November 22, 2006

Jonathon Rowe muses on the Romantic naivety of Milton Friedman. Amidst a plethora of discussion of the intellectual legacy of Milton Friedman, Rowe throws a light upon what is perceived as realistic and hardheaded amongst economists by taking a look at his encounters with the person of Milton Friedman.
  • His first paragraph irked me right off the bat with what I see as a false dichotomy between those who love government and those who love markets. Maybe it's a European mixed-economy thing. Enjoyed much of the rest, partly because I'm woefully ignorant about Friedman, and also because of the author's view on the shifting role of property from bastion of freedom to a "corporate market" that's stealing the commons, which is well worth saying. I'd frame this another way, that in any human activity it's useful to analyse where the power is being concentrated, and to work to ensure that checks and balances exist to stop it being exercised uncontested by small vested interest groups. I don't see a reason to make economic activity an exceptional case. The debate may be older than the author realises - the sacred right of property was famously questioned at the Army debates at Putney during the English revolution.
  • I'm not sure whether the first paragraph is the author's take on things or more the way that the game is rhetorically played out, particularly in the Anglosphere. Like you Abiezer, I'm more concerned about concentrations of power. What interested me about this piece and has interested me about this site in general is that it is rare to hear voices talking about the commons or similar ideas that are not explicitly connected to some kind of political project that is often automatically excluded from legitimacy through red/black baiting.
  • This is an interesting article.
    Friedman seemed so infatuated with the idea of the market that he couldn’t come to grips with the daily actuality of it.
    I think this is true of a lot of economists, particularly the "big thinkers". Even within Friedman's terms of reference, our real-world implementations of capitalism are fairly crap. We give way too much power to financial institutions - if money is a veil, it's more like a burqa than one of those things belly dancers wear. We allow insane developments in futures markets, placing value on predicted income streams that exceed the value of current capital stock (the macro equivalent of a gambling addiction). All the time we mutter our mantra the market is efficient; competitive forces will work it out, knowing full well that competition is rare in some sectors and almost nonexistent in others, not because of government regulation but because of a lack of government regulation.
  • Frustrating article...mostly because I want a balanced and objective analysis of Friedman's economics, and this wasn't even close. Such a thing probably doesn't even exist. His conclusion destroyed his entire argument by asking the questions What throws Third World farmers (and First World ones as well) into jail for the heinous crime of breeding their own seeds? and What has locked down the pathways of cultural transmission and university research, through the extension of the copyright and patent laws?. The answer to both questions is, of course, government...the very thing he has been arguing in favour of.
  • But that's a reification of government as an actor regardless of who's pulling its strings, rocket. The response would be that corporate interests have captured democratic governments and can use them to create and enforce laws that benefit their sectional interests, when the wider public doesn't know, doesn't care, or disagrees about the actual measures.
  • > Such a thing probably doesn't even exist. Not so far as I've seen. Over the last five days, I've read that Friedman: * left a tremendous legacy * left little concrete legacy * was key to neoliberal policy in the 1980s * was misinterpreted by neoliberals in the 1980s * was marginal to neoliberal policy in the 1980s * was evil and supported dicators * was a nice chap who wanted to help economies spiralling out of control under dictators * was the anti-keynes * was a crypto-keynesian Wait 10 years then find a a book by a decent nonaligned economic historian.
  • I found the article a little disappointing in retreading ideological points with not much additional light thrown into the light. Meanwhile many things we do need – such as clean air and water, the spontaneous sociability of Main Streets, public spaces, the open internet – are getting destroyed as corporations make a desperate grab for what remains of time and space. It's waaaay too easy to say that corporations do this, governments do that. The devil is in the details. There are some corporation in the energy industry who *are* pillaging the environment recklessly, but then there are others who are doing the opposite (All those companies working on solar, wind and geothermal power are also corporations). In government there is enlightened policy and competent law making as well as corrupt and incompetent leadership. Without extra insight, this gov't vs market debate as described in the article is barren.
  • Friedman's Free to Choose is available as a stream on "Idea Channel", if you have many many hours to spare.
  • Well, he was right about that, prohibition doesn't work.
  • It disturbs me how little people know about economists. Friedman came lately to this discussion about things like the war on drugs. Edward Mishan is the guy to read if you want a sensible approach to this. Moreover, Friedman is not the guy to blame for Reaganomics/Thatcherism - look to Hayek, Niskanen, Buchanan, Downs if you really want to see the theory behind the practice.