Milton Friedman Friday:(“Free to Choose” episode 4 – From Cradle to Grave, Part 2 of 7)

 I am currently going through his film series “Free to Choose” which is one the most powerful film series I have ever seen.

For the past 7 years Maureen Ramsey has had to buy food and clothes for her family out of a government handout. For the whole of that time, her husband, Steve, hasn’t had a job. Each week he collects what’s known in Britain as Social Security. The government looks after him, his wife and their children. But accepting welfare payments means accepting the rules of those who hand them out.
Mrs. Ramsey: My opinion, anyway you feel as they own you. You know, there is no other way of putting it. Say I got a job tomorrow, because I needed something, well I know that means I’ve got to go down there and report it. Because I couldn’t go into the job because you’d be looking over your shoulder thinking well the Social Security is coming in. And I’m going to be done for it. It’s just hopeless, you can’t fight against that.
Mr. Ramsey: The jobs are out there you only come up with about 45 pounds a week. And you need a doctors stamp over there. You see, you finish up with about 29 pound. So what good is it working? You still get the same thing, you know what I mean? I can’t make any sense of it.
Friedman: Of course, he’s quite right. It may not pay to get a job now. That’s not his fault and I don’t blame him. He’s acting sensibly and intelligently for his own interest and the interest of his family. It’s the fault of the system which takes away the incentive from him to get a job.
But suppose you were cruel and simply took away the welfare overnight. Cut it off. What would happen? He would find a job. What kind of a job? I don’t know. It might not be a very nice job. It might not be a very attractive job. But at some wage, at some level of pay, there will always be a job which he could get for himself. It might be also that he would be driven to rely on some private charity. He might have to get soup kitchen help or the equivalent. Again, I’m not saying that’s desirable or nice or a good thing it isn’t, but as a matter of actual fact as to what would happen, there is little doubt that he would find some way to earn a living.
The American government is trying to break the welfare trend. These people were unemployed. They are now being trained at the taxpayers expense. It may or may not lead to a real job.
Lawrence Davenport: Here we have a vast national welfare system which is diametrically opposed to everything that America believes in. Because America was founded on a work ethic, has practiced a work ethic, and it’s said this is what we want everybody to do. An opportunity to hold a job in America.
Friedman: Everyone here has to clock in and do a full days work. It’s an attempt to make it seem like a real job.
Lawrence Davenport: We’re saying a job is a part of the American way of life and we’re going to help you find a job. So that you can get a piece of the pie. You can pay taxes, you can become a part of that American dream.
Friedman: But the dream isn’t working. Schemes like this run under the government’s Comprehensive Education and Training Act (CETA) have a high drop out rate and many trainees end up back where they began, on welfare.
The men and women who administer CETA and similar programs, the officials of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare are dedicated people. Their motives are good. Their achievements are not.
The results of these programs have been disappointing. Why? I believe that the basic reason is because it is very hard to achieve good objectives through bad means. And the means we have been using are bad in two very different respects.
In the first place, all of these programs involve some people spending other people’s money for objectives that are determined by still a third group of people. Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody has the same dedication to achieving somebody else’s objectives that he displays when he pursues his own.
Beyond this, the programs have a insidious effect on the moral fiber of both the people who administer the programs and the people who are supposedly benefiting from it. For the people who administer it, it instills in them a feeling of almost Godlike power. For the people who are supposedly benefiting it instills a feeling of childlike dependence. Their capacity for personal decision making atrophies. The result is that the programs involved are misuse of money, they do not achieve the objectives which it was their intention to achieve. But far more important than this, they tend to rot away the very fabric that holds a decent society together.
If you think that’s overstating the case, look what ATW found when it made a special investigation into the spending of the vast funds it administers.
Public Health Service worker: We just got the plan from the Public Health Service on reducing unnecessary beds.
Friedman: In these reels of tape that record every payment made, every recipient, they found evidence that a staggering $7.5 billion had been lost by fraud, waste and abuse in one year.
Doctors, building contractors, hospitals, schools, welfare recipients, everyone had been fraudulently dipping into the pot. And the investigation isn’t over yet.
The inevitable consequence of having a huge pot of taxpayers money is that all of us want to get our hands in it. You can be sure that we’ll all be able to find very good reasons why we should be the ones to spend somebody else’s money.
Somebody or other put up a good case for spending taxpayers money to subsidize rents in New York City, including the rents of these apartments. The people who occupy these apartments pay something like $200 a month less than the market rent. And that subsidy comes out of the taxes of people, most of whom are much poorer than the people who live here. It’s not unusual for this sort of thing to happen when government tries to do good with our money.
Look at what happened in Chicago. For most visitors, the immediate impression is of a rich, prosperous, bustling city. But like every large city in America, it has its problem areas. Over crowded slums breeding poverty and crime.
After WWII, one such area developed in Hyde Park. In the 50’s, plans were drawn up to pull down large areas of slum buildings and to rebuild using government funds under an urban renewal program. It was to be a show project replacing a blighted area with an integrated community. Who controlled the spending of that government money? It was in fact, my own University of Chicago which felt it’s very existence threatened by the spread of urban blight and crime. Government money was used to tear down an area that contained many small shops as well as families of low income. Once the area was cleared, private money rebuilt it with middle class apartments, townhouses and shopping complexes. The blight had been cleared here, but only to be shifted elsewhere.
Joe Gardner: In may instances, when government administers large grants, a lot of those funds don’t wind up directly serving the people and achieving the objectives that were the intent of the programs. Because the grant has too feed that large government bureaucracy.
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