“Friedman Friday” EPISODE “The Failure of Socialism” of Free to Choose in 1990 by Milton Friedman (Part 3)

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:
 DISCUSSIONHello, I am Linda Chavez and welcome to Free to Choose. Joining Dr. Friedman for a discussion of the failure of socialism are Gary Becker from the University of Chicago and Samuel Bowles of the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Bowles, I think we can all agree that socialism has failed Eastern Europe. Dr. Friedman believes that the path out of that is the free market and I think he thinks there are lessons for the United States. What do you think?Chavez: I would like to bring this discussion back to the United States for a moment. What about socialism in the United States. There has been one area where we have tried to redistribute wealth. We have done that through our welfare policies and social security. Has that worked?

Bowles: Well, there is much to celebrate in Eastern Europe __ not only the elimination of dictatorial rule. I go back on that a long time. I was in the Soviet Union in the late 50’s (1958 and 1959) as a musician and I met many Russian musicians and made friends with a lot of Russian people who found themselves harassed and victimized by the police. In fact, my own musical group was prevented from singing a couple of times by the police. That is all on the way out and I hope it is gone for good. Equally welcome is the end of this myth of a centrally planned society. That is gone too and I hope that basically the lesson is learned. But Milton seems to think that we have to choose between either a centrally planned society or a society in which we have markets which are basically unregulated. So the choice is really between all or nothing.

I don’t think that is the choice. I think what Milton is posing for us is a model which is as unrealistic as a centrally planned model. It is outdated, it won’t work, it is extreme, and I think it is undemocratic. I think that we have choices in between, what Milton called the third way, a way that he said wouldn’t work, has been shown to work around the world. I think that Eastern Europe would be very ill-advised to take Milton’s advise on this. Yet, the last time anybody took Milton’s advise on economic policy was Ronald Reagan and Ronald Reagan has put the U.S. economy into a situation where it can’t pay its bills and is facing mounting economic instability and difficulties.

Chavez: Dr. Friedman, what about this midway path?

Friedman: First of all, I utterly reject what Sam says about the results of Ronald Reagan’s changes. We had a decade of extraordinary growth, increased employment in which inflation was brought down sharply. Ronald Reagan came into office at a period of very high inflation, and so on. But this program is not about the Reagan administration. This program is about Eastern Europe and I want to go to Eastern Europe.

I believe Sam is completely wrong in saying that the model I propose is outdated. I believe that what he calls obsolete is something very different. You have had the third way __ you have had it in the United States; you have had it in Sweden; you have had it in Britain; you’ve had it elsewhere. In every case it has been built on the foundation of a long period of what I call the first way. The United States had 150 years of essentially a free private market before it launched on this period of the welfare state. The same thing was true in Britain, the same thing was true in Sweden. I believe he will find it very difficult to site any example of a country which started from a very low level and immediately adopted that combination of policies.

Becker: Let me add something on that. I think the lesson that we learned from what happened in Eastern Europe goes beyond simply that central planning doesn’t work. I think we all agree that it doesn’t work. But it is more than that __ it is the role of private property in the system and the incentives provided by private property.

I don’t know what socialism means anymore, but I remember when I was in Poland I asked the head of the ideology department is private property consistent with socialism? He said, it may be. Then I asked him, well what is the difference between socialism and capitalism. His answer was, we are still working on that. I think what we have seen is a rejection of the ideas associated with traditional socialism which are suppression of private property, government ownership of property, and so on.

Now, how far should we move in the other direction? I think that is question you are asking Sam, and is there a middle way. I think the middle ways that have been successful have all been largely reliant on private property, private ownership, private incentives. The difficult question is one that Milton raised in the documentary. How far can you redistribute income and make it consistent with effective incentives?

I don’t think we know the boundary point, whether 30% of the income being redistributed is too much, 40%, 50% __ my own feeling is that we have gone much too far in Sweden and some of the other Scandinavian countries, and they are beginning to step back from this. They are lowering maximum tax rates to 50% now __ they were up to 80%. So I think there is a third way, but that third way is going to be a lot closer to unregulated market than toward a socialist organization of resources and a suppression of private property.

Bowles: Let’s get back to the particulars though. You talk about Sweden and you talk about the third way failing, and Milton says nobody has ever really gotten rich on the third way __ they have only benefited from that. Let’s talk about the United States. The period you described included a very long period in which the United States was a highly protectionist country in which our industrial base was developed from Alexander Hamilton on for some time, and then during the late 19th and early 20th century. To call that a free market solution would be against everything you have taught. Or, if one wants to go back into the 19th century, the huge subsidies of the railroads were, of course, an intervention in the market.

In the case of England that you talk about, the same is true. The role of the British Navy and for example the Parliament in actually establishing the private property which is what you favor. This was done by a government intervention. We talk about the other cases. Talk about Sweden or about Korea. These are two countries which I think are justly admired for their economic performance. Both countries have income distributions far more equal than the United States.

In Sweden, over the half the GNP is taxed. Now, people in this country would say that obviously they have gone too far. But let’s look at the test of the market. Sweden and Korea have been defeating the United States in world markets. Exports have grown five percent per year during the Reagan/Bush years in Sweden. In the United States, they have grown one percent per year. In Korea we know they have grown much better. If you want to go on to Norway, where much of the investing is done by the government, they have grown their exports even faster than Sweden. Meanwhile, we can’t compete in world markets.

So the lesson of these countries is if you look at the facts Milton, a combination of government regulation and the market works. I agree with Gary. I think private property is extremely important because the incentives associated with owning the results of your work is essential. But private property does not mean that we have to let the market go unregulated and all the evidence says that the countries that are beating us in the world market today don’t do it. They are not that dumb. Japan doesn’t do it; Korea doesn’t do it; Sweden doesn’t do it.

Friedman: Let’s not throw straw men around. Obviously I am not in favor of no government. Government has some very important roles to play. Those are very limited. You take the case of the United States during the 19th century and of Britain in the 19th century. At the time of Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1899, total government spending in Britain was 10% of the national income. Up until 1929 in the United States, except for periods of great war, total government spending in the United States was about 10% of national income. Now that is a very far cry from a government which spends over half of the national income . . . . and a little less than half in the United States.

Bowles: You are opposed to capital controls. You are opposed to telling people they can’t move their money internationally. That is what Korea does. You are opposed to . . .

Friedman: I think Korea makes a mistake by doing it.

Bowles: Korea has beaten us by exactly the policies you are posing.

Friedman: So has Hong Kong. Hong Kong has beaten us by the policies I am proposing.

Bowles: . . . if Korea is not a middle way and if Sweden is not a middle way, then I would like to know what you call it.

Becker: Korea is a lot closer to a market-oriented economy than any of the economies we have been talking about.

Bowles: The government approves the heads of the banks in Korea. They have nationalized their steel industry and have one of the most efficient plants in the world at Palhang. If you call that a private economy . . .

Becker: What fraction of resources in Korea goes through the government?

Bowles: A tremendous fraction if you take account of the fact that the banks are centrally run and they control the credit allocations there and they don’t let people take their money out of the . . .

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