What Milton Friedman would say to Occupy Wall Street
Saturday, November 12, 2011 at 08:32am 15 Comments
I know I played this before, I just can’t find the post. Maybe it was a Video of the Day.
Thanks to commenter Windbag in the Tip Line:
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Friedman cutting through delusion.
American anti-capitalists are so busy playing the Blame America First game that they don’t stop to consider that much American greed is held in check by laws and cultural restrictions that don’t impede many of their counterparts around the world.
I am always impressed with Milt’s responses to such leading questions, but, this time, I noticed something else. I was impressed with the setting. A respectful host and audience? Good luck finding one of those today…
Good point. If you transplanted Friedman to today and put him on Bill Mahar’s show (on HBO, forget the name), the audience would be booing and Mahar would be smirking and saying F! capitalism as his response. The audience would loudly applaud.
Your observation is equally important as Friedman’s insight into the reality of human affairs. They both derive from the principle of individual dignity.
We must acknowledge there are corruptive influences to which we are all vulnerable. We must acknowledge there are individuals who suffer from delusions of grandeur, and their greatest ambition is to dominate other sentient beings, especially humans. We must acknowledge that there are individuals who choose to fail. Then there are individuals who fear death, fear life, and choose to run amuck.
It is only through competing interests that the actions of these deviant elements are potentially contained and their effects mitigated. It is the predisposition of authoritarian regimes to marginalize and eviscerate competing interests, thereby promoting progressive corruption of individuals and society. The effect is exacerbated when moral knowledge is replaced with totalitarian policies.
Ostensibly, it was the assignment of dignity, which ensured people would regard slavery as thoroughly objectionable. It could also be said that people were concerned about a quid pro quo future (i.e., Tutsi slaughter Hutu slaughter Tutsi cycle); but, since I tend to be idealistic, I would prefer to believe that there are actually some good people in this world.
The principal source of corruption can traced to individuals who do not respect individual dignity and maintain dreams of physical, fiscal, etc. instant gratification through redistributive and retributive change. Their dreams are often incompatible with both the natural (e.g., procreation) and enlightened (i.e., individual dignity) orders.
The next moral imperative — in our continuing quest to recognize universal human dignity — is not to whom we assign dignity, but when we assign dignity to human life.
This video is amazing. I wish I could come up with these kinds of rebuttals, but as a saying I read once goes, there’s not many things more dangerous than an educated man off the subject of his education…and I’m a music/IT nerd 🙂
One lesson I think we can take from this is thus: the occupant-protesters are acting so high-and-mighty while railing against corporate greed–ironies of their mass-produced clothing and food and other technological goodies aside–no one has really asked the question of what they think would be different were they in charge. I mean, sure, asking that now would yield unrealistic answers, probably socialistic in nature (e.g., “Close the corporations! Spread the money around!”), but really, as Friedman says, every good thing that has come to humanity out of history has been spurred on by human self-interest. These protesters are doing their thing out of self-interest, too–I doubt that “You have to forgive my crushing student loan debt” is a community-oriented plea.
I’m not saying that these protests, if successful, would lead to good things happening–merely pointing out that they’re not so revolutionary as they might think.
Preaching to the choir, I know.
And here’s what the always brilliant Thomas Sowell said to the Occupiers before they were Occupiers, way back in the last centry, in “The Quest for Cosmic Justice”:
“…[T]he vast ranges of undeserved inequalities found everywhere are the fault of “society” and so the redressing of those inequalities is called social justice, going beyond the traditional justice of presenting each individual with the same rules and standards. However, even those who argue this way often recognize that some undeserved inequalities may arise from cultural differences, family genes, or from historical confluences of events not controlled by anybody or by any given society at any given time. For example, there was no way that Pee Wee Reese was going to hit as many home runs as Mark McGwire, or Shirley Temple run as fast as Jesse Owens. There was no way that Scandinavians or Polynesians were going to know as much about camels as the Bedouins of the Sahara– and no way that these Bedouins were going to know as much about fishing as the Scandinavians or Polynesians.
In a sense, proponents of “social justice” are unduly modest. What they are seeking to correct are not merely the deficiencies of society, but of the cosmos. What they call social justice encompasses far more than any given society is causally responsible for. Crusaders for social justice seek to correct not merely the sins of man but the oversights of God or the accidents of history. What they are really seeking is a universe tailor-made to their vision of equality. They are seeking cosmic justice….
Socially counterproductive policies are just one of the many costs of the quest for cosmic justice. The rule of law, on which a free society depends, is inherently incompatible with cosmic justice. Laws exist in all kinds of societies, from the freest to the most totalitarian. But the rule of law– a government of laws and not of men, as it used to be called– is rare and vulnerable. You cannot redress the myriad inequalities which pervade human life by applying the same rules to all or by applying any rules other than the arbitrary dispensations of those in power. The final chapter of The Quest for Cosmic Justice is titled “The Quiet Repeal of the American Revolution”– because that is what is happening piecemeal by zealots devoted to their own particular applications of cosmic justice.
They are not trying to destroy the rule of law. They are not trying to undermine the American republic. They are simply trying to produce “gender equity,” institutions that “look like America” or a thousand other goals that are incompatible with the rule of law, but corollaries of cosmic justice.
Because ordinary Americans have not yet abandoned traditional justice, those who seek cosmic justice must try to justify it politically as meeting traditional concepts of justice. A failure to achieve the new vision of justice must be represented to the public and to the courts as “discrimination.” Tests that register the results of innumerable inequalities must be represented as being the cause of those inequalities or as deliberate efforts to perpetuate those inequalities by erecting arbitrary barriers to the advancement of the less fortunate.
In short, to promote cosmic justice, they must misrepresent what is happening as violations of traditional justice– as understood by others who do not share their vision. Nor do those who make such claims necessarily believe them themselves. As Joseph Schumpeter once said: “The first thing a man will do for his ideals is lie.”
The next thing the idealist will do is character assassination. All those who disagree with the great vision must be shown to have malign intentions, if not deep-seated character flaws….
Ironically, the quest for greater economic and social equality is promoted through a far greater inequality of political power. If rules cannot produce cosmic justice, only raw power is left as the way to produce the kinds of results being sought.”
“I know I played this before, I just can’t find the post. Maybe it was a Video of the Day.”
I’ve posted this clip here in the LI’s comments two or three times. If I could make one short video clip mandatory viewing for America’s high school students it would be this one.
The great thing about Milton Friedman is not just that he’s a great man by way of being a great thinker … it’s the complete lack of arrogance. The great among the great, in my book, are those who remain down to earth and good-natured despite their accomplishments. That is inspiring. It makes this video all the more powerful.
Contrast that with the insufferable arrogance of the unaccomplished OWS crowd.
LukeHandCool (who, shameless namedropper that he is, picked up his son at producer Brian Grazer’s son’s birthday party yesterday. I have to admit, for someone that accomplished in Hollywood, he seems to be quite lacking in arrogance. But Luke’s wife is not lacking in chutzpah … whatever chutzpah is called in Japanese. She yuks it up with Mr. Grazer and puts in a pitch for our daughter to enter the business. When I said to her about Mr. Grazer, the producer of Apollo 13, “Honey, he hears that stuff every day. Do you really expect him to put Emily in one of his movies?” she responded, “Yes, Apollo 14!” She is nuts).
Milton is the man! The tragic and constrained view of man’s dealings with each other is right on the money.
I just spent the last 45 minutes or so watching Friedman clips…and those of another great mind, Richard Feynman.
Exposure to the wit and wisdom of people such as those two give me hope. Real hope. Not the despondency packaged as “hope” that comes from our nitwit president.
Here’s what Milton Friedman did say to 17 yr old Michael Moore when Moore was just a skinny putz.
Thanks for the link to the great video, Indigo Red!
That’s not really Michael Moore, though. Just a typical arrogant, snarky undergrad who can’t treat a great man with the respect that that man extends to him. What a mensch he was.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that kid is now an adult taking part in OWS.
Just like Phil Donahue, after spending that time next to the brilliant and gentlemanly Milton Friedman, didn’t seem to have learned a thing (judging by his naive political views to this day).
Would any university support transforming the DOE funding mechanisms to grant-only schemes, and repeal all the government guarantees on private lending and direct government lending for the purpose of education? No, because the whole point of using loans is to leverage federal dollars to maximize the distortion in spending toward universities. It is motivated by greed, by the greed of the people who are paid by universities.
We can hold the congressional appropriations to DOE constant, i.e., not dissolve DOE entirely.
Blaming someone else (Wall Street) for one’s own greed is like a kid blaming his dog for eating his homework. It should be Occupy University Screw U.
I am more gob smacked by Phil Donahue. How can adults hold such childish opinion?
I believe it is a prerequisite for someone of his political ideology. 🙂