The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Happy Birthday, Milton Friedman

Perhaps the 20th century's greatest apostle of economic freedom was the late great economist and Nobel laureate, Milton Friedman (July 31, 1912 – November 16, 2006), whose hundredth birthday was yesterday. If you're unfamiliar with Friedman, read his books. His 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom, taught me a great deal and years later I read and enjoyed his Free to Choose, another excellent book.

Let me say at the outset that I am unabashedly in favor of a free market economy over any other economic system that has been tried by humanity. This preference for the free market is especially strong when compared to socialism in any of its forms. Communism, fascism (including Hitler's "national socialism"), the cleaned-up social democracy practiced in much of Western Europe -- they're all just socialism dressed up in other clothes. All eventually lead to either totalitarianism or collapse, or both. The free market, what Karl Marx cleverly but incorrectly called "capitalism", is the only economic system that has brought prosperity to the greatest number of people. The free market fails when government gets involved. For example, Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" should more properly be called a War on Prosperity since the poverty rate has only increased since the federal government began waging this war in such an ill-advised manner.

When I was in graduate school and forced to suffer through more than one tedious course in economics taught by dull, unthinking professors, it was the books and articles of Milton Friedman that helped me maintain my sanity. These professors of economics were always making remarkably stupid statements. For example, one once exclaimed to our class, "The nice thing about government spending and so-called national debt is that the government can always print more cash to pay its debts. Businesses can't do that, so the government is obviously the better economic engine." Another actually complained about the expression "free markets" stating that there was nothing very special about the so-called free market because markets were anything but free. "You've got to pay for all that stuff," he added somberly. (With thinking like this I suspect these men are probably holding down jobs in the current administration.) In my own perverse way, I used to enjoy asking seemingly innocent questions based on Friedman's thought, questions that forced the professor to try to defend what was logically indefensible. They never succeeded.

I discovered that yesterday was Friedman's 100th birthday when I stumbled across an article celebrating the fact by offering five of the famous economist's best known quotes. They're worth repeating here...
 "Concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it." 
"Governments never learn. Only people learn."

"Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned."

"I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, and for any reason, whenever it's possible."

"If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there'd be a shortage of sand."
These are good, but I have a few other favorites:
"The strongest argument for free enterprise is that it prevents anybody from having too much power."
"A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both."
"Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow man, The fundamental threat to freedom is power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority."
"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?"
Contemplating these truths today will help us understand better why our nation is facing its current crisis. At its core it is less an economic crisis than a crisis in freedom, and as history clearly tells us, freedom is a very rare commodity.

The following is a brief video of a Friedman appearance on the Phil Donahue Show in 1979. Donahue, in denouncing free market economics, tried to rename the "pursuit of happiness" by calling it greed. Friedman comes to the defense of free markets leaving Mr. Donahue almost speechless.

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