The IL GOP discovers Milton Friedman

When the giant Milton Friedman died this past week we were tempted to express our condolences to the Republican members of the Illinois General Assembly on their having lost a great friend. Of course we’d be doing it in jest, since based on how they govern we assume few of them have read any of Friedman’s works.

Then we visited the IL GOP website and found out that someone over at H.Q. went to the trouble of cutting and pasting the RIP graphic from the Friedman Foundation’s website.

We thought we’d better show it to you lest you not believe it. What is wrong with this picture, you ask?

Well, first, the site where the IL GOP took the graphic from is — an organization dedicated to promoting school choice.  When is the last time you heard anything from any Republican Party official in Illinois about school choice?  (By the way, support for school choice is in the state GOP platform – you know, the platform that’s not posted on the IL GOP website.) We assumed that no one at Republican at Party H.Q. had ever even heard of the Friedman Foundation. We’re glad to learn otherwise.

The second thing wrong with this picture is that the Illinois GOP is a non-entity chiefly because it has run to the political left and away from the ideas espoused by men and women like Milton Friedman.

We can cut and paste, too. Below are some excerpts from Friedman’s writings posted this past week by a publication that we assume few Illinois Republican Party officials read – the Wall Street Journal.

If you haven’t read any of Friedman’s works, you should at least read Capitalism and Freedom. A subscription to the Wall Street Journal is recommended as well.

On Freedom

It is important to emphasize that economic arrangements play a dual role in the promotion of a free society. On the one hand, “freedom” in economic arrangements itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so “economic freedom” is an end in itself to a believer in freedom.

In the second place, economic freedom is also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom. . . .

A citizen of the United States who under the laws of various states is not free to follow the occupation of his own choosing, unless he can get a license for it, is likewise being deprived of an essential part of his freedom. So economic freedom, in and of itself, is an extremely important part of total freedom.

The reason it is important to emphasize this point is because intellectuals in particular have a strong bias against regarding this aspect of freedom as important. They tend to express contempt for what they regard as material aspects of life and to regard their own pursuit of allegedly higher values as on a different plane of significance and as deserving special attention. But for the ordinary citizen of the country, for the great masses of the people, the direct importance of economic freedom is in many cases of at least comparable importance to the indirect importance of economic freedom as a means of political freedom.

Viewed as a means to the end of political freedom, economic arrangements are essential because of the effect which they have on the concentration of power. A major thesis of the new liberal is that the kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely, organization of economic activities through a largely free market and private enterprises, in short, through competitive capitalism, is also a necessary though not a sufficient condition for political freedom.

The central reason why this is true is because such a form of economic organization separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to be an offset to the other. I cannot think of a single example at any time or any place where there was a large measure of political freedom without there also being something comparable to a private enterprise market form of economic organization for the bulk of economic activity.

–from “Capitalism and Freedom: Why and How the Two Ideas Are Mutually Dependent,” May 17, 1961

On the Free Market

What most people really object to when they object to a free market is that it is so hard for them to shape it to their own will. The market gives people what the people want instead of what other people think they ought to want. At the bottom of many criticisms of the market economy is really lack of belief in freedom itself.

The essence of political freedom is the absence of coercion of one man by his fellow men. The fundamental danger to political freedom is the concentration of power. The existence of a large measure of power in the hands of a relatively few individuals enables them to use it to coerce their fellow men. Preservation of freedom requires either the elimination of power where that is possible, or its dispersal where it cannot be eliminated.

It essentially requires a system of checks and balances, like that explicitly incorporated in our Constitution. . . .

The person who buys bread doesn’t know whether the wheat from which it was made was grown by a pleader of the Fifth Amendment or a McCarthyite, by person whose skin is black or whose skin is white. The market is an impersonal mechanism that separates economic activities of individual from their personal characteristics. It enables people to cooperate in the economic realm regardless of any differences of opinion or views or attitudes they may have in other areas.

–from “The New Liberal’s Creed: Individual Freedom, Preserving Dissent Are Ultimate Goals,” May 18, 1961

On Taxes

To summarize, deficits are bad–but not because they necessarily raise interest rates. They are bad because they encourage political irresponsibility. They enable our representatives in Washington to buy votes at our expense without having to vote explicitly for taxes to finance the largesse. The result is a bigger government and a poorer nation. That is why I favor a constitutional amendment requiring Congress to balance the budget and limit taxation.

–from “The Taxes Called Deficits,” April 24, 1984

On Jobs

Proposed economic policies tend to be judged in terms of jobs “created.” That is the wrong criterion. The economic problem is not creating jobs. That is easy: Hire people at minimum wages (or lower) to dig holes and fill them. True, raising taxes to finance that project would destroy jobs, but the jobs destroyed would be high-wage jobs, the jobs created low-wage jobs, so for each job destroyed more than one job would be created–a net gain of jobs.

The real problem is to establish an economic environment in which there is a demand for workers at wages that those workers not only regard as satisfactory, but are qualified to earn: Better qualified workers and better wages–not simply more jobs–is the real problem.

–from “Better Workers, Better Wages: The Real Issue,” June 1, 1993

On Government Spending

The typical rhetoric, Republican as well as Democratic, about the current battle to balance the budget is that cutting government spending imposes short-term pain more than compensated by long-term gain. That is utter nonsense. Cutting government spending and government intrusion in the economy will almost surely involve immediate gain for the many, short-term pain for the few, and long-term gain for all.

–from “Budget Cutting: A Lot of Gain, Little Pain,” June 15, 1995

On School Choice

One result has been experimentation with such alternatives as vouchers, tax credits, and charter schools. Government voucher programs are in effect in a few places (Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, the District of Columbia); private voucher programs are widespread; tax credits for educational expenses have been adopted in at least three states and tax credit vouchers (tax credits for gifts to scholarship-granting organizations) in three states. In addition, a major legal obstacle to the adoption of vouchers was removed when the Supreme Court affirmed the legality of the Cleveland voucher in 2002. However, all of these programs are limited; taken together they cover only a small fraction of all children in the country.

Throughout this long period, we have been repeatedly frustrated by the gulf between the clear and present need, the burning desire of parents to have more control over the schooling of their children, on the one hand, and the adamant and effective opposition of trade union leaders and educational administrators to any change that would in any way reduce their control of the educational system.

–from “Free to Choose,” June 9, 2005