The set of pipes behind these unpretentious words is extraordinary, truly a God-given talent. Ted Williams, just a few days ago, was living on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, his hair wild and his face weather-worn and sad. But he, like many homeless, held a little sign to his chest which, unless you were paying close attention, would go unnoticed. “I have a God-given voice. I am an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times. Please! Any help will be gratefully appreciated. Thank you and God bless you! Happy Holidays.” A local journalist in Columbus took notice, and the rest is legend. Ted Williams is the Cinderella story of 2011. But his transformation is not some conjuring of magic or a simple wish come true. It is the spellbinding interface of fast media, instant communication, and for-profit capitalism at work in the life of a man with a marketable talent.
As Americans followed Ted’s story we learned that he had not seen his mother who lived in Brooklyn for several years. He spoke openly about his fall from stability and employment into alcohol and drug abuse, alienation and, finally, homelessness. Then as the layers of Ted Williams’ personal story were peeled away, an astonishing chain of offers started pouring in from organizations and corporations wanting to capitalize on his golden voice. Within 24 hours after the initial video hit YouTube, Ted had an offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Radio and TV stations from around the country had jobs for him, and within 2 days he had signed his first contract with Kraft Foods, to be “the voice of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.”
This story is captivating for a number of reasons. First, it bespeaks the best in human nature and the powerful incentive that hitting “low bottom” can be for a man to change his life. More notably, this story is rife with wisdom and lessons about what makes America the best country on Earth.
Ted Williams’ voice has been described as “a booming baritone,” “sonorous,” “resonant,” and “full bodied.” Ted Williams the man is tentative, modest, humble, grateful, bright, and quite cognizant of the psychological pitfalls of instant celebrity. He is a nice guy who screwed up his life. But he is also unabashedly prayerful and religious. He acknowledges that “the Lord answered my prayers.” And he gives The Lord full credit as he says “Thank you Jesus,” for the miraculous and instant nature of his rescue from the streets. This is a story about faith, hope and second chances.
Ted was taken to New York and reunited with his elegant mother, Julia, within a matter of days. Julia, 90, who looks terrific, is also a very religious lady. And she continues to hold his feet to the fire. Some of the first words she said as they were reunited in the airport were, “Please don’t disappoint this time.” She has been through the hard years with her son and she knows his deficiencies, but the respect and love between them is undeniable. This is a story about love and family.
Ted’s story would not have occurred , however, if one key ingredient were not present in Columbus, Ohio, the United States of America. Capitalism. A for-profit news agency looking for a good human interest story spied Williams and his intriguing sign. YouTube, which is free to many users and yet makes a profit from advertising, was swamped with views from people curious about this homeless guy with the “golden voice.” The Cleveland Cavaliers, a for-profit basketball franchise from Ted’s home state, saw an opportunity to make money by taking this amazing man into their organization to be an announcer or guest commentator. The homegrown appeal of a local sports team taking a guy off the streets and giving him an opportunity to use his marvelous vocalizations to enhance enthusiasm for the team and to draw in sales is obvious. Broadcast outfits from across the country recognized Ted’s talent, as well as the heartwarming charm of his story. They wanted Ted because he would increase their listener and viewer bases. Kraft Foods, a massive and diverse corporation, scooped him up because the warm timber of his voice fits their Macaroni and Cheese, the iconic comfort food. His story is comforting and warm and a tale about the goodness of people, to be shared by families around the dinner table. The golden voice and priceless story of Ted Williams is a gold mine of profitability for Capitalists. He is an asset and a money maker. Capitalism is the fairy-godmother in this Cinderella tale. This is a story about making money.
There are those in America today, many in high governmental office, who would revel in the death of capitalism. They are of the Progressive Left, and they deem the competitive paradigm of capitalism as unfair. Failure is a necessary component of competition and free-market enterprise, and the Left sees failure as some kind of oppressive strategy by those with means to crush those without means. So their socialist goals come from the equalization of outcome, which means no failure and no success. The society is stymied in mediocrity, no one makes a profit, no one prospers, there is no joy nor sorrow, but hey, no one fails. This absurd and inhuman system is what socialism always leads to. Nevertheless, it is capitalism and the desire for excellence that pulled Ted Williams from the streets and gave him a haircut, fresh duds, and a life-changing second chance. Government run economies lack the private wealth (not counting the riches of party ministers and high command) necessary to bring the Ted Williamses of the world out of the gutter and into a job where a marketable talent can make money for a lot of people. Nanny-state governments kill incentive and impoverish. Entitlement programs enervate and create learned helplessness. Government could never give Ted Williams access to prosperity. Socialism and big government naturally equalize outcome and bring everybody down.
Not surprisingly there are already articles about how the story of Ted Williams masks the bigger story of homelessness. There is no masking of the “human caused disaster” of homelessness. It is a fact of life in America today. The job killing policies of the past two administrations, EPA regulations, and cataclysmic mortgage and banking legislation are just a few of the activities of government that have resulted in families losing their homes. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness play a role in the lives of a high percentage of homeless people. Government has exacerbated the problem of homelessness and dependence. It is private charitable and religious agencies that most effectively serve the basic needs of the homeless, not bureaucratic administrators. So the Ted Williams story is also a story about the ability, not of the cumbersome and stifling government, but of the private sector to provide a homeless man a real chance for prosperity.
Julia Williams, in an interview on Today, repeated some of the sage advice she had offered to her son as he struggled with addiction and criminality. “Why don’t you let God into your life. Just put it in God’s hands.” Well God, the author of liberty, has entered Ted Williams’ life in a big way. Through a money and prosperity-making system of competitive free-market enterprise, this once-homeless guy has been redeemed. The door has been opened and the red carpet laid before him to use his incredible vocal abilities to make money for himself and his employers. But because God is also the author of moral agency and human will, Ted Williams can just as easily choose to squander his talents and golden opportunities and, thus, fail to compete. Cinderella Capitalism has no guarantee of a royal wedding and “happily ever after,” but it is the only system that lifts the poor, blesses the hard-working with prosperity, and gives a homeless guy with a golden voice a second chance at life.