Friedman’s greatest hits

In honor of what would have been Milton Friedman’s (103rd) birthday this week, John Hawkins has culled “20 best quotes” from Friedman’s work. Friedman was of course a deserving winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1976. Reading through the quotes, I recall that Friedman also had a Newsweek column. He had one or more series on PBS. He wrote books promoting freedom for a popular audience. One or two of the books even made it onto onto the bestseller list. He successfully sought to move public opinion in the direction of freedom. Thomas Sowell was his student at the University of Chicago; Sowell carries on in his spirit today. Yet Sowell nears the end of a great career and the future looks ever more inimical to freedom.

Many of the quotes Hawkins culls made a deep impression on me at the time. I feel like these quotes must have been tattooed somewhere deep inside my brain. Even a tiny sampling of Friedman’s wit and wisdom still packs a wallop:

19) “Because we live in a largely free society, we tend to forget how limited is the span of time and the part of the globe for which there has ever been anything like political freedom: the typical state of mankind is tyranny, servitude, and misery. The nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the Western world stand out as striking exceptions to the general trend of historical development. Political freedom in this instance clearly came along with the free market and the development of capitalist institutions. So also did political freedom in the golden age of Greece and in the early days of the Roman era.”

18) “It is one thing to have free immigration to jobs. It is another thing to have free immigration to welfare. And you cannot have both. If you have a welfare state, if you have a state in which every resident is promised a certain minimal level of income, or a minimum level of subsistence, regardless of whether he works or not, produces it or not. Then it really is an impossible thing.”

14) “Two major arguments are offered for introducing socialized medicine in the United States: first, that medical costs are beyond the means of most Americans; second that socialization will somehow reduce costs. The second can be dismissed out of hand — at least until someone can find some example of an activity that is conducted more economically by the government than private enterprise. As to the first, the people of the country must pay the costs one way or the other; the only question is whether they pay them directly on their own behalf, or indirectly through the mediation of government bureaucrats who will subtract a substantial slice for their own salaries and expenses.”

8) “I want people to take thought about their condition and to recognize that the maintenance of a free society is a very difficult and complicated thing and it requires a self-denying ordinance of the most extreme kind. It requires a willingness to put up with temporary evils on the basis of the subtle and sophisticated understanding that if you step in to do something about them you not only may make them worse, you will spread your tentacles and get bad results elsewhere.”

3) “Indeed, a major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it… gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”

Hawkins’s number one Friedman quote redirects the spotlight right back on us:

1) “I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”

Whole thing here.