Capitalism and Freedom

When Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom came out in 1962, his was a rare voice defending classical liberal values and the free enterprise system.  For years his ideas were unloved in ruling circles, as the leviathan unleashed by F.D.R.’s  New Deal pressed its tentacles even further into the flesh of American society through Johnson’s Great Society and beyond.

But after nearly a generation wandering in the wilderness, Friedman lived to see the vindication of his ideas, as big government solutions repeatedly failed, and free market approaches out-performed.

The fall of the Soviet Union and communism in Eastern Europe should have sealed the argument.  But bad ideas never truly die.  They merely go dormant.  The anti-liberal contagion awaits the day to entice and poison new audiences, in new generations, with the false promise of heaven on earth, for the price of their soul and their freedom.

A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it does this task so well.  It gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.

The fascinating thing is how far ahead of his time Friedman was in 1962, and also how advanced his thinking remains, even for today.

Among the things Friedman proposed were: school vouchers to replace public school funding, elimination of agricultural price support programs, elimination of all tariffs and trade restrictions, repeal of rent control and minimum wage laws, elimination of Social Security, repeal of occupational licensure laws, ending military conscription, privatizing national parks and public toll roads,  reeling in the Federal Reserve System to remove discretionary powers (he’d essentially have it run on auto-pilot), eliminate foreign economic aid,  balance the federal budget, on average, year to year, elimination of public funding for state colleges and vocational/professional training, allowing equity-based investment (pay a percentage of future earnings) for college education, elimination of anti-discrimination laws, fair employment, fair housing laws, anti-segregation laws, application of antitrust laws to labor unions and other government-granted monopolies,  elimination of corporate income tax (but have tax on retained corporate earnings for individual income tax returns), a flat individual income tax rate, rejection of “social responsibility” instead of profit as the primary duty of corporate officials, elimination of estate taxes,  a negative income tax to replace other forms of welfare (in a way, similar to a UBI), etc.

It is amazing how much of these items has already been accomplished or are at the forefront of debate today, nearly 60 years later.

I’d recommend reading (or re-reading) Capitalism and Freedom to anyone interested in girding themselves for mental strife, to do battle with the modern opponents of freedom, whether they are Facebook friends, or college professors.  Friedman’s mastery of the economic matters (he won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976) and his gift for explaining his arguments in a non-technical, but rigorous fashion, is unparalleled.


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