Milton Friedman was born on July 31, 1912. His work in pioneering monetary theory at the University of Chicago would win him the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences in 1976 and popularize a new school of free-market economics, “The Chicago School.” He went on to advise a host of political leaders around the world, including President Ronald Reagan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He also brought his views to a national audience, on public television, through two PBS miniseries based on his book Free to Choose, in 1980 and 1990. Here are 6 quotations from his copious works:
1. “Democratic socialism” is an oxymoron.
It is widely believed that politics and economics are separate and largely unconnected; that individual freedom is a political problem and material welfare an economic problem; and that any kind of political arrangements can be combined with any kind of economic arrangements. The chief contemporary manifestation of this idea is the advocacy of ‘democratic socialism’ by many who condemn out of hand the restrictions on individual freedom imposed by ‘totalitarian socialism’ in Russia, and who are persuaded that it is possible for a country to adopt the essential features of Russian economic arrangements and yet to insure individual freedom through political arrangements. [My] thesis … is that such a view is a delusion, that there is an intimate connection between economics and politics, that only certain combinations of political and economic arrangements are possible, and that in particular, a society which is socialist cannot also be democratic, in the sense of guaranteeing individual freedom.
Economic arrangements play a dual role in the promotion of a free society. On the one hand, freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself. In the second place, economic freedom is also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom.
(“Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy: A Symposium.” Commentary. April 1978.)
2. Welfare programs harm the moral fiber of a nation.
[I]t is very hard to achieve good objectives through bad means. … [T]he [welfare] programs have a[n] insidious effect on the moral fiber of both the people who administer the programs and the people who are supposedly benefiting from it. For the people who administer it, it instills in them a feeling of almost Godlike power. For the people who are supposedly benefiting, it instills a feeling of childlike dependence. Their capacity for personal decision-making atrophies. The result is that the programs involved are a misuse of money. They do not achieve the objectives which it was their intention to achieve. But far more important than this, they tend to rot away the very fabric that holds a decent society together.
(Free to Choose [1980, TV series]. Episode four: “From Cradle to Grave.”)
3. Free enterprise overcomes racism and bigotry.
The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.
4. Woke capitalism undermines a free society.
Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible. This is a fundamentally subversive doctrine. If businessmen do have a social responsibility other than making maximum profits for stockholders, how are they to know what it is? Can self-selected private individuals decide what the social interest is? Can they decide how great a burden they are justified in placing on themselves or their stockholders to serve that social interest?
(Capitalism and Freedom: Fortieth Anniversary Edition.)
5. Prioritize freedom, not equality of outcome.
A society that puts equality—in the sense of equality of outcome—ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.
On the other hand, a society that puts freedom first will, as a happy by-product, end up with both greater freedom and greater equality. Though a by-product of freedom, greater equality is not an accident. A free society releases the energies and abilities of people to pursue their own objectives. It prevents some people from arbitrarily suppressing others. It does not prevent some people from achieving positions of privilege, but so long as freedom is maintained, it prevents those positions of privilege from becoming institutionalized; they are subject to continued attack by other able, ambitious people.
(Free to Choose: A Personal Statement.)
6. Friedman clearly read Lord Acton.
Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp.
(Capitalism and Freedom: Fortieth Anniversary Edition.)
(Photo credit: Public domain.)