Monday, 19 March 2012 08:36

Milton Friedman: Men of Ideas

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Milton Friedman (1912-2006) was an American economic historian (his book on the economic history of the United States is considered a classic). Friedman appeared to be an ideologue for capitalism; his 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom, made the case that Capitalism is correlated with freedom; in fact, he seemed to believe that capitalism is the only economic system that can sustain freedom.

Friedman devoted much of his academic career to making the argument that capitalism ought to be the preferred economic system of the countries of the world because it is, he believed, the only economic system capable of sustaining freedom.  As would be expected, his system maintaining argument was music to the ears of the gatekeepers of the American political-economic system, and they apparently funded his activities.

The man went around the world preaching, that is correct, he was an old time religious preacher rather than a detached scholar, that capitalism is ideal economic system. He is reported to have been supportive of America’s covert efforts to remove from power third world leaders that were perceived as anti capitalism, such as the murder of Salvador Allende of Chile, and the superimposition of the military reactionary Pinochet on the people of Chile. The Chilean people had elected as their president the socialist Allende; apparently, the powers that be at Washington did not like that and, instead, superimposed the pro-capitalist Pinochet on Chileans.

Friedman assiduously worked to transform the economies of the world into capitalism and freedom (as he understood freedom to be).

In so far that Friedman had any real contribution to economic discourse it was his undying support of Laissez Faire economic system. Apparently, he regarded Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations as a bible and carried it around with him and talked about it as the panacea for every economic ill that ailed any country. His solution for every economic problem was: let the free market decide it, governments should hands off the economy.

Of course, Friedman’s libertarianism is phony, the type of sham liberty found in the rarified conditions of academic institutions.

In the real world, individuals do not have the resources to do certain things and it takes the collective, government, to do them. Consider space exploration. There is no immediate profit for individual business men to engage in that pursuit. Yet funding of it by government has expanded our knowledge of the beginning and future of the universe. The point is that government’s role in the economy seems necessary, not if we want to live in a technological world. Those who harp on unfettered free enterprise probably want to return to very simple societies; they seem Rousseau type romantics and are not realistic.

Friedman was a conservative idealist, a dangerous type, for on the surface he appeared realist when, in fact, he was talking idealism, his fantasy of how things ought to become.

Friedman was given the Nobel Prize in economics, not for making new discoveries in the discipline but because he was a system supporter, an ardent supporter of the capitalist system; additionally, he made a case for economics, the dismal science, and made the discipline fairly well known to the public. One supposes that been a publicist is sufficient reason to reward the man with the Nobel.

An original thinker Friedman was not.  He made himself famous by criticizing original thinkers, such as John Maynard Keynes. At every turn he never ceased pointing out what is wrong with Keynes, arguing that his economic system would lead to big government and that big government is a threat to the people’s political freedom, that Locke and limited government is the panacea for every thing.

Friedman fancied himself a libertarian economically and wanted government to hands off most economic activities (except to use the people’s tax dollars to intervene in third world countries and remove their leaders he did not like).

It is safe to conclude that Friedman was a chorus boy for the American economic system and that that was all there was to him. One cannot think of any new idea he contributed to economic discourse. Whatever he believed that America is for he supported and America rewarded him with a job at a prestigious university, Chicago, from where he made supportive noises.

After 9/11 Friedman devoted his time to preaching that the greatest threat to freedom is Islamofascism.   We already know that Islam is anti democratic and is theocratic.

Friedman was an apostle of the American economic system and policy makers sought his advice. He served on many policy advisory boards. His ideas are said to have influenced many conservative leaders, especially Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher; he asked those to knock off government programs aimed at serving the poor and increase military spending.  Apparently, Friedman was unaware that an expanded military is probably the greatest threat to freedom. A militarized country is never a free country.

Is America a free country? What is freedom? Let us not take Friedman serious enough to subject him to a discourse on freedom. He probably did not know what constitutes freedom. Let us leave him where he was at:  a simple disciple of an economic system that he believed served him and his Jewish people well; an economic system that many in third world countries believe screws them, royally.


Milton Friedman. Free To Choose. (1990)

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176