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Friedman was ready and willing to tell the people responsible for all the wrong policies of the world what they needed to do to set things right, which meant he had to talk to them, making open assaults on their crimes ill-advised. He tried to move the world in a freer direction from the point reality presented him with.
“I have nothing good to say about the political regime that Pinochet imposed,” Friedman said in 1991. “It was a terrible political regime. The real miracle of Chile is not how well it has done economically; the real miracle of Chile is that a military junta was willing to go against its principles and support a free-market regime designed by principled believers in a free market….In Chile, the drive for political freedom that was generated by economic freedom and the resulting economic success ultimately resulted in a referendum that introduced political democracy.”
It may have been more morally satisfying to have no relationship with Pinochet, merely condemn him from afar. But in choosing to let his economic advice rise above political revulsion, Friedman almost certainly helped Chile in the long term--though it’s important to remember that the “Chicago boys” were more responsible than Friedman himself, and that they were not following his prescriptions relentlessly or in any way under his direct instruction.
Undoubtedly, Friedman’s decision to interact with officials of
repressive governments creates uncomfortable tensions for his
libertarian admirers; I could, and often do, wish he hadn’t done
it. But given what it probably meant for economic wealth and
liberty in the long term for the people of Chile, that’s a selfish
reaction. Pinochet’s economic policies do not ameliorate his
crimes, despite what his right-wing admirers say. But Friedman, as
an economic advisor to all who’d listen, neither committed his
crimes, nor admired the criminal.
Senior editor Brian Doherty is author of This is Burning Man and the forthcoming Radicals for Capitalism .