Milton Friedman is the single contemporary economist upon whose thinking all conservative, libertarian, Tea-Party policy is based. In his anti-government stance, he advocated abolishing free public education, income taxes, all regulatory agencies, public health care, and every other government-sponsored social benefit or protection. He even recommended that doctors not be licensed to practice medicine, since licensing limits the number of doctors who could enter the health-care market.
Originally a Keynesian who believed that government spending was the only solution in times of economic crisis, Friedman did an about-face in the 1960s and became the leading advocate of monetarism - the idea that control of money flow was the key to economic stability. He maintained that his monetarist policy would have ended the Great Depression of the 1930s - basically claiming that if the Federal Reserve had lowered interest rates, corporations would have taken advantage of cheaper money, invested it, and increased the production that would have lifted employment and therefore consumption. Through Friedman was born the "trickle-down" concept of economic well-being: make money available to the rich - corporations et al. - and it will filter down, "floating all boats."
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The idea that Milton Friedman was the Moses who led the capitalist elite out of the desert of stagnation is just the opposite of what actually happened. It was this elite that, seeing Friedman as its convenient ideological leader, grabbed him by his robes and yanked him into the green pastures of celebrity. The economic stagnation, with its attendant downturn in the 1970s, demanded a response. With production slipping and unemployment rising dramatically as compared with the preceding post-war years, the "system" was failing and therefore vulnerable to attack. The response by the elite was an all-out defense of capitalism. The defendants perforce had to place blame for stagnation on something other than the system.
This set the scene for Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 under the banner, "Government is not the answer, it's the problem." And so began an all-out war on an invented scapegoat: the people's government. With the wholesale embrace of laissez-faire capitalism in the 1980s, Friedman was the new establishment's ready-made poster boy. He was an advisor to Reagan during the 1980 campaign and then served on the President's Economic Policy Advisory Board during the next eight years of Reagan's tenure - during which time stagnation never abated.
Friedman saw nothing beyond capitalism's mechanisms of exchange, profit, money flows, investment, etc. - all of which constituted, in his myopic vision, the totality of society. Nothing in Friedman indicates the slightest concern for the public at large, whose needs, aspirations, and behavior are no more than components of his economic formulas. Human suffering is irrelevant in his postulating a "natural rate of unemployment" - and regardless of how that rate increases, no outside forces should address it, since, in his market-driven world where things will miraculously stabilize themselves, full employment policies will be "relegated to the dustbin." He never addresses how the unemployed will be fed, housed, and clothed - if indeed they should be.
Friedman's dismissal of the role of government made him completely comfortable providing economic advice to the Chilean fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet, who had overthrown a democratically elected government, and who was under indictment at the time of his death for crimes against humanity, having overseen the annihilation of thousands of Chileans.
So oblivious was Friedman that he claimed his aid to Pinochet was an attempt to establish "democracy" in Chile. Since he meant this within his libertarian context of an ascendant market eliminating government, it's a very telling claim because it gives insight into the libertarian concept of democracy. It is not people governing themselves through an institution that overrides all other institutions and assiduously sees to it that these other institutions - including the economic system itself - serve the interests of the people. On the contrary, the libertarian sees democracy as the virtual elimination of government, leaving the God-like "invisible hand" of The Market - with its unequal exchanges, anarchy, unpredictability, recurring crashes, and lack of social responsibility - as the only governing and unifying social force. The unfettered tyranny of The Market is freedom to the libertarian.
Milton Friedman deserves attention because of his particular relevance to current political struggles. Even though his trickle-down doctrine has long been discredited by even the most orthodox economists, Friedman, though dead since 2006, still speaks loudly through the mouths of the Rand and Ron Paul, the Koch brothers, Mitt Romney and his newly-named Republican running mate Paul Ryan, and the many others whose goal is to undermine government, and, in the process, democracy itself.
Andrew Torre lives in Landgrove.