“How to Cure Inflation” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 7 of 7 “The crucial thing is to cut down total government spending from the point of view of inflation, from the point of view of productivity, some of the other measures you were talking about are far more important”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, and – Power of the Market.“If we could just stop the printing presses, we would stop inflation,” Milton Friedman says in “How to Cure Inflation” from the Free To Choose series. Now as then, there is only one cause of inflation, and that is when governments print too much money. Milton explains why it is that politicians like inflation, and why wage and price controls are not solutions to the problem.

In this episode Friedman notes, “And therefore the crucial thing is to cut down total government spending from the point of view of inflation. From the point of view of productivity, some of the other measures you were talking about are far more important.”
BROWN
Pt 7
BROWN: But, Dr. Friedman, let me __
(Applause)
BROWN: Let me differ with you to this extent. I think it is important that at the time you are trying to get inflation out of the economy that you also give the man in the street, the common man, the opportunity to have a little bit more of his own resources to spend. And if you can reduce his taxes at that time and then reduce government in that process, you give him his money to spend rather than having to yield up all that money to government. If you cut his taxes in a way to encourage it, to putting that money into savings, you can encourage the additional savings in a private sense to finance the debt that you have to carry, and you can also encourage the stimulation of growth in the society, that is the investment into the capital improvements of modernization of plant, make the U.S. more competitive with other countries. And we can try to do it without as much painful unemployment as we can get by with. Don’t you think that has some merit?
FRIEDMAN: The only way __ I am all in favor, as you know, of cutting government spending. I am all in favor of getting rid of the counterproductive government regulation that reduces productivity and disrupts investment. But __
BROWN: And we do that, we can cut taxes some, can we not?
FRIEDMAN: We should __ taxes __ but you are introducing a confusion that has confused the American people. And that is the confusion between spending and taxes. The real tax on the American people is not what you label taxes. It’s total spending. If Congress spends fifty billion dollars more than it takes in, if government spends fifty billion dollars, who do you suppose pays that fifty billion dollars?
BROWN: Of course, of course.
FRIEDMAN: The Arab Sheiks aren’t paying it. Santa Claus isn’t paying it. The Tooth Fairy isn’t paying it. You and I as taxpayers are paying it indirectly through hidden taxation.
MCKENZIE: Your view __
FRIEDMAN: And therefore the crucial thing is to cut down total government spending from the point of view of inflation. From the point of view of productivity, some of the other measures you were talking about are far more important.
BROWN: But if you concede that inflation and taxes are both part and parcel of the same thing, and if you cut spending __
FRIEDMAN: They’re not part and parcel of the same thing.
BROWN: If you cut spending you __ well, but, you take the money from them in one way or another. The average citizen.
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely.
BROWN: To finance the growth of government.
FRIEDMAN: That’s right.
BROWN: So if you cut back the size of government, you can cut both their inflation and their taxes.
FRIEDMAN: That’s right.
BROWN: If you __
FRIEDMAN: I am all in favor of that.
BROWN: All right.
FRIEDMAN: All I am saying is don’t kid yourself into thinking that there is some painless way to do it. There just is not.
BROWN: One other way is productivity. If you can __ if you can increase production, then the impact of inflation is less because you have more goods chasing __
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely, but you have to have a sense of proportion. From the point of view of the real income of the American people, nothing is more important than increasing productivity. But from the point of view of inflation, it’s a bit actor. It would be a miracle if we could raise our productivity from three to five percent a year, that would reduce inflation by two percent.
BROWN: No question, it won’t happen overnight, but it’s part of the __ it’s part of a long range squeezing out of inflation.
FRIEDMAN: There is only one way to ease the __ in my opinion there is only one way to ease the pains of curing inflation and that way is not available. That way is to make it credible to the American people that you are really going to follow the policy you say you’re going to follow. Unfortunately I don’t see any way we can do that.
(Several people talking at once.)
EMMINGER: Professor Friedman, that’s exactly the point which I wanted to illustrate by our own experience. We also had to squeeze out inflation and there was a painful time of one-and-a-half years, but after that we had a continuous lowering of the inflation rate with a slow upward movement in the economy since 1975. Year by year inflation went down and we had a moderate growth rate which has led us now to full employment.
FRIEDMAN: That’s what __
EMMINGER: So you can shorten this period by just this credibility and by a consensus you must have, also with the trade unions, with the whole population that they acknowledge that policy and also play their part in it. Then the pains will be much less.
SPRINKEL: You see in our case, expectations are that inflation’s going to get worse because it always has. This means we must disappoint in a very painful way those expectations and it’s likely to take longer, at least the first time around. Now our real problem has not been that we haven’t tried. We have tried and brought inflation down. Our real problem was, we didn’t stick to it. And then you have it all to do over.
BROWN: Well I would __ I would concede that psychology plays a great, perhaps even the major part, but I do believe that if you have private savings stimulated by your tax system, rather than discouraged by your tax system, you can finance some of that public debt by private savings rather than by inflation and the result will be to ease to some degree the paint of that heavy unemployment that you seem to suggest is the only way to deal with the problem.
FRIEDMAN: The talk is fine, but the problem is that it’s used to evade the key issue: How do you make it credible to the public that you are really going to stick to a policy? Four times we’ve tried it and four times we’ve stopped before we’ve run the course.
(Several people talking at once.)
MCKENZIE: There we leave the matter for tonight, and next week’s concluding program in this series is not to be missed.
(Applause)
From Harper Library, goodbye.

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