If he were still alive, Milton Friedman would be celebrating his 100th birthday today. I saw him speak a couple times, and even met him once. I was fresh out of college and reading Capitalism and Freedom at the time. He and his wife and co-author Rose were kind enough to sign my copy.
Friedman earned a reputation as a demanding professor, and he deserved it. But he and Rose were both very kind in person. Despite the vast gulf between their accomplishments and mine, they listened carefully to what I had to say and took me seriously. And it was clear they weren’t just doing it to be nice. That’s just how they were. They treated everyone that way.
That basic kindness animated the Friedmans’ political philosophy, as well as how they argued for it. Their critics who haven’t bothered with the ideological Turing test argue that the Friedmans were stooges of the rhetorical one percent; it was actually the bottom one percent that was their main concern.
Even a quick look at the data show that where economies are relatively free, the people are rich. The further a country moves away from free markets, the poorer its people tend to be. When the empirical data are that overwhelming, advocates for the global poor have no choice but to argue for economic and political freedom. It was for them that the Friedmans argued for economic and political freedom, and against the draft and drug prohibition.
In the two-minute clip from an interview with Phil Donahue below (click here if the embed doesn’t work), Friedman makes that point clearly and eloquently. But note that he also does it with a smile, and with humor. Milton Friedman’s ideological friends and foes alike have much to learn from his substance as well as his style. It’s a shame he’s not around to teach us in person, but he left behind an extensive body of work that, for a second-best option, will do quite nicely.
People who want government to redistribute income want to take it from the rich and give it to the poor. And there are programs that do that. But in practice most programs actually work in the opposite direction. More often than not, government is Robin Hood in reverse.
Via Patri Friedman, here’s a video of Milton Friedman explaining why that’s so.
Akbar Ganji, who spent six years in prison for writing articles critical of the Iranian government, is the winner of the 2010 Milton Friedman Prize. You can read more about Ganji’s story here. May his dream of a free, liberal, and democratic Iran come true.
As the House gets ready to pass the health care bill today, I’m reminded of one of the first lessons in economics I ever learned. Milton Friedman put it best:
There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government. And that’s close to 40% of our national income.
The biggest problem with health care today is that patients only pay 12 percent of costs out of pocket. As far as each individual is concerned, it’s basically on sale for 88 percent off! No wonder we spend so much on health care.
Today’s bill consists almost entirely of spending other peoples’ money on other people. If it becomes law, that 12 percent figure will fall even further. This is no way to keep costs under control. However noble Congress’ intentions may be, its bill will not work as advertised. Human nature won’t allow it.
Posted in Economics, Health Care, Spending
Tagged basic economics, econ 101, Economics, economics 101, hcr, Health Care, health care bill, health care reform, milton friedman, obamacare, spending, spending other peoples' money