“The Failure of Socialism” episode of Free to Choose in 1990 by Milton Friedman (Part 2)

Milton Friedman: Free To Choose – The Failure Of Socialism With Ronald Reagan (Full)

Published on Mar 19, 2012 by

Milton Friedman’s writings affected me greatly when I first discovered them and I wanted to share with you.

Ronald Reagan introduces this program, and traces a line from Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” to Milton Friedman’s work, describing Free to Choose as “a survival kit for you, for our nation and for freedom.” Dr. Friedman travels to Hungary and Czechoslovakia to learn how Eastern Europeans are rebuilding their collapsed economies. His conclusion: they must accept the verdict of history that governments create no wealth. Economic freedom is the only source of prosperity. That means free, private markets. Attempts to find a “third way” between socialism and free markets are doomed from the start. If the people of Eastern Europe are given the chance to make their own choices they will achieve a high level of prosperity. Friedman tells us individual stories about how small businesses struggle to survive against the remains of extensive government control. Friedman says, “Everybody knows what needs to be done. The property that is now in the hands of the state, needs to be gotten into the hands of private people who can use it in accordance with their own interests and values.” Eastern Europe has observed the history of free markets in the United States and wants to copy our success. After the documentary, Dr. Friedman talks further about government and the economy with Gary Becker of the University of Chicago and Samuel Bowles of the University of Massachusetts. In a wide-ranging discussion, they disagree about the results of economic controls in countries around the world, with Friedman defending his thesis that the best government role is the smallest one.
Below is a portion of the transcript of the program and above you will find the complete video of the program:

Here is another real success story, this time in Czechoslovakia. Martin was a rock musician. Today he makes documentary films. Some years ago, he did a concert tour of the United States and brought back secondhand recording equipment. The communist government let him bring it back, after paying a hefty import tax, because he said he wanted to record folk music __ something the government was not doing and did not plan to do.

In the past year, since things have opened up, his business has exploded. Along with music and films, he now duplicates video cassettes. He also makes audio cassettes for other Czech producers and has devised his own English language course on tape. He is on his way and many more will follow if the government just gets out of their way. You just can’t keep good people like that down.

The guests at this party aren’t much interested in self-driving entrepreneurs like Martin. High powered business executives from North America and West Europe __ they are interested in bigger game. They are here to do business and make good profits for their firms. They’ll do it by arranging joint ventures between their western companies and government enterprises. To succeed, they have to get on the right side of the politicians and the bureaucrats who are in charge. It is large scale lobbying, very much in the western manner. The danger is that in the process, local government bureaucrats and big foreign business will end up freezing out local entrepreneurs.

Friedman: The assets of Hungary belong to the people of Hungary. I do not believe they should be sold. You are a citizen of Hungary, who owns the state enterprises?

Unknown: Okay, the society as a whole.

Friedman: Not the society, the people.

Unknown: Well, give it to the people.

Friedman: In finance ministries all over Eastern Europe, the talk is all about privatization, but rhetoric is one thing __ action sometimes very different.

One example is in Prague where Vacla Klouse, the finance minister, is desperately trying to free the Czech economy.

Vacla Klouse: The people who were the reformers at that time were done after the Russian invasion, they were fired from their jobs and they return to politics with their own extremely obsolete ideas, and now they are trying . . .

Friedman: But he is up against political planners that aren’t ready to give up control. They are all anticommunists, all in favor of markets, but many are still beguiled by the idea of market socialism. A third way between capitalism and socialism, Klouse and I believe that is a mirage __ that a third way will take Czechoslovakia straight to the third world. It must either move directly to a pure free market, or it will get stuck just as Yugoslavia has.

Klouse: . . . I think intellectuals tend to underestimate the intelligence of the ordinary people . . .

Friedman: Poland and Hungary have exactly the same problem. Some, like Klouse, want to move to free markets right away. Others still hanker after socialist control of the markets.

Klouse: . . . use the word naive citizens. They are the interventionist economies and the other, so this is my speech in the parliament . . . . . .

Friedman: Political power is limited, but economic power is not limited and you can have, if you have one millionaire, you can have another millionaire, another millionaire, without anybody else being worse off. In fact, everybody else will be better off. It seems to me again, the people understand that. I can’t believe that your ordinary people here don’t. They know overnight you can make a change if you could only get the government off the back of the people.

Where are we headed __ we are heading all the way up here __ we’ll get there. Let’s not get any more gas than we need to. What is it? It is about $1.00 a liter which makes it about $4.00 a gallon of gas.

In these countries, the hardest problem is to transform their heavy industries. This is Novahoota, a vast collection of steel mills in Poland and a disaster in every sense. It is inefficient, costly, and above all, a major polluter. The best thing to do with places like this would be to bulldoze them, but that is almost impossible. They are too well shielded by special interests: the unions, the bureaucrats, and all the other political interests on the fringes.

The communists socialize the means of production. They tried to run everything from the center. It didn’t work. It was a mess and a failure. We in the United States, on the other hand, have been socializing the fruits of production. That is, the government has been taking money from some people, the people who produce the goods and services, and giving it to other people who do not produce goods and services. The end result is likely to be the same loss of incentive and organization if we carry it too far. That is one lesson we should learn from these countries.

A year ago, the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables and other things in this street market were simply not obtainable. It is one of the first signs of the flowering of enterprise under the new regime. This market is in Krakow, Poland. Goods are readily available now, only because the government eliminated price controls allowing the market to set the prices. Like a miracle, overnight the stalls had goods for sale. This gentleman sells bulbs and seeds. He is happy in the market, but many traders would like to set up in stores and develop on a larger scale. At the moment, they can’t. The stores are all owned by the state. The traders are stymied unless and until the stores become private property. When they do, the market will get another boost.

This youngster is 16. He is still in high school, but this is Saturday and he is in the market selling jeans from Thailand, making a little money for himself. He is studying to be a gardener. But when I asked him what he was going to do when he left school, he had no hesitation __ he was going to be a businessman. There is the hope of Poland.

Everybody knows what needs to be done. The property that is now in the hands of the state need to be gotten into the hands of the private people who can use it in accordance with their own interests and values. The problem is how to do it. Now that you have some degree of political freedom, there is an awful fight going on about who is going to get what share of the total pie. Everybody wants a little bigger piece. It is a political mine field, but unless that mine field can be gotten through, the game is up. It will be a failure. If it can be gotten through, then you will have an opportunity for these resources to be used the right way for the right things.

We in the West know only too well how hard it is to get the government out of something once they have been in it. Here in Poland they have been in it for 50 years and in a much bigger way than the United States. So they have a real job on their hands.

It would be silly of us, on the basis of a brief trip, to try to judge how successful these countries will be in doing what no country has yet been able to do __ transform a totalitarian state into a prosperous, free society. If this experiment is successful, it will not only transform Eastern Europe __ it will also offer an invaluable blueprint for the economic development of many poor countries.

You know, nothing is more striking than the wide differences in the standard of life of people who live in different parts of the world. Why? Not because of race or religion or culture or natural resources. After all, the Chinese who live in Hong Kong and in Taiwan are of the same race and background as those who live in Red China, yet their standards of living are vastly different. The same thing is true of East Germany and West Germany; of South Korea and North Korea; of Japan before the major restoration and Japan after the major restoration. The real explanation are the economic institutions that they adopt __free private markets versus central planning.

The countries of Eastern Europe have finally overthrown their communist masters who foisted central control on them. They have the rare opportunity to write on a clean slate; to create the institutions of private property and free markets that are the only ones that have ever achieved widespread prosperity and human freedom. We in the United States, on the basis of our experience of the last 10 years, know how hard it is to cut a government down to size. We hope they succeed better than we did. If they do, we will learn as much from them as they have learned from our example.

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