“FREE TO CHOOSE” 1: The Power of the Market (Milton Friedman)
Free to Choose ^ | 1980 | Milton Friedman
Posted on Monday, July 17, 2006 4:20:46 PM by Choose Ye This Day
FREE TO CHOOSE: The Power of the Market
Friedman: Once all of this was a swamp, covered with forest. The Canarce Indians who lived here traded the 22 square miles of soggy Manhattan Island to the Dutch for $24.00 worth of cloth and trinkets. The newcomers founded a city, New Amsterdam at the edge of an empty continent. In the years that followed, it proved a magnet for millions of people from across the Atlantic; people who were driven by fear and poverty; who were attracted by the promise of freedom and plenty. They fanned out over the continent and built a new nation with their sweat, their enterprise and their vision of a better future.
For the first time in their lives, many were truly free to pursue their own objectives. That freedom released the human energies which created the United States. For the immigrants who were welcomed by this statue, America was truly a land of opportunity.
They poured ashore in their best clothes, eager and expectant, carrying what little they owned. They were poor, but they all had a great deal of hope. Once they arrived, they found, as my parents did, not an easy life, but a very hard life. But for many there were friends and relatives to help them get started __ to help them make a home, get a job, settle down in the new country. There were many rewards for hard work, enterprise and ability. Life was hard, but opportunity was real. There were few government programs to turn to and nobody expected them. But also, there were few rules and regulations. There were no licenses, no permits, no red tape to restrict them. They found in fact, a free market, and most of them thrived on it.
Many people still come to the United States driven by the same pressures and attracted by the same promise. You can find them in places like this. It’s China Town in New York, one of the centers of the garment industry __ a place where hundreds of thousands of newcomers have had their first taste of life in the new country. The people who live and work here are like the early settlers. They want to better their lot and they are prepared to work hard to do so.
Although I haven’t often been in factories like this, it’s all very familiar to me because this is exactly the same kind of a factory that my mother worked in when she came to this country for the first time at the age of 14, almost 90 years ago. And if there had not been factories like this here then at which she could have started to work and earn a little money, she wouldn’t have been able to come. And if I existed at all, I’d be a Russian or Hungarian today, instead of an American. Of course she didn’t stay here a long time, she stayed here while she learned the language, while she developed some feeling for the country, and gradually she was able to make a better life for herself.
Similarly, the people who are here now, they are like my mother. Most of the immigrants from the distant countries __ they came here because they liked it here better and had more opportunities. A place like this gives them a chance to get started. They are not going to stay here very long or forever. On the contrary, they and their children will make a better life for themselves as they take advantage of the opportunities that a free market provides to them.
The irony is that this place violates many of the standards that we now regard as every worker’s right. It is poorly ventilated, it is overcrowded, the workers accept less than union rate __ it breaks every rule in the book. But if it were closed down, who would benefit? Certainly not the people here. Their life may seem pretty tough compared to our own, but that is only because our parents or grandparents went through that stage for us. We have been able to start at a higher point.
Frank Visalli’s father was 12 years old when he arrived all alone in the United States. He had come from Sicily. That was 53 years ago. Frank is a successful dentist with a wife and family. They live in Lexington, Massachusetts. There is no doubt in Frank’s mind what freedom combined with opportunity meant to his father and then to him, or what his Italian grandparents would think if they could see how he lives now.
Frank Visalli: They would not believe what they would see __ that a person could immigrate from a small island and make such success out of their life because to them they were mostly related to the fields, working in the field as a peasant. My father came over, he made something for himself and then he tried to build a family structure. Whatever he did was for his family. It was for a better life for his family. And I can always remember him telling me that the number one thing in life is that you should get an education to become a professional person.
Friedman: The Visalli family, like all of us who live in the United States today, owe much to the climate of freedom we inherited from the founders of our country. The climate that gave full scope to the poor from other lands who came here and were able to make better lives for themselves and their children.
But in the past 50 years, we’ve been squandering that inheritance by allowing government to control more and more of our lives, instead of relying on ourselves. We need to rediscover the old truths that the immigrants knew in their bones; what economic freedom is and the role it plays in preserving personal freedom.
That’s why I came here to the South China Sea. It’s a place where there is an almost laboratory experiment in what happens when government is limited to its proper function and leaves people free to pursue their own objectives. If you want to see how the free market really works this is the place to come. Hong Kong, a place with hardly any natural resources. About the only one you can name is a great harbor, yet the absence of natural resources hasn’t prevented rapid economic development. Ships from all nations come here to trade because there are no duties, no tariffs on imports or exports. The power of the free market has enabled the industrious people of Hong Kong to transform what was once barren rock into one of the most thriving and successful places in Asia.