silence as young people use vile language to one another on public conveyances, in school corridors and on the streets.

Yesteryear there was little tolerance for the kinds of crude behavior and language that are accepted today. To see a man sitting on a bus or trolley car while a woman is standing used to be unthinkable. Children didn't address adults by their first name. By the way, over the course of my nearly 45 years of teaching, on several occasions, students have addressed me by my first name. I have told them that I don't mind their addressing me by my first name but that my first name is Professor.

Much of what's accepted today would have been seen as bizarre and lowdown yesteryear. Out-of-wedlock childbirth was a disgrace and surely wouldn't have occasioned a baby shower. Popular TV shows such as "The Jerry Springer Show" and "Maury" feature guests who openly discuss despicable acts in their personal lives, often to the applause of the audience. Shame is going the way of the dinosaur.

You say, "Williams, you're just old-fashioned and out of touch with modern society." Maybe so, but I think that a society's first line of defense is not the law but customs, traditions and moral values. These behavioral norms -- transmitted by example, word of mouth, religious teachings, rules of etiquette and manners -- represent a body of wisdom distilled over the ages through experience and trial and error. They include important legal thou-shalt-nots -- such as shalt not murder, steal, lie or cheat -- but they also include all those civilities one might call ladylike or gentlemanly behavior. Police officers and courts can never replace these social restraints on personal conduct. At best, laws, police and the criminal justice system are a society's last desperate line of defense.

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Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

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8 Comments

  1. inluminatuoComment by inluminatuo
    August 1, 2012 @ 9:45 am

    Encouraging citizens to dishonestly spend beyond one’s means, knowing up front that the cost will be borne by those other honest members of society who are real adults, is just an extension of the Socialist dishonest Liberal Progressive plans to re-distribute wealth from OUR team of responsible producer winners to THEIR irresponsible team of social consuming losers.

    Personal and societal debt has become the new socialist weapon of choice to entrap the unsuspecting young to government servitude, lead by the mantra of the student loan or home ownership entitlement entrapment. They bait the trap with the allure of the dishonest and immoral right to all forms of immediate gratification, with the power of entitlement as their excuse for never having to pay the price for the pleasure received at the cost of other people’s pain. Debt is a form of enslavement in the future and enslavement of the minds and production capability of “THE PEOPLE” is what socialism is all about.

    The question is this,,,,How can you expect children to respect the rights, opinions and personal property of others when you raise them with values that allow the children who engage in such behavior, no ability to respect themselves once that behavior is engaged in??????,,,, where the children just become the personal property of the state to be put up as collateral in generational debt to fund more time and effort spent inside the Socialist Casino of gambled and manipulated resources of future speculation and socialist dice rolls that keep coming up snake eyes in more and more failed social experimentation which refutes the laws of nature and man. Those kinds of odds are never in the favor of the children who continue to lose and become losers, which is really the agenda of the socialists who now have the ability to manipulate those that they now own in debt. Yes, the Chicago mafia mentality of those currently in power is readily apparent once analyzed in the light of day. Don’t forget to pay your protection money for all that free food and housing or the government many come and break your kneecaps and withdraw the remedial medical care they have now taken control of. Is it not great to live the life of socialism????? NOT! My how times HAVE changed. I can just hear our founders and forefathers spinning away in their graves.

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  2. omakleinComment by omaklein
    August 1, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

    Reading things lie this give me hope. Why? Because it proves there are still some sane, principled people left.

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  3. Le SellersComment by Le Sellers
    August 1, 2012 @ 1:35 pm

    When I hear the phrase “pop(ular) culture”, I immediately think “Petri dish”.

    (For those who haven’t taken a biology course, a Petri dish is a small, flat plate with a cover in which strains of bacteria or other slimy, moldy “cultures” grow for study.)

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    • middlegroundComment by middleground
      August 1, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

      I believe our Korean POWs were the bacteria in that Petri Dish and that from their strengths and weaknesses Chairman Mao’s people developed the strategy of unleashing and supporting extremist environmentalism, an attack on domestic energy production by claiming it polluted as well as other strategies to weaken and divide this nation. Many of these strategies wouldn’t work against a less compassionate population or against one with wiser and more suspicious leadership, but against what we’ve heard from our leaders it is a brilliant and effective way to divide and trivialize our population.

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  4. cynicalobserverComment by cynicalobserver
    August 1, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

    Times have changed. I was raised on a farm in North Dakota from birth in 1925 to 1940 accepting dire poverty as a way of life.

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  5. vComment by v
    August 1, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

    Thank you Professor for very well stated facts!
    I hope we can actually get our country back on track!
    How do we instill real values in people that no longer have any???

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  6. wildfireComment by wildfire
    August 2, 2012 @ 11:27 am

    Watch the youtube clip below for a lovely example of how Ladies and Gentlemen use to behave. There are none left like them.

    Lucille Ball on “What’s My Line” 1954

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiUPVQAmWLI

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  7. iijadedComment by iijaded
    August 2, 2012 @ 10:19 pm

    Professor, you must also be a carpenter because you’ve hit the nail on the head of each item! Thank you.

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