Walter E. Williams

So many Americans graduate high school and college having learned what to think as opposed to acquiring the tools of critical, independent thinking. Likewise, they have learned little about our nation's history. As such, they fall prey to the rhetoric of political charlatans and quacks. Let's look at a couple of examples.

One of the arguments against international trade is that companies such as Nike and Gap Inc. exploit workers in Third World countries by paying them wages far lower than those that prevail in the U.S. and other developed nations. Are the workers being exploited? It all depends on how you answer the following question: If someone comes along and offers you an opportunity superior to any other that you have, is "exploitation" an appropriate term to describe that offer?

Put more concretely, if a U.S. company pays a Cambodian $3 a day, when his next best opportunity -- digging through trash at a nasty dump -- yields 75 cents a day, has that company made him worse off or better off? If your answer is "better off," how can "exploitation" be an appropriate term to describe the transaction?

You say, "It's exploitation because the worker should have been paid more." I think George Mason University should pay me more. Is it appropriate to use the term "exploitation" to describe my relationship with George Mason University?

Now let's turn to history. Dr. Condoleezza Rice said, in an October 2003 speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, "When the Founding Fathers said 'We the People,' they did not mean me. My ancestors were considered three-fifths of a person." Though not Dr. Rice's intention, this common misunderstanding of history is often used to discredit the great men who founded our nation -- without telling the whole story.

The Founding Fathers struggled over the issue of slavery. George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, Patrick Henry and others were highly critical of slavery, describing it as a " lamentable evil," "disease of ignorance," "oppressive dominion" and "an inconsistency not to be excused."

The delegates at the 1787 Philadelphia Constitutional Convention had to negotiate many contentious deal-breaking issues. Slavery was one of those issues. The Southern states made it clear that they wouldn't vote to ratify the Constitution if it abolished slavery or ended the slave trade. Delegates from slave states wanted slaves counted as whole persons for the purposes of determining representation in Congress. That would have given the South greater political power.

Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Walter Williams' column. Sign up today and receive daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.