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On praising Milton Friedman

Writing from New Orleans, Louisiana

The recent passing of Milton Friedman, a personal hero of mine, was marked by praise and admiration for him from almost all sources.

At the end of chapter 2 of his important book Capitalism and Freedom, Dr. Friedman lists some things that the U.S. government currently does that can’t be justified in terms of the principles of limited government and individual liberty and freedom. These are:

  1. Parity price support programs for agriculture. I believe he means farm subsidies here.
  2. Tariffs on imports or restrictions on imports …
  3. Government control of output, such as through the farm program …
  4. Rent control … or more general price and wage controls …
  5. Legal minimum wage rates …
  6. Detailed regulation of industries …
  7. … the control of radio and television by the Federal Communications Commission.
  8. Present social security programs, especially the old-age and retirement programs compelling people in effect (a) to spend a specified fraction of their income on the purchase of retirement annuity, (b) the buy the annuity from a publicly operated enterprise.
  9. Licensure provisions in various cities and states which restrict particular enterprise or occupations to people who have a license …
  10. So-called “public housing” and the host of other subsidy programs directed at fostering residential construction
  11. Conscription to man the military services in peacetime …
  12. National parks …
  13. The legal prohibition on the carrying of mail for profit.
  14. Publicy owned and operated toll roads …

This list is far from comprehensive. To this list we must add Dr. Friedman’s support of school choice through vouchers, something that is very unpopular in Kansas.

We should remember that Dr. Friedman wrote this book in 1962, before the tremendous expansion of government from the Great Society programs right up through the compassionate conservatism (and tremendously fast-growing federal spending) of George W. Bush.

I wonder how many of the newspaper reporters and editorial writers praising Milton Friedman, not to mention politicians, knew of his strong belief in and advocacy of a very limited government. Would they still praise him? Would they be willing to take his advice?

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