“Friedman Friday” Free to Choose by Milton Friedman: Episode “Created Equal” (Part 5 of transcript and video)

Liberals like President Obama want to shoot for an equality of outcome. That system does not work. In fact, our free society allows for the closest gap between the wealthy and the poor. Unlike other countries where free enterprise and other freedoms are not present.  This is a seven part series.

Created Equal [5/7]. Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose (1980)

FRIEDMAN: I agree with you that everything called free enterprise is not free enterprise.

I agree with you that many things have been done __

PIVEN: Where is it?

FRIEDMAN: __ under the name of free enterprise that are not consistent with free enterprise. I agree with you and we stress over and over again in this series that whenever businessmen have the chance they will, of course, use government to pursue objectives which may or may not be in the interest of the public at large. But, you always are talking about mixed systems and I challenge you to find a single example in history, at any time, of any society, where people have been relatively free __ and I don’t mean merely, what you call, “merely economic freedom.” I mean freedom __

PIVEN: I said economic license.

FRIEDMAN: __ in the full sense. I mean freedom of individuals to pursue their own objectives, their own values, to live their lives. I want you to name me any society in which you have had any large measure of that freedom where capitalism and free enterprise has not been the predominant mechanism for controlling economic activity. Not the sole mechanism, but the dominant one. I want you to name me one exception.

PIVEN: Your conception of freedom, does that apply in Chile today with the free enterprise system?

FRIEDMAN: Chile is not politically free. Chile today does not have political freedom and I do not condone __

PIVEN: And yet the free enterprise system __

FRIEDMAN: __ but let me go on for a moment, if you will. You raised the question, let me answer it. Chile is not a politically free system and I do not condone the political system But the people there are freer than the people in communist societies because government plays a smaller role because the free enterprise that has been emerging has been cutting down the fraction of the total income of the people spent by government because unemployment has been going down. Output has been going up. Food production has been going up. The conditions of the people for the first __ not the first time, but in the past few years has been getting better and not worse. They would be still better __

PIVEN: Unemployment __

FRIEDMAN: __ to get rid of the junta and to be able to have a free democratic system. What I have said and what I repeat here is that it’s a necessary condition. You cannot have a free society in my opinion and I know no counter example and I challenge you to produce one. You cannot have a free society unless free enterprise plays a substantial role.

PIVEN: But in Chile the free enterprise __

MCKENZIE: Could we hole Chile. We would get beyond that. Let me come back, though, to your theory of equality, Milton, because I’m confused about it. You say there is a widespread demand for equality of material condition.

FRIEDMAN: Absolutely.

MCKENZIE: Now I don’t know of a political party in a democracy that advocates that kind of equality.

FRIEDMAN: Well, I look at what __

MCKENZIE: And I challenge you to name one, a major party in a democracy which is advocating the kind of equality you presented as a major threat to freedom.

FRIEDMAN: I’m perfectly willing to take your Labor Party. I’m perfectly willing to take some segments of our Democratic Party which have certainly advocated programs directed towards that objective, of course. In the practical political structure of democracies __

MCKENZIE: Yeah.

FRIEDMAN: __ and there’s no question but what Britain, like the United States, is fundamentally a democracy and among the freest nations in the world despite the growth of intervention. In a democracy you proceed slowly. You don’t proceed at one fell swoop. If you take the societies which have ostensibly declared equality as their basic goal, the societies like China and like Russia, there’s no question we all agree that those are terrible tyrannical societies and so in a country like Britain and the United States you have stopped very short of the objective, but there’s no doubt what the objective of the parties has been.

MCKENZIE: Well, I think Peter may want to come here and I should say that in this one I shall take the opportunity to play a bit myself because you’re right squarely in my area of special interest. I am __

FRIEDMAN: They ought to let me be the moderator for a change.

MCKENZIE: Yes, indeed.

(Laughter) MCKENZIE: I don’t accept for a minute that there has been a calculated move to absolute equality in the social policy of Britain since the war. And I’ve lived there during the time. I write the history of it. I teach social policy and you’re wrong on this one Milton, but I give it to you Peter.

JAY: Well I think Milton’s __

FRIEDMAN: That’s what’s known as the one-two.

MCKENZIE: Yes. (Laughing)

JAY: Milton is still equivocating as to whether he is attacking the idea of absolute equality, in which case his examples of the Labor Party, his examples of some sections of the Democratic Party just don’t stand up; or whether he is maintaining the proposition that any concern to reduce inequalities of result are right, not of opportunity but of result is wrong. Now if he saying the second, it seems to me that his arguments that he’s made don’t tend to show that result.

FRIEDMAN: Peter __

JAY: It is perfect __ well, just let me finish because we let you finish.

FRIEDMAN: Okay.

JAY: It is perfectly reasonable for a society to say or for people in a society to say and together through their political process to express the thought that there are many objectives that society has. Efficiency is one. Prosperity is one. Freedom is perhaps the most important of all. But concern about equality or at least about reducing inequality is another. And that we should ask ourselves the question: are all the inequalities that we face, the gross inequalities described in Dickens, the gross inequalities which you yourself reported in India, the gross inequalities which you yourself said in the film were offensive and were unfair. Are all of these justified by the criteria of freedom and efficiency or are some of them unnecessary? In other words, we take the principle that there should only be such inequality as is necessary and justified by one of the other criteria of the society. Now if you’re willing to say that then you’re not in disagreement with anybody. If you’re denying that you’ve made no arguments to support what you’re saying.

MCKENZIE: Now before we have Milton reply, we must bring in Thomas.

SOWELL: I think we’re talking at cross purposes. On the one hand we’re talking about results that we’re hoping for. On the other hand we’re talking about processes that we’re setting in motion. You’re saying, should we hope for certain kinds of lessening of inequality and so on. The real question, the political question is: shall we set in motion certain processes because we hope for that and do those processes enhance or reduce freedom? And I think the argument that Milton is making and certainly the argument that I would make is that the attempt at doing these things __ and it doesn’t really matter, it’s a complete strawman to talk about absolute inequality if you’re __

JAY: This is the strawman.

SOWELL: __ no, no not at all.

JAY: Yes it is. Absolutely throughout the film this is the strawman he brings up in order to say how ridiculous to have absolute equality. And then he goes on to say __

SOWELL: No.

JAY: __ how ridiculous to have __

SOWELL: My whole point is __ as a result, you see, that you set up processes and the end result may not be any more or less inequality that exists now, but the question of it is, those processes may indeed reduce freedom greatly. I would go beyond the question of equality and put it more generally that any process to ascribe any status to any group of people, equality, inferiority, superiority, must necessarily reduce freedom because whatever the government wishes to ascribe to any group, whatever place, to use the phrase that was very common in the south that blacks should have their place, whatever place the government is going to assign to people. That place will not coincide __ wait __ that place will not coincide either with what all those people are doing or with how others perceive all those people because there’s too much diversity among human beings to maintain any system of ascribed status from the top is going to mean reducing people’s freedom across the spectrum. That’s the point.

PIVEN: People have an ascribed status. It isn’t as if government by its intervention creates it, people are born into this world in a given specter of the society and many, many of them are born at the bottom of the society. The argument of, about equality of results was an argument that was linked to equality of opportunity. People recognized that unless there was a degree of equality in __ a degree __ enough food, enough security, access to education. Unless these things were available to all children, then equality of opportunity was merely a mockery. That’s why equality of results became an issue and it became an issue for black people in the United States and they expressed their concern whatever the opinion polls __

SOWELL: You expressed it, dammit, look.

PIVEN: They expressed __

SOWELL: No, they did not. They did not.

(Applause)

SOWELL: Dammit.

PIVEN: They expressed that.

MCKENZIE: Frances finish it and then reply.

PIVEN: They expressed their will by their extraordinary participation in a protest movement that began in the late 1950s and didn’t end until the 1960s.

SOWELL: I have never __

PIVEN: Intellectuals were not in that protest movement. Black people were in that protest.

SOWELL: You want me to answer or do you want to keep on? Do you want me to answer it?

PIVEN: I’ve finished.

SOWELL: Good. Black people have never supported, for example, affirmative action, quotas, anything of that sort. Wherever polls have been taken of black opinion on such matters as should people be paid equally or should there be this or that. Black people have never taken a position that you described. So it is not a question of what black people choose to do. It’s what you choose to put in the mouths of black people and it’s what you choose to project. It is not what any black people have ever said anywhere that you could put your finger on.

PIVEN: It’s what you choose to put into the mouths of the pollsters, as far as I can see.

SOWELL: I put in the mouth of the pollsters?

PIVEN: Look at the leadership of the black community.

SOWELL: Like most people I have never seen a pollster.

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