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Happy 106th birthday on July 31, Milton Friedman!
View related content: Carpe Diem
An important event takes place this week that is recognized annually on CD. Tuesday, July 31 is Milton Friedman’s birthday — he was born on that day in 1912 and would have been 106 years old this year. Unfortunately, Milton died on November 16, 2006, when he was 94 years old. In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal following Professor Friedman’s death, they reported his loss with the same tribute Milton used when Ronald Reagan died, saying “few people in human history have contributed more to the achievement of human freedom.” In honor of his legacy and birthday, here are 20 of my favorite Milton Friedman quotes, along with a bonus video and some special birthday graphics:
1. There is nothing as permanent as a temporary government program.
2. Many well-meaning people favor legal minimum-wage rates in the mistaken belief that they help the poor. These people confuse wage rates with wage income. It has always been a mystery to me to understand why a youngster is better off unemployed at $15 an hour than employed at $7.25 (updated). The rise in the legal minimum-wage rate is a monument to the power of superficial thinking.
3. First of all, the government doesn’t have any responsibility to the poor. People have responsibility. This building doesn’t have responsibility. You and I have responsibility. People have responsibility. Second, the question is how can we as people exercise our responsibility to our fellow man most effectively? That’s the problem. So far as poverty is concerned, there has never been a more effective machine for eliminating poverty than the free enterprise system and the free market. The period in which you had the greatest improvement in the lot of the ordinary man was the period of the 19th and early 20th century.
4. In the international trade area, the language is almost always about how we must export, and what’s really good is an industry that produces exports, and if we buy from abroad and import, that’s bad. But surely that’s upside-down. What we send abroad, we can’t eat, we can’t wear, we can’t use for our houses. On the other hand, the goods and services we import, they provide us with TV sets we can watch, with automobiles we can drive, with all sorts of nice things for us to use.
When people talk about a favorable balance of trade, what is that term taken to mean? It’s taken to mean that we export more than we import. But from the point of view of our economic well-being and our standard of living, that’s an unfavorable balance. That means we’re sending out more goods and getting fewer in return. Each of you in your private household would know better than that. You don’t regard it as a favorable balance when you have to send out more goods to get less coming in. It’s favorable when you can get more by sending out less.
5. There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.
6. I’m in favor of legalizing drugs. According to my values system, if people want to kill themselves, they have every right to do so. Most of the harm that comes from drugs is because they are illegal.
7. Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody uses somebody else’s resources as carefully as he uses his own. So if you want efficiency and effectiveness, if you want knowledge to be properly utilized, you have to do it through the means of private property.
8. The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem.
9. The Great Depression, like most other periods of severe unemployment, was produced by government mismanagement rather than by any inherent instability of the private economy.
10. The high rate of unemployment among teenagers, and especially black teenagers is both a scandal and a serious source of social unrest. Yet it is largely a result of minimum wage laws. We regard the minimum wage law as one of the most, if not the most, anti-black laws on the statute books.
11. Industrial progress, mechanical improvement, all of the great wonders of the modern era have meant relatively little to the wealthy. The rich in Ancient Greece would have benefited hardly at all from modern plumbing: running servants replaced running water. Television and radio? The patricians of Rome could enjoy the leading musicians and actors in their home, could have the leading actors as domestic retainers. Ready-to-wear clothing, supermarkets — all these and many other modern developments would have added little to their life. The great achievements of Western capitalism have redounded primarily to the benefit of the ordinary person. These achievements have made available to the masses conveniences and amenities that were previously the exclusive prerogative of the rich and powerful.
12. President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”… Neither half of that statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. “What your country can do for you” implies that the government is the patron, the citizen the ward. “What you can do for your country” assumes that the government is the master, and the citizen the servant.
13. If you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That’s literally true.
14. ‘Fair’ is in the eye of the beholder; ‘free’ is the verdict of the market. The word ‘free’ is used three times in the Declaration of Independence and once in the First Amendment to the Constitution, along with ‘freedom.’ The word ‘fair’ is not used in either of our founding documents.
15. 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 a lack of belief in freedom itself.
16. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from grinding poverty, the only cases in recorded history are where they’ve had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worst off, it’s exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that, so that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear: that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.
17. The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm; capitalism is that kind of a system.
18. With some notable exceptions, businessmen favor free enterprise in general but are opposed to it when it comes to themselves.
19. If you and your fellow citizens continue on moving more and more in the direction of socialism, not only inspired through your drug prohibition but through your socialization of schools, the socialization of medicine, the regulation of industry, I see for my granddaughter the equivalent of Soviet communism three years ago.
20. The government has no more right to tell me what goes into my mouth [including illegal drugs] than it has to tell me what comes out of my mouth.
Bonus 1 (video below): In his 1979 appearance on the Phil Donahue Show, Milton Friedman demonstrates his quick wit and intellect when he schools Donahue on greed, self-interest and the superiority of the free enterprise system over socialism.
Bonus 2: You’ll find a great collection here of more than 30 Milton Friedman videos (the “Milton Friedman Speaks” lectures) on a variety of topics including “What is America?”, “Is Capitalism Humane?”, free trade, energy policy, the role of government in a free society, education and vouchers, the rights of workers, consumer protection, equality and freedom, and the future of our free society.
Bonus 3: Hosted by the Hoover Institution, the Collected Works of Milton Friedman website contains more than 1,500 digital items by and about economist, Nobel Prize winner, and Hoover fellow Milton Friedman. The site features hundreds of Friedman’s articles, speeches, lectures, television appearances, and more.
Bonus 4: Below are some graphics created by Olivier Ballou to honor Friedman’s birthday: