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Boldly Going Nowhere

Thursday, March 8, 2007

A Wise and Frugal Government

Milton Friedman was born in New York City in 1912. His parents were immigrants from Austria. He received a B.A. from Rutgers University, an M.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Columbia University.

He lived through the turmoil of World War I, Prohibition, the Great Depression and the rise of fascism.

During World War II, he worked for the Treasury department where he became disillusioned with the excesses of government and began to reject conventional economic theory in lieu of his own concepts. "Only government can take perfectly good paper, cover it with perfectly good ink and make the combination worthless."

For the remainder of his life, he was one of the world's most prominent champions of individual freedom.

He advocated a free market economy in which both parties would benefit in any exchange of goods and services. "Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself."

In his book, Monetary History of the United States, he argued that the Great Depression was caused by government mismanagement of the money supply rather than by any inherent instability of the private economy. "It's a mystery as to why people think Roosevelt's policies pulled us out of the depression," he declared.

Friedman saw the problem as having unused machinery and unemployed people being keep apart by an attempt to keep prices and wages up, rather than allowing the marketplace to adjust to the prevailing conditions. The government added scores of new projects and agencies, thereby actually prolonging the depression.

Friedman once said, "Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government ... The power to do good is also the power to do harm."

In his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman advocated free markets and minimizing the role of government as a means of creating social freedom. In his 1980 PBS TV Series, viewed by millions, he explained how free markets worked. His related book, Free to Choose, demonstrated how a free market economy helps to resolve political and social problems. His writings were circulated behind the Iron Curtain before it fell in 1989.

In the 1970s, Friedman advised the communist government of China and the military government of Chile about free market strategy. He was highly criticized for his efforts, yet both countries have become "economic miracles." Chile now has the most robust economy in Latin America and China is on the road to capitalism.

Friedman never shied away from controversy. He believed in a voucher system that would be used to pay tuition in both public and private schools, and he argued against the U.S. Post Office's legal monopoly on mail.

He opposed minimum wage laws and proposed a negative income tax to replace the existing welfare system. "We have a system that increasingly taxes work and subsidizes non-work ... A society that puts equality of outcome ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom."

In 2005, Friedman and more than 500 other economists called for discussions regarding the benefits of the legalization of marijuana. "Most of the harm that comes from drugs is because they are illegal."

He argued that if government banned alcohol and drugs, "it must surely ban such activities as hang-gliding, skiing, rock-climbing, and so on ... The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem."

Although philosophically a Libertarian, he was a member of the Republican Party "on the grounds of expediency, not on principle" and considered himself to be a classic liberal, much like Thomas Jefferson.

"My central theme in public advocacy has been the promotion of human freedom." Freidman once said.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988.

Considered the most important economist of the 20th century, Milton Friedman died in November of 2006.

"A wise and frugal government shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned."

Thomas Jefferson

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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He can be contacted at bret@centurytel.net.