Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Uncle Miltie at 100

Milton Friedman was the classic smart Jewish kid.  He was smart, he worked hard, and he never backed out of an argument.  We need more of his kind.

For conservatives he represents a nuts-and-bolts defense of capitalism, while Mises (another smart Jewish kid, from the city of Lemberg, now Lwow in the Ukraine) represented a more Kantian, philosophical approach.  Hayek, I would say, because of his detour through Britain, brought more of a British empirical approach to the subject.

Milton Friedman was the public face of free-market economics because of his Free to Choose TV series.  But why, you will wonder, did PBS agree to put such a man up on TV?  The reason is that conservatives were miffed that the BBC and other public broadcasting agencies had put up John Kenneth Galbraith on TV with his hymn to liberalism, the 13 part series called The Age of Uncertainty.  What about our guy, was the cry!  So, grudgingly, PBS put up Milton Friedman for a 10 part series.

Today's eulogizers seem to remember Free to Choose as a stunning success, but I remember feeling that it didn't quite come off.  The main reason, I felt, was that Galbraith in The Age of Uncertainty came across as urbane and cool, whereas Uncle Miltie was hot and combative.  Of course, Galbraith was the liberal's favorite liberal, lionized wherever he went and telling liberals exactly what they wanted to hear.  Friedman was a smart Jewish kid telling the establishment things it didn't want to hear.

Do we need another Milton Friedman today, someone who can teach free-market economics to a new generation?  No we don't, any more that we need a new Ronald Reagan.

A generation ago Milton Friedman taught men that free-market economics was the only way to go.  It was better for men to battle for market share than to battle for bureaucratic power.

But the task now is to teach women that civil society will create a better world for their children than centralized one-size-fits-all programs from the government for health, education, and welfare.  You'd think it ought to be a breeze, because women don't like being treated like a number in a line at the DMV: they think that their child is unique and that their mother's health care requires individual attention.

So we are still waiting for the smart Jewish kidette to amaze us with her brilliance and lead women away from the liberal culture of compulsion and home to freedom and the true social relations promoted by civil society--the society, in a word, of people helping people.

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