This week those of us who love freedom lost an hero. Uncle Milty passed to the other side. My prayers are with Rose.
Here is a sample of his legacy--His clarion call to liberty.
Friedman's SamplerA selection of writings from The Wall Street Journal.BY MILTON FRIEDMANSaturday, November 18, 2006 12:01 a.m.(Editor's note: Emily Parker and Joseph Rago compiled this collection of Milton Friedman's writings from The Wall Street Journal. Friedman died Thursday at 94.)
It is important to emphasize that economic arrangements play a dual role in the promotion of a free society. On the one hand, "freedom" in economic arrangements itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so "economic freedom" is an end in itself to a believer in freedom.
In the second place, economic freedom is also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom. . . .
A citizen of the United States who under the laws of various states is not free to follow the occupation of his own choosing, unless he can get a license for it, is likewise being deprived of an essential part of his freedom. So economic freedom, in and of itself, is an extremely important part of total freedom.
The reason it is important to emphasize this point is because intellectuals in particular have a strong bias against regarding this aspect of freedom as important. They tend to express contempt for what they regard as material aspects of life and to regard their own pursuit of allegedly higher values as on a different plane of significance and as deserving special attention. But for the ordinary citizen of the country, for the great masses of the people, the direct importance of economic freedom is in many cases of at least comparable importance to the indirect importance of economic freedom as a means of political freedom.
Viewed as a means to the end of political freedom, economic arrangements are essential because of the effect which they have on the concentration of power. A major thesis of the new liberal is that the kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely, organization of economic activities through a largely free market and private enterprises, in short, through competitive capitalism, is also a necessary though not a sufficient condition for political freedom.
The central reason why this is true is because such a form of economic organization separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to be an offset to the other. I cannot think of a single example at any time or any place where there was a large measure of political freedom without there also being something comparable to a private enterprise market form of economic organization for the bulk of economic activity.
--from "Capitalism and Freedom: Why and How the Two Ideas Are Mutually Dependent," May 17, 1961
On the Free Market
What most people really object to when they object to a free market is that it is so hard for them to shape it to their own will. The market gives people what the people want instead of what other people think they ought to want. At the bottom of many criticisms of the market economy is really lack of belief in freedom itself.
The essence of political freedom is the absence of coercion of one man by his fellow men. The fundamental danger to political freedom is the concentration of power. The existence of a large measure of power in the hands of a relatively few individuals enables them to use it to coerce their fellow men. Preservation of freedom requires either the elimination of power where that is possible, or its dispersal where it cannot be eliminated.
It essentially requires a system of checks and balances, like that explicitly incorporated in our Constitution. . . .
The person who buys bread doesn't know whether the wheat from which it was made was grown by a pleader of the Fifth Amendment or a McCarthyite, by person whose skin is black or whose skin is white. The market is an impersonal mechanism that separates economic activities of individual from their personal characteristics. It enables people to cooperate in the economic realm regardless of any differences of opinion or views or attitudes they may have in other areas.
--from "The New Liberal's Creed: Individual Freedom, Preserving Dissent Are Ultimate Goals," May 18, 1961
On Free Trade
What we ought to do is practice what we preach. We have been going around preaching the virtues of free enterprise, of free competition in a free market. What have we been doing? We've been practicing the opposite, not only through our foreign aid program, but also at home. We tell other countries, use the market: we tell our farmers, look to Washington. We tell other countries, don't try to be self-sustained; try to develop valuable industries that can compete on the international market, and then what do we do? We impose import quotas on oil, we impose tariffs on goods that come in, we dump agricultural products abroad, and impose quota on their import at home. The rest of the world listens to what we say and they think, "now there is a fine bunch of hypocrites," and they are right.
--from "An Alternative to Aid: An Economist Urges U.S. to Free Trade, End Grants of Money," April 30, 1962
If the Fed does not explain to the public the nature of our problem and the costs involved in ending inflation, if it does not take the lead in imposing the temporarily unpopular measure required, who will?
--From "Why Curbing Inflation Is the Fed's Job, March 6, 1974
To summarize, deficits are bad--but not because they necessarily raise interest rates. They are bad because they encourage political irresponsibility. They enable our representatives in Washington to buy votes at our expense without having to vote explicitly for taxes to finance the largesse. The result is a bigger government and a poorer nation. That is why I favor a constitutional amendment requiring Congress to balance the budget and limit taxation.
--from "The Taxes Called Deficits," April 24, 1984
On the Economy
The Wall Street Journal has been a firm and dedicated supporter of free markets at home and free trade abroad. It has repeatedly stressed its view that the invisible hand of Adam Smith is a far more effective and equitable means of organizing economic activity than the visible hand of government. Yet when it comes to foreign economic policy, a recent editorial, "Beyond Venice" (June 8), relies upon a wholly different and thoroughly incompatible set of ideas.
According to that editorial, "The economic summits of leading free-market nations are a sound recognition that the world economy defies sovereign borders, and can be run only through international cooperation."
Would the Journal describe the American economy as being "run," whether through international cooperation or by the powers that be in Washington or through cooperation among the individual states? Or would it rather, in accordance with its general philosophy, describe it as a system that is coordinated by the voluntary activities of millions of individuals, a system that runs but is not run?
--from "Please Reread Your Adam Smith," June 24, 1987
On Social Security
I have long been a critic of Social Security, basically because I believe that it is not the business of government to tell people what fraction of their incomes they should devote to providing for their own or someone else's old age. On a more pragmatic level, Social Security is another example of the generalization that government programs typically have effects that are the opposite of those intended by their well-meaning sponsors (what Rep. Richard Armey calls the "invisible foot of government").
The well-meaning sponsors intended Social Security to ensure a minimum income to the poor in their old age. It has largely done that, but at the cost of what they would have regarded as a perverse redistribution of income from the young to the old, from black to white, from the relatively poor to the relatively well-to-do.
From its inception, Social Security has been an unholy combination of two items: a flat-rate tax on earnings up to a maximum with no exemption and a benefit program that awards subsidies that have essentially no relation to need but are based on such criteria as marital status, longevity and recent earnings. As I wrote many years ago, "hardly anyone approves of either part separately. Yet the two combined have become a sacred cow. What a triumph of imaginative packaging and Madison Avenue advertising!"
--from "Social Security: The General And the Personal," March 15, 1988
On the Future
Let us put aside the scarecrows of the twin deficits and face up to the real problems that threaten U.S. growth and prosperity: excessive and wasteful government spending and taxing, including in particular the real time bomb in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs; concealed taxes in the form of mandated expenditures on private business; excessive and misguided regulation of individuals as well as businesses; the changes in tort legislation that are discouraging innovation; and not least, the recent increase in protectionism and the threat of a further major increase. We should and can do something about these problems, not allow ourselves to be diverted by politically convenient scarecrows.
--from "Why the Twin Deficits are a Blessing," Dec. 14, 1988
On Health Care Prices
Toward the end of World War II, I served as an instructor in a quality-control course for Navy procurement officers. It was held in Hershey, Pa. As I recall, we stayed at the Hershey Hotel, on the corner of Cocoa Avenue and Chocolate Boulevard, across the street from the Hershey Junior College, where the actual instruction took place, a block or so from the Hershey Department Store, and so on. You get the idea. The stench--or perfume--of paternalism was heavy in the air.
Early in the century such company towns, most far less benevolently paternalistic than Hershey, were common. Workers who were employed at mines or factories located far from large cities, in towns that typically had only a single major employer, were often required, or induced, to live in company housing and buy their food and other supplies at company stores. In effect, they were paid in kind rather than in cash--the so-called truck system. . . .
The company town has been revived in one major area: medical care. It is taken for granted that workers should receive their pay partly in kind, in the form of medical care provided by the employer. How come? Why single out medical care? Surely food is no less essential to life than medical care. Why is it not at least as logical for workers to be required to buy their food at the company store as to be required to buy their medical care at the company store?
--from "Pricing Health Care: The Folly of Buying Health Care at the Company Store," Feb. 13, 1993
Proposed economic policies tend to be judged in terms of jobs "created." That is the wrong criterion. The economic problem is not creating jobs. That is easy: Hire people at minimum wages (or lower) to dig holes and fill them. True, raising taxes to finance that project would destroy jobs, but the jobs destroyed would be high-wage jobs, the jobs created low-wage jobs, so for each job destroyed more than one job would be created--a net gain of jobs.
The real problem is to establish an economic environment in which there is a demand for workers at wages that those workers not only regard as satisfactory, but are qualified to earn: Better qualified workers and better wages--not simply more jobs--is the real problem.
--from "Better Workers, Better Wages: The Real Issue," June 1, 1993
On the Federal Reserve
My favorite "moderate" proposal for the Fed (my "extreme" proposal is to abolish it) is that (1) at the beginning of each quarter, have it estimate how much it will have to add net to its holdings during that quarter to achieve its target monetary growth; (2) divide that number by 12; and (3) announce that every Monday morning at 11 a.m. it will buy that amount of securities from the lowest bidder, and then close up shop until the next Monday, except for replacing maturing securities.
What harm would that do? It would mean day-to-day and week-to-week fluctuation in the federal-funds rate. However, the sophisticated financial markets have surely demonstrated their capacity to handle wide daily fluctuations in all kinds of securities prices. Dealing with the fluctuations in the federal-funds rate would be child's play.
--from "End the Fed's Fine-Tuning," Sept. 15, 1993
On the Flat Tax
The only way we are ever likely to get it is if there is a drive for a constitutional convention to repeal the 16th Amendment (which gives Congress the power to tax income) and replace it with one mandating a flat-rate tax.
However, I regret that that is not an immediate prospect.
--from "Why a Flat Tax Is Not Politically Feasible," March 30, 1995
On Government Spending
The typical rhetoric, Republican as well as Democratic, about the current battle to balance the budget is that cutting government spending imposes short-term pain more than compensated by long-term gain. That is utter nonsense. Cutting government spending and government intrusion in the economy will almost surely involve immediate gain for the many, short-term pain for the few, and long-term gain for all.
--from "Budget Cutting: A Lot of Gain, Little Pain," June 15, 1995
On Hong Kong
By some accident of officialdom, the colonial office assigned John Cowperthwaite, a Scotsman and a disciple of Adam Smith, to serve as financial secretary of Hong Kong. Cowperthwaite's free market policies are widely credited with producing the subsequent economic miracle that led to a phenomenal rise in the average level of living despite a nearly 10-fold rise in population.
It is hard to conceive of a more severe test of free market policies. Hong Kong is an island devoid of any significant natural resources other than a great harbor. When the Communists took over China, refugees came streaming over the borders with only the possessions they could carry. They and their successors produced a rapid rise in population. Hong Kong received negligible if any foreign aid to assist the assimilation of the refugees.
Under these adverse circumstances, the salvation of Hong Kong has been its complete free trade and free market policy. No tariffs on imports, no subsidies or other privileges to exports. (The only restrictions are those that Hong Kong has been forced to impose by pressure from other countries, including the U.S., as under the multifiber agreement.) There is no fixing of prices or wages; few if any restrictions on entry into business or trade; and government spending and taxes have been kept low. The top tax rate on personal income is 25%, with a maximum average rate of 15%. . . .
What a contrast to the experience of most of the colonies to which Britain gave their freedom after the war. And what a striking demonstration of how much better free trade and free markets are for the ordinary citizen than the protectionism of Mr. Buchanan and the "fair trade" of President Clinton. "Fair" is in the eye of the beholder; free is the verdict of the market. (The word "free" is used three times in the Declaration of Independence and once in the First Amendment to the Constitution, along with "freedom." The word "fair" is not used in either of our founding documents.)
--From "Hong Kong vs. Buchanan," March 7, 1996
On Health Care
The best way to restore freedom of choice to both patient and physician and to control costs would be to eliminate the tax exemption of employer-provided medical care. However, that is clearly not feasible politically. The best alternative available is to extend the tax exemption to all expenditures on medical care, whether made by the patient directly or by employers, to establish a level playing field, in terms of the currently popular cliche.
Many individuals would then find it attractive to negotiate with their employer for a higher cash wage in place of employer-financed medical care. With part or all of the higher cash wage, they could purchase an insurance policy with a very high deductible, i.e., a policy for medical catastrophes, which would be decidedly cheaper than the low-deductible policy their employer had been providing to them, and deposit all or part of the difference in a special "medical savings account" that could be drawn on only for medical purposes. Any amounts unused in a particular year could be allowed to accumulate without being subject to tax, or could be withdrawn with a tax penalty or for special purposes, as with current Individual Retirement Accounts--in effect, a medical IRA. Many employers would find it attractive to offer such an arrangement to their employees as an option.
--from "A Way Out of Soviet-Style Health Care," April 17, 1996
The present crisis is not the result of market failure. Rather, it is the result of governments intervening in or seeking to supersede the market, both internally via loans, subsidies, or taxes and other handicaps, and externally via the IMF, the World Bank and other international agencies. We do not need more powerful government agencies spending still more of the taxpayers' money, with limited or nonexistent accountability. That would simply be throwing good money after bad. We need government, both within the nations and internationally, to get out of the way and let the market work. The more that people spend or lend their own money, and the less they spend or lend taxpayer money, the better.
--from "Markets to the Rescue," Oct. 13, 1998
On Ronald Reagan
To Mr. Reagan, of course, holding down government spending was a means to an end, not an end in itself. That end was freedom, human freedom, the right of every individual to pursue his own objectives and values so long as he does not interfere with the corresponding right of others. That was his end in every phase of his remarkable career.
We still have a long way to go to achieve the optimum degree of freedom. But few people in human history have contributed more to the achievement of human freedom than Ronald Wilson Reagan.
--from "Freedom's Friend," June 11, 2004
In the almost six decades since the end of World War II, intellectual opinion in the United States about the desirable role of government has undergone a major shift. At the end of the war, opinion was predominantly collectivist. Socialism--defined as government ownership and operation of the means of production--was seen as both feasible and desirable. Those few of us who favored free markets and limited government were a beleaguered minority.
In subsequent decades opinion moved away from collectivism and toward a belief in free markets and limited government. By 1980 opinion had moved enough to enable Ronald Reagan to win the presidency on a quasi-libertarian agenda.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 delivered the final blow to the belief in socialism. Hardly anyone today, from the far left to the far right, regards socialism in the traditional sense of government ownership and operation of the means of production as either feasible or desirable. Those who profess socialism today mean by it a welfare state.
--from "The Battle's Half Won," Dec. 9, 2004
On School Choice
One result has been experimentation with such alternatives as vouchers, tax credits, and charter schools. Government voucher programs are in effect in a few places (Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, the District of Columbia); private voucher programs are widespread; tax credits for educational expenses have been adopted in at least three states and tax credit vouchers (tax credits for gifts to scholarship-granting organizations) in three states. In addition, a major legal obstacle to the adoption of vouchers was removed when the Supreme Court affirmed the legality of the Cleveland voucher in 2002. However, all of these programs are limited; taken together they cover only a small fraction of all children in the country.
Throughout this long period, we have been repeatedly frustrated by the gulf between the clear and present need, the burning desire of parents to have more control over the schooling of their children, on the one hand, and the adamant and effective opposition of trade union leaders and educational administrators to any change that would in any way reduce their control of the educational system.
--from "Free to Choose," June 9, 2005
Copyright © 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.