URLs du Jour

2012-07-31

It's Milton Friedman's centenary, and the web is filled with related wisdom, and some foolishness. The Chicago Theological Seminary Building - The Milton Friedman Institute // Romancing the Stone

  • A must-read for Friedman fans: a personal essay from Kevin D. Williamson, who had the great good fortune to be assigned Free to Choose at Lubbock High School. He makes a pointed contrast between Ayn Rand and Friedman. Rand's literature is fueled by "resentment of the 'moochers' and 'loafers'"—not that there's anything wrong with that, but Friedman went another way:

    Free to Choose gave me the intellectual framework to understand what I already intuited about the welfare state, about the man from the government who says he is here to help. And that is what really should be remembered about Milton Friedman: He didn’t argue for capitalism in order to make the world safe for the Fortune 500, but to open up a world of possibilities for those who are most in need of them. The real subject of economics isn’t supply and demand, but people, and to love liberty is to love people and all that is best in them. And it is something that can only be done when we are free to choose.

    I have read the whole thing. Go, and do thou likewise.

  • Not enough? Check out Steven Hayward; ex-student Thomas Sowell; Bryan Caplan; Steven Moore; the NR Editors.

  • Being slightly older than Kevin Williamson, my come-to-Milton moment was based on something I read years earlier, which I've posted before, but (I think) bears repeating. From his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom:

    In a much quoted passage in his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." It is a striking sign of the temper of our times that the controversy about this passage centered on its origin and not on its content. Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. The paternalistic "what your country can do for you" implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man's belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, "what you can do for your country" implies that government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary. To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served. He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive.

    The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather "What can I and my compatriots do through government" to help us discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom? And he will accompany this question with another: How can we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect? Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp.

    To a mushy-headed kid in the early sixties, it was more than a little jarring to see someone with the utter gall to talk back to one of the Holy Quotations of Saint JFK. And some would say I've never recovered from the shock. I'll always remember Dr. Friedman with admiration and gratitude.

  • I also promised foolishness, and, via Professor Boudreaux Cafe Hayek, we have that in spades from Nicholas Wapshott, writing to soothe the lefty readers of the Washington Post. You see, Friedman actually believed there was a proper role for government; that is in contrast to "today's conservatives, who have adopted a near-nihilistic view of the state." Mitt Romney is explicitly derided for his "oversimplified" views.

    Gosh, says Professor Boudreaux, …

    Does Romney support unilateral free trade? Emphatically not. How about ending the war on drugs? No. Has Romney called for the elimination of government licensing requirements for professionals such as physicians and lawyers? No. Can we expect a President Romney to work to abolish farm subsidies, minimum-wage legislation, antitrust legislation, Social Security, and the Fed? Hardly. Would a Pres. Romney even as much as call for (never mind work for) abolishing the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs? Not on your life. But Milton Friedman explicitly endorsed each of the above (and others too numerous to mention) policies to radically reduce government’s reach and to weaken its grip

    Painting Mitt Romney—Mitt Romney!—as a fire-breathing enemy of the state is… well, it's foolish. What can one say, except: "Ha. I wish."

  • Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren's latest TV commercial in support of her US Senate candidacy wonders wistfully why the United States can't be more like a Communist dictatorship.

    “Why aren’t we rebuilding America?” Warren, a Democrat who is challenging Senator Scott Brown, says in the spot. “Our competitors are putting people to work, building a future. China invests 9 percent of its GDP in infrastructure America? We’re at just 2.4 percent.”

    As Orwell noted (about something else): "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool."

    Ira Stoll goes beyond mere ridicule to outline a number of problems with Prof Warren's proposal. For example:

    The first problem is mathematical. U.S. gross domestic product is about $15 trillion a year. Increasing infrastructure “investment” to the 9% Chinese level that Warren cites would mean an additional $1 trillion a year in government spending. That’s an immense spending increase. To put it in context, the entire federal government spent about $3.6 trillion in 2011, on revenues of about $2.3 trillion.

    But math is hard. Also, it's uncompassionate to worry about such details when the power to funnel vast wads of cash to one's supporters is at stake.


Last Modified 2012-09-21 10:21 AM EST