The Fruits of Civilization (27-19) Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman

The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm. Capitalism is that kind of a system. ~ Milton Friedman

American economist and statistician Milton Friedman (1912–2006) was only 2nd to Keynes in influence among 20th-century economists. He first came to prominence in the 1950s by opposing Keynesian governmental fiscal policies.

From 1946, Friedman taught economic theory at the University of Chicago. The Chicago school of economics, led by Friedman, became an influential neoclassical school of thought.

In the 1960s, Friedman developed his own macroeconomic mind-set, known as monetarism. As contrasted to Keynesian tugging at fiscal levers via government largesse, monetarism emphasizes monkeying with the money supply to manipulate growth. There was a large helping of irony to this considering Friedman’s disdain for government.

The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem. ~ Milton Friedman

Though Friedman opposed the existence of the Federal Reserve, since it was there, he wanted it to steadily inflate the money supply. This trickery was his suggestion for sustaining growth, though there is no reason to think that it would work. By Friedman’s own observation, his guidance for the government to fabricate lucre should be nothing more than a formula for inflation.

Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. ~ Milton Friedman

Friedman believed that there was some “natural” rate of unemployment. Trying to increase employment beyond this by ramping aggregate demand through government spending would only risk accelerating inflation. Friedman’s heartless solution was to let those without work stew in their destitution.

The black market was a way of getting around government controls. It was a way of enabling the free market to work. It was a way of opening up, enabling people. ~ Milton Friedman

Friedman seemed unaware of the predations of free enterprise, of its unending track record of exploitation, both inhumane and environmentally destructive. Friedman took greed as a given; innate rather than a product of upbringing.

Is there some society you know of that doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? ~ Milton Friedman

Friedman convinced himself that the US government created the Great Depression.

Far from the Depression being a failure of the free-enterprise system, it was a tragic failure of government. ~ Milton Friedman

Friedman seemed unaware of the innumerable financial crises created by the capitalist system in modern times. Bank panics are not a government creation, nor was the Great Depression. However inadequate or ill-advised governmental reaction, free enterprise tripped the fall.

Friedman’s legacy loomed large in the government’s response to the 2007–2008 global financial panic, when the US government showered the financial institutions that had caused the collapse with money. The normal consequence of massive inflation from printing money was only deterred, at least temporarily, by the dollar still being the best investment bet, as the Euro was swirling the rim, fearing a fatal flush; and there was no good way to invest in China’s growth, as its currency was largely inconvertible.

So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear. That there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system. ~ Milton Friedman

Friedman’s citation of history belied ignorance. For their level of technology, the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt were as productive as free enterprise: enslaving the masses and feeding them beer did wonders. In historical perspective, the dynasties of ancient China were as innovative as modern civilization.

The greatest advances of civilization, whether in architecture or painting, in science and literature, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralized government. ~ Milton Friedman

The historical successes of command economies worldwide belied Friedman’s assertion. Dynastic China, imperial Rome, and the courts of feudal Europe produced stunning art and architecture by fiat.

The cultural art forms associated with feudal Japan were cultivated and developed to their apex when political power was most centralized, under the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603–1868). Art and science flourish under stability, regardless of polity or economic system.

The potent concentration of wealth under modern capitalism must be considered in historical context. The well-being of ordinary people has always been a matter of plutocracy or its relative absence. That is the only aspect of governance that makes any economic difference, not its ostensible form – whether democratic, autocratic, or otherwise.

Under a market system, the only creed is that of greed: get as much as you can however you can. As Friedman’s mind-set exemplifies, capitalism abstracts away any morality associated with poverty: as if workers fight to make ends meet by choice and the wealthy have a divine or Darwinist right to their station. Friedman ignored the central fact of capitalism: that ownership of capital is the rigging of a rigged system.

For Friedman, growth was an unmitigated good. The market symbolized freedom, which was an unalloyed virtue. As with many economists, Friedman let idiotic abstractions rule his conception of how and why most people should unduly struggle to survive while a select few idly indulge themselves.

Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself. ~ Milton Friedman