Editor’s note: Milton Friedman has died. As expected, instead of being decried as one who played a central role in the tragedy of lives of Americans, Brits, and folks in Chile where he helped the dictator and criminal Augosto Pinochet (just like Kissinger), NPR gave a Friedman another accolade claiming that he was perhaps the most influential economist of the 20th century (John Maynard Keynes apparently lost to the dustbin of history) and explained that Friedman “welcomed market liberalization.”
Of course, the sycophants and press release readers of NPR were wrong, but their piece went on to say: that Friedman defied economic establishment as he rejected Keynesian economics in the name of promoting human freedom. Omitting any discussion of Friedman’s life as an employee of the very evil and sloth creating government that he opposed, we were told that Friedman advocated school choice, volunteer army, legalizing prostitution, and drug legalization.
While such can be presented as part of what G. W. Bush might call a “freedom agenda” these policies as advocated [sic] by Friedman most often work majestically, as noted in the words of Jacques Anatole Francois Thibault (1844-1924), to “prohibit the wealthy as well as the poor from sleeping under the bridges, from begging in the streets, and from stealing bread.”
School choice for the poor, without access to cheap and reliable transportation, or facing the racism and bigotry of teachers who assume the certain populations cannot excel in the academic arena, the choice is a false one. Further, even if pushed as some sort of voucher program, Friedman’s idea ignores the funding disparity and teacher-student ratios in school districts of wealth versus those of the poor.
Of course we have no volunteer army in the U.S. Those recruited from middle and high school (baited through a PR campaign and advertising pitch which cost taxpayers billions of dollars per year) or in such financial straits as to need to sign-up for the reserves or regular military, are victims of circumstance and of what Friedman apparently accepted without question, namely government manipulation of the economy and job market. Of all aspects of the economy, any advocate of free markets should rail against the existence of a military that is funded through taxes instead of bake sales. How many cupcakes does it take to buy a B-2 bomber or those bunker busters?
The prostitution market equally attracts young women and men who are rich and poor. Curiously, in places like Mexico, France, Dubai, the Netherlands, and Germany, where prostitution is legal, the bulk of the workers are imported slaves, paying off debts to pimps the way that Mexican and Chinese immigrant workers suffer in the U.S.
Though Friedman famously advocated drug legalization, for some reason his advice to Reagan, Thatcher, Pinochet and others never really struck home. Funny, how all of Friedman’s social programs that played into existing racial stereotypes and policies designed to punish the poor for their poverty were accepted by bigots on the right, but in the one area that would reduce the effects of racial oppression, drug prohibition, they tossed him aside.
NPR claimed that Friedman was a scholar and policymaker, then quoting Grover Norquist (never saw a subsidy for the rich he didn’t like), Friedman was lauded as consistent. Friedman once said “if you want to see capitalism in action, go to Hong Kong,” for he believed the Hong Kong economy is the best example of a laissez-faire capitalism economy. And perhaps it might be. In Hong Kong, housing is so limited and poverty so high, people live in cages without running water, stacked in human chicken coops, where contagious disease and illness are rampant.
But Friedman’s prescription for the just and hopeful society was far from consistent. He famously failed to advocate for open immigration – the very kind that aided him to live a life of comfort and ease among American Whites. How convenient that a child of Ukrainian Jews would not champion the liberty of peoples from Mexico, China, the Caribbean, West Africa and elsewhere to enter the American economy and human equals. Perhaps Friedman knew if he truly pushed for a consistent position – the one advocated by secular humanists like Adam Smith – open and free immigration, that his invitation to enjoy the company of racists would be rescinded.
Without delving into the seriousness of the matter, NPR explained, without comment, that Friedman’s parents were immigrants. But unlike the millions of immigrant parents with brown skins, now persecuted and facing laws that restrict their right to work and rent housing, Friedman’s were White. As NPR replayed an earlier interview, the child of Ukrainian Jews said that this nation had few laws to help his parents, but as he looked back with nostalgia, Friedman insisted that they had more opportunity because of it. This position that all government regulation somehow stifled economic and social opportunity would remain with Friedman as he opposed employment and safety standards claiming that such only hurt workers.
Never one to accept his hypocrisy, Friedman never paid back local, state or federal government for subsidizing his life, schooling, transportation, employment or use of energy. In fact, instead of being called a hypocrite, NPR said that Friedman is celebrated “as a radical” who believed in markets to a fault. A better and more accurate description would have been that Friedman was a nut, who in the face of empirical evidence, continued to argue that the “sun revolves around the earth.”
The economic analyst, Doug Henwood, of the Left Business Observer, provides a more technical discussion of the limits of Friedman’s economic ideas and theories about the money supply, markets, inflation and employment.
You can listen to Mr. Henwood’s weekly radio show at WBAI (www.wbai.org) airing live at 5:00 pm on Thursdays and available through the WBAI archives.
I offer for your pleasure:
In Memoriam, Milton Friedman
by Doug Henwood, 16 November 2006
Milton Friedman, one of the prime intellectual influences on the right-wing turn in politics over the last 30 years, died earlier today at the age of 94. Though you’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, at least for a few weeks, for him I’ll make an exception.
As an economist, Friedman’s major contributions, if you can call them that, don’t really hold up to empirical scrutiny. One of his more famous contributions, the notion that people consume based on their long-term expectations for income, rather than on the basis of short- term fluctuations, is, at best, unproved.
And his most famous contribution, the doctrine that changes in the supply of money, which he assumed to be directly under the control of central [government or quasi-government] banks like the Federal Reserve, lead to changes in the rate of inflation has been proved almost completely worthless. Central banks are only in partial control of the money supply; private demand for credit is also a major influence. And, more importantly, it’s nearly impossible to find any connection between movements in the supply of money (which, by the way, consists mainly of currency, checking accounts, and short-term bank deposits) and the inflation rate. Friedman advised Margaret Thatcher’s government in the late 1970s that it could end high British inflation by cutting back on the money supply without any consequences for real incomes; in fact, the monetary crackdown led to a deep recession and millions of job losses.
So much for his economic contributions. His political influence was malignant. He was at the forefront of [movement of right-wing] reaction since he first came on the scene in the 1950s, both within his profession and in the broader society. Within the profession he sought to undermine the dominance of John Maynard Keynes. Keynes, though no revolutionary was certainly a humanizing influence on economics and economic policy, and associated welfare state policies.
In the broader world, [Friedman] ceaselessly promoted bare-knuckles capitalism [for the poor] as the only way to run a society. It’s ugly, polarizing, and destructive. And despite all his libertarian, democratic talk, his approval of the Pinochet regime in Chile, and his students’ [like Gary Becker] central role as advisors to that dictatorial, murderous government, reveal thedependence on coercion at the core of [their so-called] neo-liberal policy.
So, goodbye Miltie. You did much damage, and thank you for finally shuffling off.
 Editor’s note: If I had not heard it with my own ears, I would not have believed it. At a conference titled “Challenge to Democracy” held at the University of Chicago in 1998, Becker claimed that people get married out of a sense of their market needs. That is, Becker insisted that people surmise what they can obtain or not via marriage and get married in order to save costs on cleaning, washing, cooking, sex and children. Of course statistics showing that Black poverty in the 20th century has been associated with both high rates of marriage and low rates of marriage, and that the strongest correlates with wealth for White women in the U.S. and Europe are their years of formal education and choice not to have children, never mattered much to a Chicago-trained economist. In truth, Becker’s theory boiled down to people get married because they believe it is in their economic interest to get married – even if they are WRONG. Well, I guess the Becker Apple did not fall far from the Tree of Friedman.