YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 29, 2015

Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962)

lassiz_faireI recently read Friedman’s magnum opus for the first time, and was surprised to see how far current Republican, conservative and libertarian politics have conceded to the progressivism that many of them abhor as excessively statist and even communistic. The Wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Friedman) plays up Friedman’s divergence from Keynesian economics, which is true enough, but fails to note the novelty of his adherence to free market principles, given the domination of New Deal policies in postwar administrations, and in progressivism in general.

I have written before of the regression to medieval economics and culture, but now I must revise my old blogs, for Friedman’s big book made me realize that we have only partly emerged from the Late Middle Ages into modernity; that is how vanguard Friedman’s free market capitalism is, given his emphasis on equality of opportunity as opposed to equality of condition/outcomes.

In its first summary of his accomplishments, the Wiki condenses his contributions:

[Wiki:] “Friedman was an advisor to Republican U.S. President Ronald Reagan[12] and Conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. His political philosophy extolled the virtues of a free market economic system with minimal intervention. He once stated that his role in eliminating U.S. conscription was his proudest accomplishment. In his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman advocated policies such as a volunteer military, freely floating exchange rates, abolition of medical licenses, a negative income tax, and school vouchers. His support for school choice led him to found the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.” [End, Wikipedia excerpt]

[Clare:] A reader could have concluded that Friedman was an antagonist to Big Government, with its bloated bureaucracies, illegitimate claims to mandatory regulations, and obsession with “income inequality” and legislating minimum wages, but Wiki highlighted his most problematic view—that doctors were jacking up prices for medical care by monopolizing the field. (My sole objection to the abolition of licenses: before the market has done its work in expelling frauds, the patient may have suffered irreparable harm, even death. The same could be said with respect to harm to the environment: there is no room for trial and error when we entirely deregulate pollution, for instance. Indeed, Friedman declares that the case for deregulating medical care is the most difficult to allege.)

Wiki also downplays Friedman’s belief in both (limited) public and private sectors, instead (?) devoting much space to Friedman’s effects on the Chilean government after the Pinochet coup, perhaps a slap at classical liberalism tout court. But Wiki does acknowledge Friedman’s chief claim: that economic freedom is the necessary foundation of political freedom, and hence that Chile would eventually become more democratic.

To conclude, today’s Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians, while embracing many of Friedman’s advocacy of free market principles, have a long way to go in meeting up with his thoroughgoing classical liberalism. For instance, in the “debates” (https://clarespark.com/2015/12/21/debates-as-pseudo-events-with-pseudo-moderators/), no moderators or candidates are taking up the necessity for school choice, or, for that matter, choice in general.

Apparently, religious orthodoxy, not Friedman-esque economic freedom, controls the Right in this election season, at least for the influential “social conservative” wing of the Party.




  1. […] Almost all of the postings on this website have focused on the mystical, hence backward, character of multiculturalism. The state of Mussolini sought to make “responsible” both capital and labor where the working class threatened to join the Bolshevik revolution. Similarly, “moderate” American capitalists wedded to “social responsibility” during the Great Depression have been opposed to the notion that individuality cannot exist without the marketplace of ideas—a marketplace that celebrates individual achievement. https://clarespark.com/2015/12/29/milton-friedmans-capitalism-and-freedom-1962/. […]

    Pingback by Are we in a revolution? | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — April 6, 2017 @ 8:04 pm | Reply

  2. […] It is not the entire Left that has imposed speech codes, but a particular branch of it: the postmodernists who believe, like other trendy mystics, that language (as mediated by institutions) creates reality. So social democrats and Leninists alike may emphasize changing speech all by itself. But their protocols do not improve institutional controls that would indeed further the goal of intellectual diversity (also known as the marketplace of ideas; see https://clarespark.com/2015/12/29/milton-friedmans-capitalism-and-freedom-1962/). […]

    Pingback by Political correctness revisited | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — December 31, 2016 @ 7:47 pm | Reply

  3. Milton Friedman’s pet project and legacy, school choice, is keenly desired by Jewish and Catholic parents who wish to educate their children in the ways of the faith as well as the sciences. They blame secularism for much of the social and educational failure of the government-run schools. For this reason, liberals have opposed school choice, proclaiming that faith is an intolerable imposition of religion in school. They have denied any form of state support, not even tax credits, for parochial schools, leaving parents desiring a faith-based education for their children to have to fund education entirely on their own.

    But a new class of supporters for school choice include parents seeking an improved educational experience for their child. Disabled or learning-handicapped children, disruptive children, exceptionally bright children, and children from single-parent, limited-income, or dysfunctional families are not getting the proper attention that they need in government schools. There is plenty of evidence that private schools and tutors can provide the extra help necessary for these children to thrive in a different educational environment, even if that change is as simple as going to a different public school than the one they are currently assigned to. Many liberals, formerly opposed to school choice programs on religious objections, have been championing vouchers, tax breaks, and educational savings accounts as an alternate form of school funding.

    Unfortunately, the opposition to school choice has hardened. Many state legislators and public school boards have maintained that unequal schooling, where some students do better than others, is a threat to public schools. In their analysis, “good students” and their tax dollars would be drawn away from “struggling” schools. They now characterize school choice as a form of *apartheid* where the rich white students and the poor black or Hispanic students have different schools with different funding and quality. I had one state senator in Rhode Island tell me that “choice” was nothing more than a conservative buzzword and that school choice was “unpatriotic” because education should be free for all children. This may be little more than an excuse to protect union teachers, but it has the nasty aftertaste of an ideological opposition.

    And thus it goes with Friedman’s “radical ideas.” Freedom is a radical concept and will always be countered by those who desire to control and maintain systems of power. I am really at a loss for how to overcome these forces which seem immune to reason and are willing to trade the exceptional for mendacity.

    Comment by stereorealist — June 20, 2016 @ 7:32 pm | Reply

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