If you watched Milton Friedman on Donahue that I provided a while back you heard Friedman talk about a 10 part special that was about to be shown on PBS that he put together making a basic case for his economic theories. Guess who suffered through the whole thing? All 10 hours. Yours truly. That's commitment right there, eh?
Actually it's really good so it wasn't a chore for me. Not that I agree with Friedman for the most part, but it's a really well done series. You get 30 minutes of Friedman making his case. Then you get a discussion with critics and supporters for the remaining 30 minutes. And unlike O'Reilly or the typical debate you see on today's cable shows you get people that are allowed to make their case without too much by way of interruption. It's very worthwhile and informative, especially relative to today's television.
I'm going to record some brief thoughts here which may be imperfect since I'm going from memory.
FTC1 Power of Market - Friedman's argument is that the more free an economy the more prosperous the country. In my view this is just dubious in terms of the way Friedman defines freedom. The socialist on the panel makes a critical point. The US in fact has not been a free market society. Labor history was extremely violent. Railroads were subsidized by the government. Friedman's reply is that government spending was only 3% of GDP back then, so it's still not a lot of government involvement. He will later note (FTC3) that the growth in government has been in the welfare state measures (Social Security and Medicare). There is a Motorola executive involved that mostly sides with Friedman. I'd point out that in S Korea it wasn't government expenditures, it was government control (tariffs, incentives, restrictions, etc) that really distinguish it from what Friedman would recommend, but it did really well.
FTC2 The Tyranny of Control - The claim is Hong Kong is awesome. Don Rumsfeld is involved in the discussion. He was a sort of Friedman protege. Friedman claims that societies that don't govern economics do better. A woman on the panel says in fact Hong Kong does have government intervention (roads, other items) and points to South Korea and it's heavy hand with regards to industrial policy. Friedman doesn't deny this but maintains that Singapore is free market.
FTC3 Anatomy of a Crisis - Friedman says we must contrast societies that MORE CLOSELY resembled free market conditions, and these are the ones that prosper most. No society is entirely free market. He also claims that the period after WWII up to 1973 was in fact a rather difficult economic time period. There is discussion of a recession in '58 I believe. He says that things in the US could be much better. He says that Keynes was right that government stimulus was needed in the wake of the Great Depression but it's gone well beyond where it should have been. He claims that if Keynes hadn't died he's the one person that could have prevented this vast overuse of government. The key failure of the Great Depression was the Fed's failure to provide the needed cash to prevent the runs on the banks.
FTC4 From Cradle to Grave - The thrust of the argument is that welfare makes people dependent and treats them as children. Despite that Friedman still does think the government should provide some assistance to the poor in the form of what he calls the negative income tax. The liberals in the discussion effectively dispel some myths about what the level of recidivism is and also some distortions from Thomas Sowell about the total welfare expenditures per person in poverty. He says if you divide welfare expenditures by the number of people in poverty the number looks absurdly high. But Sowell's critic notes that not everyone that receives monies from the government which are designated as welfare is poor. Social Security recipients for instance are not all poor. A good point from Friedman is that as much as he doesn't like welfare he must give it some credit in that at least it does transfer money from the rich to the poor, as opposed to most other government programs which are clever wealth transfers to the rich in disguise.
FTC5 Created Equal - Friedman argues that striving for equality of results is counter productive and wrong. The discussion after his presentation is really interesting. Friedman is hammered for straw man characterizations of the goal of the left and for misrepresenting the facts in England. His assertion that economic freedom brings political freedom is challenged aggressively by Frances Fox Priven on the issue of Chile and other Latin American dictators. Friedman falsely pretends that things are not much worse for the poor in Chile. The British panelist is awesome. He will not let Friedman get away with this straw man that equality of results is the goal. Friedman deftly attempts to sidestep the question, but his critic won't let go. Sowell likewise tries to sidestep the question. Priven talks about how blacks have struggled for equality and Sowell falsely pretends that no, blacks are not interested in this, only intellectuals, as if the black liberation movement was a movement of intellectuals rather than a grass roots movement. Sowell is totally wrong on this point, and even if you do look at the leadership (Malcolm X, MLK Jr, Jackson) you see that Priven's claims about their goals are correct.
FTC6 What's Wrong With Our Schools - Friedman makes the case for private universities and private K-12 school. Kids that go to public universities largely aren't there to learn. It's a social club. But kids at private school want to learn because they are paying for their schooling. Friedman's critic makes a key point that in my view he never addresses satisfactorily. A private school does well because they can turn away the tough cases. We spend the bulk of the money on the tough cases, but we value the fact that we have a system where everyone gets a chance. Who's going to take the hard cases?
FTC7 Who Protects the Consumer - The argument is that the free market is better able to provide products that protect the consumer than government imposition can. The FDA does block harmful drugs. But what you don't hear about is the drugs that were blocked by the FDA that would have saved lives. Those people won't know that they could have been saved, so you won't hear loud objections. The Corvair was a decent car by the standards of the time despite what Ralph Nader claimed. I think the Friedman claim sounds plausible but is just empirically false. It's seems plausible that the market would clamor for safety measures in vehicles if there was value in it. But it doesn't seem that they did. The markets didn't get lead out of gasoline. They didn't produce a populace that clamored for safety measures in cars. In fact Ralph Nader prior to 9-11 was trying to get airlines to lock cockpit doors, but the industry refused. It's really interesting to hear Friedman say that he wears his seat belt sometimes and other times doesn't, and he should be free to decide. It is extremely foolish to fail to wear a seat belt. People didn't come to recognize that until the government imposed it. Today, 30 years later, largely because of government imposition, people have internalized what Friedman hadn't internalized at the time. You have to wear your seat belt.
FTC8 Who Protects the Worker - Unions are really about protecting people within their own group at the expense of the poor outside of that group. Places that get away from unions are more prosperous. The discussion includes Walter Williams. Unfortunately this was the least useful discussion as I recall because people talked over each other so much.
FTC9 How to Cure Inflation - The down side of inflation is emphasized. We all know what that is. You can be making more money from one year to the next in nominal dollars and less in real dollars, and this makes things tough. That's obviously true. The extreme example of post war Germany is discussed. But that's not all that informative in my view. What about the less extreme, but still high cases of inflation, like South Korea? You can have 15% inflation and still have a prosperous economy. To talk about Germany doesn't really prove anything.
FTC10 How to Stay Free - High concentrations of power, wherever they reside, are dangerous and destructive. Friedman makes it clear that this is true in a variety of areas, not just government. So in that we agree. In this discussion Friedman focuses on government and how we must curb its power. But here we are 30 years later. Where is the concentrated power today? Take Wall St. Today they engage in enormous crimes and they are not prosecuted. So where is the real root of power? It's not in government. Government is the tool that concentrated power today uses for their own benefit. Corporate power is the real concentrated power today and in my view should be the focus of our resistance. When corporate power is beaten back then I think it does make sense to look at the abuse of government. On this Friedman and I are not so far apart.