Libertarian History/Philosophy

Hating Milton Friedman

A proud father of global prosperity.

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Credit: Michael C. Moynihan

When Milton Friedman received the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, a protester disrupted the ceremony with shouts of "down with capitalism, freedom for Chile." Three decades later, in The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein repackaged that outburst for a new generation of hecklers, blaming Friedman for Augusto Pinochet's brutal dictatorship and the U.S. occupation of Iraq. It mattered little that Friedman had explicitly denounced both Pinochet's human rights abuses and the Iraq war.

The anti-Friedman movement has also manifested itself in the form of this sticker, which began appearing on walls, bus stops, and newspaper stands in Washington, D.C., in early 2009. The stark black-and-white design features Friedman's smiling face above the caption "Milton Friedman/Proud Father of Global Misery."

But by making a principled case for free markets, international trade, and individual rights, Friedman actually helped create the opposite of global misery. Millions of people continue to be lifted out of poverty worldwide based on these principles. If more politicians had listened to Friedman's warnings about loose money and ill-conceived interventions in the economy, we might have avoided the latest round of economic misery as well.

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93 responses to “Hating Milton Friedman

  1. In the reality based community, Milton Friedman is a mass murder and Che Guevera is a hero and humanitarian. And to think these people spend their lives looking down their noses at the uneducated dumb hicks of the world.

  2. I have a good reason to dislike Milton Friedman. Friedman thinking of better ways to fund more wars

  3. I think the pencil story is just too difficult for Arts & Sciences majors to grasp.

  4. Everybody saw the CNN clip in Chicago about tax day. Please watch the 2nd part of this clip which shows what CNN excluded from coverage media controlling message

  5. Gabe Harris,

    The bedwetting pacifist thread is a few before this one. Fluffy could use your help.

  6. Just to be clear. I do agree with 90% of Milton Friedmans books etc…just not so happy with the withholding idea and his promotion of central planning of the monetary system.

  7. GH, g and G,

    Is it possible for that bigh brain of yours to format your handle the same way at least twice in a row?

  8. High Every Body,
    You probably didn’t read the link, because it was a reference to MILTON FRIEDMAN being responsible for TAX WITHOLDING you government loving moron.

  9. They hate him becuase he is so beautiful.

  10. what is a bigh brain?

    Formatting is your concern?

    Do you work in Human Resources by any chance?

  11. G,

    Congratulations on getting that handle consistant twice.

    Love your phrasing too. It adds so much to the discussion.

  12. YEA! It is typo corrections day again at H&R!

  13. Gabe,

    Are you sure that you know what you linked to? The title is Milton Friedman reminisces about his career as an economist and his lifetime “avocation” as a spokesman for freedom. and Mr.Doherty is not know for titling errors like you suggest.

    Perhaps you are misfocusing on some tiny element and missing the bigger picture.

    If you can get a flat tax with no exemptions or deductions–the Armey plan I suppose would be fine–its main advantage would not be the greater equity of a flat tax or less interference in private incentives.

    That does not sound so awful to me. And the term “witholding” does not appear anyplace in the story.

  14. Regarding New Republican J. Chait’s distortion of Friedman in his The Big Con (2007):

    As for Friedman, he was by no means declaring (at the very beginning of Capitalism and Freedom) that “economic freedom” is the supreme value irrespective of its “practical effects” on people’s lives; rather, it is not only “an end in itself,” but “also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom” (emphasis added). He rejected further the false dichotomy between freedom and “material welfare,” and libertarians today reject in turn that between morality and practicality — fundamentally, I would contend, between ethics and economics. That’s because the two sciences are studying merely different aspects of the same reality, the same nature — human nature. They can no more conflict than physics and chemistry. It is a “deeper belief” (explicit or implicit) in some standard of morality that determines both “intended goals” and the means to achieve them.

    From the article “Modern Liberalism at Wit’s End.”

  15. It always amazes me how many people think that the world is generally becoming a more miserable place when most evidence seems to point in completely the opposite direction. Where do people get this idea that there was a time in the past when things were pretty much OK, or at least better than they are now? Global misery has been the standard for all of human existence. There were no good old days.

  16. “It always amazes me how many people think that the world is generally becoming a more miserable place when most evidence seems to point in completely the opposite direction. Where do people get this idea that there was a time in the past when things were pretty much OK, or at least better than they are now? Global misery has been the standard for all of human existence. There were no good old days.”

    For some people, happiness varies with the amount of control they can exert over other people’s lives. Yeah for you and I things are really good. But for some people, the fact that millions of Americans and now worse yet millions of people around the world, are free to do things that are distastful or low class or just icky, is really bothersome. The good old days where when the people of Eastern Europe lived under the enlightened control of their betters and Americans couldn’t do things like post on the internet and contradict their betters in the media and government.

  17. Global Misery?

    Aren’t we all, on virtually every measure far better off than in the 70’s?

    Personally I think it’s a terrible shame that he is so much associated with “standard right wing Conservatism.” Certainly seems to be in the UK.

  18. “Do you work in Human Resources by any chance?”

    Those who can, do.

    Those who can’t, go into Human Resources.

  19. Aren’t we all, on virtually every measure far better off than in the 70’s?

    Not according to the revisionist Carter worshipers.

  20. HIGH EVERY BODY,

    Here is the cut and paste from the article in reason I linked to. “withholding”(two h’s) is in the article that you were too lazy to read.

    “You were involved in the development of the withholding tax when you were doing tax work for the government in 1941-43?

    Friedman: I was an employee at the Treasury Department. We were in a wartime situation. How do you raise the enormous amount of taxes you need for wartime? We were all in favor of cutting inflation. I wasn’t as sophisticated about how to do it then as I would be now, but there’s no doubt that one of the ways to avoid inflation was to finance as large a fraction of current spending with tax money as possible.

    In World War I, a very small fraction of the total war expenditure was financed by taxes, so we had a doubling of prices during the war and after the war. At the outbreak of World War II, the Treasury was determined not to make the same mistake again.

    You could not do that during wartime or peacetime without withholding. And so people at the Treasury tax research department, where I was working, investigated various methods of withholding. I was one of the small technical group that worked on developing it. “

  21. Those who can’t, go into Human Resources.

    Not defending those HR types, but I believe a good example of “those who can’t” can be seen above bashing the great Milton Friedman.

  22. Did this ‘article’ really need to be linked to? 3 paragraphs constitute a “New at Reason”?? Why not just put it all in the blog post?

  23. Gabe,

    Where, specifically, in the interview you linked did Friedman think of “better ways to fund more wars?”

  24. TAX WITHOLDING

    You missed an H in your post. I was simply searching for what Mr. Typo correction posted as “fact”.

  25. “Not defending those HR types, but I believe a good example of “those who can’t” can be seen above bashing the great Milton Friedman.”

    I liked you better when you were a fourth-rate liberal troll.

  26. Les,

    Gabe posted “evidence” just before your question and, apparently, thinks it is bad to fight wars when we are attacked by powerful enemies.

    He also proves that he cannot read.

    Hi Blossom! I like you better with the hat.

  27. Why would any self-respecting person seriously post to a venue filled with as much puerile vitriol as this one? Reason should moderate the comments or eliminate them. They are no great loss; lewrockwell.com does just fine without them.

  28. Hey Nicolas, go felch yourself.

  29. High Every Body,

    Thanks for the heads up.

    Gabe, do you actually think we shouldn’t have fought WW2 after Japan attacked us and Germany and Italy declared war on us?

  30. Why would any self-respecting person seriously post to a venue filled with as much puerile vitriol as this one?

    While the signal to noise ratio isn’t what I’d like, there is definitely wheat among the chaff.

    I defy anyone to beat that for a mixed metaphor.

  31. Gabe, do you actually think we shouldn’t have fought WW2 after Japan attacked us and Germany and Italy declared war on us?

    To be fair to ‘Gabe/gabe/Gabe Harris’, they did not say we should not fight wars, we just should not fund them.

    Right G/g/GH?

  32. Gabe, do you actually think we shouldn’t have fought WW2 after Japan attacked us and Germany and Italy declared war on us?

    I think the question is, should we have gone to war if they didn’t?

  33. I defy anyone to beat that for a mixed metaphor.

    If we hit that bull’s eye, the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate.

  34. I think the question is, should we have gone to war if they didn’t?

    We bagan engaging in open warfare with the German Navy on 11 September 1941, by FDR edict and no Congressional vote or debate.

  35. However, the Germans were already sinking our merchant ships at the time.

  36. high,
    I am simply pointing out that Milton Friedman thought the withholding of taxes would help better fund a war. He worked for the government to implement this critical innovation in separating working people from their money.

    Whether or not the war was worth funding, his economic reasoning for supporting the withdolding was revealing. It seems he wanted to hide one of the consequences(inflation) of war from the people. His solution was to take our money from us BEFORE we ever get it.

    After obtusely ignoring the article and telling me that “witholding” is not in the article I posted, I pointed out the error in your word search.

    If you are for withholding then I can understand where you are coming from. If you are against withholding of taxes then hopefully you will reduce your idol worship.

    PS Rothbard was a economist who never implemented any new tax schemes for the Feds and clearly illuminated the problems with the federal reserve that we are seeing today. If Milton had listened to Rothbard a little more then maybe he would have been a better economist.

  37. Why would any self-respecting person seriously post to a venue filled with as much puerile vitriol as this one? Reason should moderate the comments or eliminate them. They are no great loss; lewrockwell.com does just fine without them.

    Waiter! Better make it a double; just to be sure.

  38. I can’t fathom hating Friedman. He seemed like a very kind hearted man whether you agree or disagree with him on things political, economic and philosophical. And even if you did I think one has to recognize that the guy had some genuine insights and was a brilliant, learned fellow.

    I saw Free to Choose on that great socialist bastion PBS (for those who always bitch about PBS’s super liberal bias this would be like Rush Limbaugh letting Gus Hall guest host, so yes, the bias of one just ain’t liek the other, huh?)

  39. Of course we are better off than we ever have been, yet we still complain ceaselessly. For proof, I cite none other than the great philosphe, Louis CK:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoGYx35ypus

  40. “However, the Germans were already sinking our merchant ships at the time.”

    Because we were supplying munitions to the British.

  41. “Gabe, do you actually think we shouldn’t have fought WW2 after Japan attacked us and Germany and Italy declared war on us?”

    FDR provoked the Japanese into attacking us.

  42. Because we were supplying munitions to the British.

    Yea? So?

  43. FDR provoked the Japanese into attacking us.

    Well, obviously we shouldn’t have provoked the Japanese, but they did attack us. The question was whether or not we should have fought the war (raising funds to fight it being a given).

  44. Buchananite dolt alert.

  45. “If we hit that bull’s eye, the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards”

    I can’t wait for the opportunity to use this in the real world!

  46. Of course we are better off than we ever have been, yet we still complain ceaselessly. For proof, I cite none other than the great philosphe, Louis CK:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoGYx35ypus

    Brilliant. I’m not sure if you were saying Louis is the complainer, cause of his bits about capitalism, but he was spot on with the rest of it.

  47. “Yea? So?”

    You kind of give up any right to be treated as a neutral when you supply one side but not the other.

    Mind you, the Swedes got away with it.

  48. Rand rant of the day:

    “Evading the difference between production and looting, they called the [Friedman] a robber. Evading the difference between freedom and compulsion, they called [Friedman] a slave driver. Evading the difference between reward and terror, they called [Friedman] an exploiter Evading the difference between pay checks and funs, they called [Friedman] an autocrat. Evading the difference between trade and force, they called [Friedman] a tyrant. The most crucial issue they had to evade was the difference between the earned [Friedman] and the unearned.”

  49. fuck:

    Evading the difference between pay checks and GUNS, they called [Friedman] an autocrat.

  50. You can’t have a cult, without a cult leader.

  51. Man
    Milton Friedmann was such a godlike genius

    The thing I dig the most about the guy is the fact that he really well a truly wanted to find intelligent ways to reduce government,
    sounds obvious but

    He wasn’t so much a capitalist as someone who saw it as the only way to ensure liberty

    One aspect that is so underrated/ignored by both left and right is the non-statist wealth re-distribution he proposed

    negative income taxtion,
    the idea that the Iraqi oilfields should be privatized and every Iraq given a share
    geo-libertarian ideas
    Things no conservative or objectivist would ever consider as legitimate

    Its like reading a really intelligent person trying to rationalize functional non-statist ways to organize an economy
    and surprisingly non-ideological

    When I get some spare time I’ll definately be firing up Corel Painter to woodcut some funky Milton Tshirts 🙂

    The bloke who did that flyer can’t woodcut for shit!!!

  52. You could have a cult of elected representatives…Damn human nature.

  53. If Milton had listened to Rothbard a little more then maybe he would have been a better economist.

    Ha. Hahahaha. BWAHAHAHAHA……

  54. High Every Body “The bedwetting pacifist thread is a few before this one. Fluffy could use your help.”

    Fuck you asshole. You’re just another stupid ignorant nazi pretending to be a classical liberal. Just like the fucking asshole friedman.

  55. My three biggest disappointments as a libertarian:

    1. Cato
    2. Reason
    3. Friedman.

  56. “negative income taxtion,
    the idea that the Iraqi oilfields should be privatized and every Iraq given a share
    geo-libertarian ideas”

    I consider it a monument to lefty intransigence that these idea apparently make one a rightwing extremist.

  57. “FDR provoked the Japanese into attacking us.”

    There’s plenty of real reasons to criticize The Cult of FDR without spouting bullshit.

  58. How do you know it’s bullshit ? Oh wait. You gain knowledge by parroting good old war propaganda.

  59. TheCat,
    Do you really want to open up the “FDR deliberately got us into a war with Japan so we could declare war on the entire Axis” argument? Really? And I say this as somebody who will usually take every opportunity to deflate the FDR myth. But I stick with arguments that aren’t batshit insane.

  60. economist,

    You ought to read the Fleet the Gods forgot by Admiral Winslow someday. It’s a history of the U.S. Navy’s East Asia Fleet, which was annihilated in the opening weeks of the U.S./Japanese shooting war.

    One of the early chapters in the book describes a very odd set of missions given to some of the obsolete ships in the months prior to the war. It is pretty obvious that the missions were intended to get the Japanese to fire on those ships and provide the U.S. with a casus belli.

    Moreover, the orders given the the U.S. Navy in the summer before the Pearl Harbor attack, wherein U.S. ships were ordered to sink U-boats on sight and without warning were clearly intended to draw the U.S. into the war with Germany.

    Whether or not the war with Japan or Germany was a good idea is beside the point. FDR clearly wanted a war and got involved one in the traditional U.S. Way; by maneuvering a prospective enemy into firing the first shot

  61. tarran,

    FDR was busy planning christmas gift giving programs for all the children of the nation when he was taken by surprise at the horrible news on that dreadful day. FDR was a peace loving man who never wanted to see a single soldier die. He really wasn’t even aware that tehre was a pacific fleet. He only had a vague impression that Japan had even invented airplanes. He valued nothing more than the young men of this country staying home building new businesses and providing for new young families.

    Don’t talk about those conspiracy theories. Economist learned everything he needs to know about WW2 in his free government provided history classes. Everything else is batshit insane.

  62. If the Left is the chosen people, then Milton is Jesus and Che is Barabas.

    Vive le morte.

  63. I, like others, agree with Milton 90% of the time too. The problem lies with his belief that there must be:

    a) A central bank

    b) Inflation

    Scholars like Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard had already proven both to be unnecessary and backward for the progress of economies. In fact, economies naturally adapt quite well to issues of scarcity, if governments would just stop twisting their arms.

  64. Hagbard:

    I can understand your disappointment with Reason and Friedman, as a strict Libertarian, but why Cato? I’ve had very little disagreement with their input. Just asking.

  65. One other thing that Friedman got wrong was his belief that if we inflate money and use it to buy goods from China, we win and they lose, and that trade deficits are nothing to worry about.

    What he failed to understand was that there would of course come a day when the Chinese wanted to buy stuff with those dollars, and we’d no longer be able to export our inflation.

    -jcr

  66. I think the reason Libertarians and Austrians hate Friedman so much is jealousy. He did more to educate the world about the benefits of a free market system than all others combined.

  67. I wonder how many of these people putting up anti-Friedman stickers were wearing Che Guevara t-shirts at the time?

  68. Paul,
    I think you’re just shilling for BigMonetarism.

  69. And, btw, I don’t think the vast majority of libertarians hate Friedman, even among those who disagreed with him on certain points.

  70. “If the Left is the chosen people, then Milton is Jesus and Che is Barabas.

    Vive le morte.”

    Then who is Pilate? George Bush?

  71. Sorry, I’m just not thinking very clearly today.

    But seriously, I’d like to find out who Pilate would be in a libertarian passion play. And where would Murray Rothbard fall into this?

  72. tarran,
    I just put in an order for it on Amazon. I should be back to you on it in a few weeks.

  73. Please oh please moderate these blog comments. I have undergraduate students who would do it for the price of a measly internship. This thing is a troll-infested fen. Every time I come here I remember why I haven’t been here for a week.

  74. Lester Hunt,
    Now that’s not really fair. I’ve been on a few blogs, and most of them are either a.far more troll-infested than H&R or b.True Echo Chambers.

  75. *amused at above suggestion that a libertarian magazine engage in censorship of its readers to suppress what the poster finds distasteful

  76. Why are we blaming extremely complex economic problems on one person? Creating a scapegoat is the easiest way to rile up the masses and distract from real solutions. I’ve had it with the left’s demonizing. They are evil.

  77. Please do not confuse them with facts. When Friedman died, I got into a conversation with someone who claimed that Friedman was the author of global drug laws, to fund prison industries.

    I pointed out that Friedman opposed the “War on Drugs”, going so far as to send a letter to the President George HW Bush during the height of drug hysteria in the early 1990s opposing strengthening anti-drug laws. The person stood there speechless and changed the subject.

  78. Friedman also warned of the dangers of rent-seeking businesmen. Although I guess that’s not something the Kochtopus is anxious to highlight.

  79. do you actually think we shouldn’t have fought WW2 after Japan attacked us and Germany and Italy declared war on us?

    That’s a textbook example of “begging the question”. We were already at war with these countries long before the formal declaration of war. Read up on the Flying Tigers.

  80. He rejected further the false dichotomy between freedom and “material welfare,” and libertarians today reject in turn that between morality and practicality — fundamentally, I would contend, between ethics and economics.

    Well, that’s just silly. Economically it makes perfect sense to kill off people after retirement age and turn them into a nutritious soup. Ethics and economics are frequently in conflict. It might make good economic sense for you to sell your daughter into sexual slavery, but I suspect you’d still contrive a reason not to do it.

  81. It really is a war between the haves and the have nots.

    Friedman opened up the ideas of free markets and a stable currency in order to achieve more prosperity and wealth. His ideas have arguably helped millions of people to pull themselves out of poverty but unfortunatly not everybody. Is this a good or bad thing?

    “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”
    W. Churchill

  82. Ironically, these are probably the same idiots who have Che posters at home.

    It’s amazing that some people still manage to be on the wrong side of the Cold War.

    Their objection to capitalism is the terrible fear that somewere, someone might be better off than you, even if your own living standards are better than ever.

  83. do you actually think we shouldn’t have fought WW2 after Japan attacked us and Germany and Italy declared war on us?

    There are other interesting questions too, such as: once we had the upper hand, should we have invaded them at terrible cost to both sides or negotiated a peace that “contained” them?

    It’s sort of amusing that Japan’s strategy (a quick tactical victory followed by a negotiated end to the war before our industrial capacity overwhelmed them) was predicated on the notion we were too weak and pacifist to do what we eventually did to them.

  84. Gabe:

    How about posting the two paragraphs following those you quoted? I have bolded the relevant sentences:

    “One of the major opponents of the idea was the IRS. Because every organization knows that the only way you can do anything is the way they’ve always been doing it. This was something new, and they kept telling us how impossible it was. It was a very interesting and very challenging intellectual task. I played a significant role, no question about it, in introducing withholding. I think it’s a great mistake for peacetime, but in 1941-43, all of us were concentrating on the war.

    I have no apologies for it, but I really wish we hadn’t found it necessary and I wish there were some way of abolishing withholding now.”

    Sounds to me like he acknowleded he made a mistake. Doesn’t sound like someone hell bent on taking our money.

    Here’s more:

    “… there’s no doubt that one of the ways to avoid inflation was to finance as large a fraction of current spending with tax money as possible.

    In World War I, a very small fraction of the total war expenditure was financed by taxes, so we had a doubling of prices during the war and after the war. At the outbreak of World War II, the Treasury was determined not to make the same mistake again.”

    So he’s saying that it’s better to increase taxes during the war than it would have been to finance the war with debt. That sounds pretty reasonable to me. Again, these are not the words of a militarist who is out to rob people of their hard-earned money.

  85. DavidW – Cato’s support of the war on Afghanistan and their non-opposition to the war on Iraq. After that, I stopped paying any attention to them.

  86. There is no libertarian “passion play”.

    We’re not a Christian story.
    We’re the fall of the Republic.
    The Left is Ceasar. We’re Brutus.

  87. If you could produce a computer program of Milton Friedman’s ideas and comments on economics, and like an electronic chess game, make your moves against his, Milton would never lose. He was a genius, and part of his genius was explaining complex concepts in terms most 7 year olds could essentially understand, all without talking down to anyone, and always being polite. One of the nicest people you could ever meet, and I did several times.

  88. I always say, Intellectuals are the most ignorant- Mao Ze Dong.

    Friemdan is an ignorant intellectual. He loved capitalism so much because he fucked his own money everyday.

  89. “Millions of people continue to be lifted out of poverty worldwide based on these principles.”

    Like who?

    Every place his ideas were incorporated resulted in lower wages, higher unemployment, greater poverty, and richer rich folk.

    Pull your head out. Your life depends on it.

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