Sunday, January 17, 2016

Quote: Milton Friedman: Free-Market Fundamentalist?

Hardly. Despite his general skeptical tendency with respect to expansive government fiscal policy, Friedman acknowledges both the necessity and the success of several government functions in the service of the common good.
"There have been some exceptions [to the general failures of the government's discretionary fiscal and monetary policy]. The expressways crisscrossing the country, magnificent dams spanning great rivers, orbiting satellites are all tributes to the capacity of government to command great resources. The school system, with all its defects and problems, with all the possibility of improvement through bringing into more effective play the forces of the market, has widened the opportunities available to American youth and contributed to the extension of freedom. It is a testament to the public-spirited efforts of the many tens of thousands who have served on local school boards and to the willingness of the public to bear heavy taxes for what they regarded as a public purpose. The Sherman antitrust laws, with all their problems of detailed administration, have by their very existence fostered competition. Public health measures have contributed to the reduction of infectious disease. Assistance measures have relieved suffering and distress. Local authorities have often provided facilities essential to the life of communities. Law and order have been maintained [...]" (Capitalism and Freedom, p. 199)
I'm not sure what my economic views are, but Friedman's reasonableness is one of the reasons I take him very seriously. He certainly does not fit into the mold of some of his more radical libertarian and anarcho-capitalist colleagues.

Friedman's government is hardly the "night-watchman" state of Nozick, let alone the complete absence of any state as the anarcho-capitalists would have it. Friedman's state collects plenty of taxes, provides ample national defense, breaks up monopolies, maintains a safety net for the poor, directs monetary policy, uses fiscal policy (generally, tax policy) to regulate and influence industry, and even provides several public services for the sake of the common good in cases where the market fails or would be inefficient in doing so; and in fact Friedman admits that he is, in principle, open toward even more government intervention than this, though he happens to be skeptical as to its actual prospects. As such, it would hardly be fair to call him a "fundamentalist" defender of the free market in any meaningful sense.

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