Milton Friedman – why he’s not a conservative but a liberal – and free markets

A thought provoking interview with economist Milton Friedman about government control and paternalism, free markets, and the singular power of free individuals pursuing their enlightened self interest to create and sustain prosperity. He states he is not against government, but against overweening government controls which lead to totalitarianism. Friedman is in favor of unleashing the power of individual creativity instead of allowing encroaching government control to make people essentially – into slaves or serfs. An interesting reminder today, as the government continues to expand in order to stimulate and sustain an economic recovery, that each day appears more distant.

Good food for thought, and things I’m thinking about these days!

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6 thoughts on “Milton Friedman – why he’s not a conservative but a liberal – and free markets

  1. spinoza1111 August 29, 2010 / 3:46 am

    Free to Choose was sponsored by several major corporations whereas I find it hard to believe that you “studied Marx” at university. Did you have to read Das Kapital? Vol. 1? 2? 3? Grundrisse? Economic and Political Manuscripts? Kolakowski’s (critical) Main Currents?

    I find it hard to believe you did. Instead, most of your teachers were probably nice people and partially for that reason, were liberal in outlook.

    I studied political philosophy at Princeton. Our texts were Nozick’s Anarchy State and Utopia and John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, not Marx. Nozick is a libertarian and Rawls a liberal.

    In what way has State Laissez-Faire made you “free to choose”? You can (to take just one example) “choose” to be deceived. The Coca Cola company recently marketed a line of drinks, essentially water and sugar and artificial coloring, labeled “vitamin water”. It was sued for deception. Its defense was that its prospective buyers would not be misled for they were smart enough to see through the deception.

    Libertarians indeed like to fantasize that they are no-nonsense practical men who unlike starry-eyed liberals are never deceived; but this always comes out after a scam has been explained to them. People, libertarians among them, never like to admit being fooled.

    The East German economy, in fact, produced a wide range of consumer goods including an inexpensive car and personal electronics. Those who’ve never used these products like to laugh about how inferior they were, but many of their actual users are quite nostalgic, not only for the products (there are Trabant fan clubs for the car) but also for the decent society that was East Germany.

    You’re not, in any significant way, freer to choose when for every consumer or employment choice, the economy dictates a narrow range of “practical” choices. That is, there are two distinct sets of choices: a wide set of legally permitted choices, most of which lead to life on the streets, and a very narrow set of practical choices.

    Most of the choices in the latter set lead to a life of Thoreau’s “quiet desperation”, working for a big company in which one of the jokes played on the ordinary employee is that his job is always in play, and he’s until retirement a candidate for that job.

    Interestingly, the only path to great wealth (entrepreneurship mixed with cheating others and criminality) starts, usually, in the former set of “impractical” choices, when it doesn’t start at inherited wealth and social position, including admission to the Ivy League. Many entrepreneurs who took advantage of the Friedman-sponsored return of laissez-faire, including Bill Gates and Fred (Federal Express) Smith came from moneyed families.

    Steve Wozniak, from an ordinary middle-class background, actually wanted a secure and ordinary job with Hewlett Packard at the time he and the other Steve (Jobs) were working on the Apple II. “The other Steve” had chosen the risk-taking path because of a self-assurance (“the Steve Jobs reality distortion field”) that today would be diagnosed as dysfunction and after HP turned down the chance to develop the Apple II, and Jobs was dysfunctionally but successfully able to borrow venture capital, Wozniak somewhat reluctantly got on board.

    For most middle class Americans like these, long term “success” is defined merely as survival, and it includes having to major in a technical subject out of fear of unemployment. For many today, it means service in the military in one of several lethal places merely to afford school.

    On the job, it means never criticising management, and in recent years, many employers even discourage employees from forming personal friendships with their colleagues, let alone sexual relationships, for in these begin union efforts.

    And if the ghost of Friedman gets its way, you’ll have cradle to grave minimum wage.

    • Freddy Miltman December 1, 2011 / 6:39 pm

      Progressives (collectivists) like to fantasize that the centralized regulatory and oversight agencies are capable of a priori discovering and avoiding fraud, deceits, and corruption. I, for one, believe in the individual’s ability to make the best decisions for him or herself, and for individuals to band together voluntarily to take care of what matters to them.

      • libertywolf December 8, 2011 / 9:55 am

        Absolutely Freddy! Also, giving individuals more responsibility appears to also help make them into more independent and responsible thinkers and doers. Rather than becoming dependent and needing of guidance from “elites” to take initiative.

  2. libertywolf August 29, 2010 / 6:09 am

    You have a very jaundiced view of reality, I must say — cynical and deeply confused as well. I mean, you lost me somewhere at the place where you started waxing nostalgic for the “decent society that was East Germany”. Although the part about Vitamin Water was a little strange too! It is true that one has to be a bit sophisticated these days to see through such a grand and terrible “deception” as “Vitamin Water”, but all I had to do was taste the stuff to realize I didn’t like it.

    I remember going to East Germany as a child, and we transferred from the modern train in West Germany, to the older “choo choo” train that was still being used in East Germany as soon as we crossed in. There were soldiers put onboard who guarded the train and the entire visit felt like a weird trip backwards into a gray and forbidding landscape of sentries and dreary buildings. The fashions were old, the people looked afraid and every thing was unremittingly bleak. I do believe that the fact that people were actually DYING to escape to the west by climbing over the wall, illustrates in and of itself just how terrible life was there. I know behind the wall, and in many Soviet satellite countries, people were studying Friedman by flashlight, afraid to be found reading his forbidden works, knowing that if only they could live in an economy that allowed the free exchange of goods and that encouraged entrepreneurial resolve and creativity, they could also have not only more material abundance, but less dependence on an intrusive state.

    This is old news by now, so regardless of whatever small achievements they may have had, rest assured these were all in spite of, and not because, the East Germans lived nearly as slaves under a totalitarian economy and government.

    I am not sure where you get all these crazy notions of Steve Jobs vs Wozniak, and calling Jobs dysfunctional. Well, if that is dysfunction, so be it, I’m writing this reply on a MacBook and I’ve never had a better little machine. These types of innovations are born and bred in free markets and certainly not in Soviet style slave states like East Germany.

    And, I am also not sure where you get this notion that “in recent years, many employers even discourage employees from forming personal friendships with their colleagues, let alone sexual relationships, for in these begin union efforts.” I’ve formed many friendships at work, and have never been discouraged. And, I’ve worked for startups and big corporations. Sexual relationships are often discouraged between supervisor and supervised certainly, but the rest of us are free to fraternize as we see fit. I have had girlfriends who were my co-workers although long ago, I realized this is not necessarily the best way to find a mate or relationship, as one has to work with the person if it does not work out! But, management had nothing to do with that.

    I agree that many successful people came from monied families, but certainly not all. I know many people who through diligence, intelligence and vision are doing very well for themselves and were not raised upper class or even middle class.

    As for Milton Friedman being for everyone only having minimum wage, I think you just underestimate the ability of capitalism to create wealth and in that creation, distribute it. But, again, your view is very cynical.

    I agree that life is tough, or it can be, but certainly, we have more opportunities because of free markets than we would under any state controlled system.

  3. Melissa Fowler-Isom May 14, 2012 / 8:26 pm

    It doesn’t make him a LIBERAL!! It makes him a LIBERTARIAN! Huge, gigantic difference. Calling Milton Friedman a LIBERAL makes my skin crawl. It’s just wrong!

    • libertywolf May 14, 2012 / 8:35 pm

      Get some itch cream Melissa! But thank you for your comment! I believe the term would be “classic liberal”. The term “liberal” in most current usage would more accurately translate to “progressive”. Classic liberals are free market and low tax, small government advocates and Friedman would most certainly fall into that category. Over the years, we’ve forgotten, at least here in the USA, the original meaning of liberal. The oft used term “neo-liberal” appears to refer back to this older and in my view, more accurate meaning. Economic (classic) liberals advocate free markets and while they also advocate the rule of law, they are not apt to advocate excessive government regulation or control of markets.

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