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 some 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.



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