Appreciating Milton Friedman


That's what Virginia Postrel does, in this New York Times column. The kicker:

Over the last two decades, central bankers here and abroad have worked to keep inflation low and stable, and they have largely succeeded. Back in the 1970's, Milton Friedman didn't think that was politically possible. About that one thing, perhaps, he was wrong.

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  1. For a cogent case for the gold standard see the article:Gold and Economic Freedom in “Capitalism The Unknown Ideal” Ed. Ayn Rand, by
    ….Alan Greenspan!

  2. I’d fight to be first in line to wash the feet of Uncle Miltie, but I’ll share something else he’s wrong about.
    We have a secret ballot for voting for public officials, but the wisdom of secrecy was not appreciated until about 1880 in the US.
    What we need now is a secret ballot for public officials when they vote on public business. That would be the simplest and most effective “campaign finance reform” because fat cats would not know whom to bribe so they would give up.

    I ran that by Uncle Miltie, and he poo-pooed it. Can you beleeb dat?

    (I don’t know how to begin a new topic, but I’d like informed opinions on what I’m proposing.)

  3. Ruthless,

    I hate to agree with George Will, but I think he’s right that fat cat money tends to follow politicians’ ideology, rather than create it. Although I don’t doubt there’s plenty of opportunism in regard to a few hot button issues, overall it’s more likely that politicians’ policy preferences are influence mainly by factors other than campaign funding. The corporate money simply goes to those pols whose views serve fat cat interests.

    As C. Wright Mills said, a politician can’t “divest” his basic institutional loyalties in a blind trust when he gets elected.

  4. But ruthless, if voting were secret, how would we know for whom to vote? In your scheme, can candidates state how they would vot on issues during a campaign? And how do we voters hold them accountable for positions taken if we cannot know whether they follow through?

    The only way to erode the influence of money is to have a minimalist state, or, as some would argue, no state at all.I’m not in that latter category but definitely am in the former.

  5. I’m probably a little more sympathetic to campaign finance regulations than most around here.

    Let me rephrase: If we limit ourselves to matters of principle, I’m more sympathetic to campaign finance regulations than most around here. At the risk of exile from Libertopia, nowhere in the First Amendment does it say “Congress shall make no law infringing Bill Clinton’s ability to rent out the Lincoln bedroom and generally rent the government to the highest bidder.” So in principle I don’t mind laws that forbid politicians from acting like high-priced prostitutes.

    But in practice, I’ve become skeptical of campaign finance laws. Most predictions are that Bush will raise $100 million for his re-election. Hmm, $100 million for 4 years in a job that pays a few hundred grand a year, plus swank accomodations. Yeah, no corruption there. Zilch. Uh-huh. (sarcasm)

    Anyway, that $100 million worth of prostitution is apparently 100% legal. Clearly that McCain-Feingold thing didn’t solve any problems. And since I’m generally skeptical of the “Well, if we just get a few more regulations this will work!” attitude, I’ve decided that I’m against most (perhaps all?) campaign finance laws.

  6. Ruthless,
    I’m with Uncle Miltie on this. It seems that your idea would only make the lines of communication in buying votes more expensive to maintain and drive the process further underground but in no manner would it stop it. Politicians do plenty of stuff in secret any way. If they voted that way it would also keep us in the dark. A more sure way to stop the purchasing of politicians votes is to limit the favors that government can give away in the first place. This can be accomplished either through adherence to the constitution or via statute.

    Milton Friedman, if you happen to read this; thank
    you for all your contributions, both of scholarship and to the cause of freedom. You enrich our lives.

  7. Kevin Carson,
    You’d have to admit the fat cats would surely pull at least a few chips off the table because of the uncertainty factor?
    I don’t vote, but my secret ballot would greatly increase the odds for throwing all the rascals out every Novermber, eh? Got a problem?
    Rick Barton,
    I agree the true solution is limiting what politicians can give away as favors, but that will happen when pigs fly.
    (I live in Cincinnati.)

  8. “What we need now is a secret ballot for public officials when they vote on public business.”

    …and the first order of public business is a big fat pay raise.

  9. Xavier-

    Yup, I’ve always opposed bans on “issue ads.” Same for “equal time” rules.

    In principle I don’t like letting a politician receive lots of money from every greedy lobbyist out there. But they can always give the money to “the private committee to re-elect somebody who is most definitely not officially affiliated with this private committee”. Which seems like ridiculous sophistry.

  10. Sure enough, he declined to apologize for it, but he did regret it and expressed his regret for it: “I think it’s a great mistake for peacetime, but in 1941-43, all of us were concentrating on the war… I really wish we hadn’t found it necessary and I wish there were some way of abolishing withholding now.”

  11. Just as I thought,no moral qualms at all about his role in imposing this evil on his countrymen,and making tax collectors of private businessmen and serfs of their employees-only vague regrets about this being “necessary”.The war is always their alibi,and coincidentally,they’ve always managed to have a war going on with somebody.

  12. Gwyn Thomas,

    That echoes slightly the thoughts of Ayn Rand (his ex-God); who has written that anything was worth winning WWII.

  13. If you mean to say Rand was ever a “god” to Milton Friedman, I don’t think that’s correct. And, Rand was not a supporter of the U.S. role in WW2.

  14. Quoting Postrel:

    Americans wanted higher nominal wages and prices to keep up as the value of each dollar declined.

    And Americans didn’t want higher wages, and higher prices when when they were sellers, before the value of the dollar declined? When they did start to want them, their wanting was what made it happen?

    Is this just a slip of the keyboard, or is Postrel really an economic airhead?

  15. Corruption in government finance does not flow from the contributor to the politician, it flows from the politician to the voter who will keep him in office for a price.

    To stop corruption, stop empowering politicians to redistribute wealth to people who will vote for them.

  16. “You’d have to admit the fat cats would surely pull at least a few chips off the table because of the uncertainty factor?”

    This would only happen when the amount of the “subsidy” is less than the cost of doing business, aka buying the politician.

  17. Jason – Well said.

    I have always maintained that if a too-cozy relationship exists between business and government, it is government’s fault. By and large, businesspeople must operate in the environment in which they find themselves. If that environment is hostile to their operation, certainly they will try to exert whatever influence they can to make the political environment more amenable.

    At least the corporation is capable of actually creating wealth, the politician/government official can only take with one hand and give with the other. Minimize his ability to do this, and the chain of corruption is considerably weakened.

  18. Instead of a secret ballot for legislators, how about making the source of campaign donations secret from the candidates.

    Assuming you the technical details are solved and no candidate really knew where the source of their campaign funds was coming from, what would be the result.

    Some interest groups could bluff, The Helium Prodcuers Trade Association could say “Hey, Senator, we just gave you $1 dollars better make sure the Strategic Helium Reserve continues to function.” But the Senator might feel he is being played.

    I think such a system would reward ideological candidatews over practical candidates. The pro-gunners would still support their candidates and gun grabbers would support theirs, but on other issues say like the DCMA, where it is not clear to me that congresscritters are not so much voting their beliefs as there campaign chests, i think it would make a big difference.

  19. I dunno, I’m a big “Secrecy begets tyranny” fan. How can there be any accountability without information?

  20. Jeff –

    In the “secret voting” regime, the idea mentioned above is that the entire body is accountable, and we should vote out the whole bunch.
    Conversely, the congresscritters will certainly be *less accountable* to their campaign donors, making them less beholden to the big money, which was the goal the poster above laid out.

    In the “secret donation” regime, the donors are less accountable to the congresscritters- say I’m the representative from the great state of PA, and I have a $15 million blind-donation war chest, and both the NRA and Mothers against machine guns assert they gave me $10 mil. Fantastic. I can now vote my conscience (and publicly under this regime to boot).

    I actually kind of like this – no one’s speech is blocked; just made unverifiable. Only problem is that it requires an incorruptible/technically sound third party administrator.

  21. Hmmm, okay….. Gotta think this one through.

  22. thoreau: Not all forms of campaign contributions are constitutionally protected. As you suggested, congress could definitely prevent the president from renting out the Lincoln Bedroom. But what about private groups spending their own money to run ads in support of a candidate? I think that deserves constitutional protection. And as long as there are some forms of campaign contributions that cannot be constitutionally limited, there isn’t much point in limiting campaign contributions at all. Those restrictions will only serve to change the form of contributions.

  23. It’s nonsense to assume anyone or any organization would waste money on an anonymous political donation.

  24. I hate to interrupt all the compliments and especially the foot-washing,but didn’t Mr. Friedman,in his misspent youth as a State economist,help devise the withholding tax?

  25. Yes, and he admitted as much in these very pages. Have a look.

  26. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 04:57:08
    Have no friends not equal to yourself.

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