Arnold Kling  

Milton Friedman Day

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Building a Better Idiot... Dysculturation?...

Today is Milton Friedman day. More information is here My little contribution is this essay.


I call this the Fundamental Problem of Political Economy. How do we limit the power that idiots have over us?

One solution, that might be traced to the expression "philosopher-king" associated with Plato, is to hand the reins of government to the best and the brightest. Since the late 19th-century, the Progressive Movement in American politics has championed this approach...

The other way to avoid having our lives run by idiots is to limit the power that others have over us. This is the approach that was embedded in our Constitution, before it was eviscerated by the Progressives. It is the approach for which Milton Friedman was a passionate advocate.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



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The author at Economic Investigations in a related article titled Milton Friedman Day writes:
    It’s Milton Friedman Day. I’ve been very explicit, on numerous occasions, about his influence on me, including beyond the narrow technical issues… I won’t write about that again. Others said it better. Here’s the official ... [Tracked on January 29, 2007 3:08 PM]
COMMENTS (6 to date)
mgroves writes:

The first argument is the most efficient, unless the "brightest" also happens to be "most cruel and injust." I don't think any claims Hitler was an idiot. It's the most efficient, but it only works sometimes.

The second works every time.

Matt writes:

Progressives are the tribe that Bill Buckley identified by the modern definition of liberal. Progressives, to be accurate, are generally a faction that looks to use government first to acquire and politically control some segment of the private economy.

Progressives are to be differentiated from the libertarian in revolt, which is the traditional, temporary leftist.

Progressives use the same tactics as the right wing conservatives, the two have more commonality than differences

Keeping us from the danger of either treasonous group requires that government have some sort of defense; a defense against oligarchs jaunting us off on grand adventures in support of medicine or oil.

Bloom writes:

Enjoyed your story on Friedman, but I fear you may have given Plato the short end of the stick. While Socrates makes a strong case for rule by the philosopher king, he admits to the impossibility of such an event taking place. First, a true philosopher (in the ancient sense) would be very hard to find becaue he does not seek the sort of attention that would lead a person to a political lifestyle. Second, even if you could find a true philosopher, he would never want to be a king because ruling over the many would detract from his true yearning, to be a philosopher.

So, would Socrates/Plato advocate big government, no, not in a million years. Big overpowering government would have the potential to interfere with his ability to pursue philosophy, and in the end, a sort of big government was Socrates' downfall.

But enough about Plato....Locke really explained it best in "Property" from the Second Treatise, where he explained that the problem of the ambitious man could only be solved by markets which attracted ambitious power hungry individuals away from politics and towards the pursuit of private property. I think this is what Friedman was really all about, minimizing the size of government and its function in order to secure two things: the social contract, and personal property. If you get people that are overly ambitious involved in politics, they start to take away rights from individuals, if you push them towards the market, they have a limited ability to harm others.

Annyyyy who...Yeah Friedman!!!We'll miss you.

Eric Wilson writes:

How do we make sure our lives are not ran by a bunch of idiots? That is a great question. I think the first thing we must think about is the education of ourselevs. We need to make sure that we are fully educated, and we pick the right people and make sure we put them in the right positions to make the best decisions for us and our country. When i speak of education i think it goes much farther than just being quote on quote book smart. You have to be polticaly correct with your decisions, and what I think is most important, is having good morals and ethics. I think we first need to fix that portion of our lives, in order to make sure everything else lines up accordingly. So, education, and being good people, we make sure we aren't lead by idiots.

Matt writes:

I have to comment on the idea that we can educate ourselves out of this dilemma.

We are facing one of those games in which everyone agrees not to use government to favor one sector or the other. But, any faction that cheats on the compact comes out way ahead.

So, I always start with the assumption that anyone who complains about idiots in government (I am one) probably has an ulterior motive in using government for what excites them. Conservatives are great at this cheat game.

If you educate us on anything, your best education is to teach us that people use government to steal and that is government's purpose. The libertarian solution, if we can find it, would be to have everyone steal government in the most efficient way possible.

Serious. If we steal efficiently, and attempt to steal equally we would migrate toward an efficient government.

The problem we have is progressives and conservatives who somehow think that their theft of government is better than the other guy's.

ferd writes:

Not that we want to be controlled by brilliant jerks either, I'm guessing.

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