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PostMilton Friedman Quotes and Rebuttals (Tor Guimaraes, USA, 08/05/15 11:08 am)
I agree with Richard Hancock honoring Milton Friedman, who was "one of the most brilliant economists of the last century." However, even a brilliant man who makes some excellent points can go a bit too far, based on the historical evidence. Looking at the list of Friedman's 20 best quotes provided by Richard, I agree with most of them, but some need elaboration and/or have been proven at minimum partially wrong by the test of time.
20) "A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both." Equality and freedom most often go hand in hand. Income inequality today is destroying American middle class standard of living, threatening democracy. Corporate freedom produced the destructive financial crisis our nation is struggling to recover from. I often wonder what my old idol Milton Friedman would say about America today: ignore the obscene income inequality, cut taxes on everyone including the wealthy paying 15% income taxes on capital gains? Cut government regulations and allow the too-big-to-fail banks to get bigger? With just about every sector being dominated by fewer and fewer massive companies, how do we ensure free markets today?
16) "When everybody owns something, nobody owns it, and nobody has a direct interest in maintaining or improving its condition. That is why buildings in the Soviet Union--like public housing in the United States--look decrepit within a year or two of their construction..." Friedman is being a bit overzealous. This is true in general but there are many examples of impressive well-maintained Government buildings, projects, and programs.
15) "The great danger to the consumer is the monopoly--whether private or governmental. His most effective protection is free competition at home and free trade throughout the world. The consumer is protected from being exploited by one seller by the existence of another seller from whom he can buy and who is eager to sell to him. Alternative sources of supply protect the consumer far more effectively than all the Ralph Naders of the world." This seems just like Communism in reverse; it looks great on paper but very difficult to implement in the real world. No panaceas here. Unfortunately it will take regulations with bite and constant policing.
11) "I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it's possible." Me too, but the question is who will pay for the military, infrastructure, etc.?
10) "There is all the difference in the world, however, between two kinds of assistance through government that seem superficially similar: first, 90 percent of us agreeing to impose taxes on ourselves in order to help the bottom 10 percent, and second, 80 percent voting to impose taxes on the top 10 percent to help the bottom 10 percent--William Graham Sumner's famous example of B and C decided what D shall do for A. The first may be wise or unwise, an effective or ineffective way to help the disadvantaged--but it is consistent with belief in both equality of opportunity and liberty. The second seeks equality of outcome and is entirely antithetical to liberty." As discussed on 20), this sounds good but is many times wrong; equality and freedom most often go hand in hand.
8) "I want people to take thought about their condition and to recognize that the maintenance of a free society is a very difficult and complicated thing and it requires a self-denying ordinance of the most extreme kind. It requires a willingness to put up with temporary evils on the basis of the subtle and sophisticated understanding that if you step in to do something about them you not only may make them worse, you will spread your tentacles and get bad results elsewhere." This is very dangerous advice. Who is to decide where to draw the line on specific issues? What specifically should we accept hoping that it will go away versus extreme cases where we should stop something immediately by any means possible?
2) "If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there'd be a shortage of sand." Cute statement but what will replace the sand? The hanging gardens of Babylon?
1) "I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office." This statement seems quite smart but what should we do in practice? The bad guys remain in office for a long time while our nation has deteriorated over the last few decades.
JE comments: As I mentioned earlier (see John Heelan, 5 August), what exactly did Friedman mean by "equality"? He seemed to dismiss this as a Utopian ideal, as if he conflated equality with Socialist egalitarianism.