FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “How to Stay Free” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 4 of 7 “The temptation is to try to cut down government at someone else’s expense while retaining our own special privileges, That was a stalemate”

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 “The Anatomy of a Crisis” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, and – Power of the Market.

In this episode “How to Stay Free” Friedman makes the statement “What we need is widespread public recognition that the central government should be limited to its basic functions: defending the nation against foreign enemies, preserving order at home, and mediating our disputes. We must come to recognize that voluntary cooperation through the market and in other ways is a far better way to solve our problems than turning them over to the government.”

In this episode Milton Friedman makes the point:
It will be no easy task to cut government down to size. Today in country after country the strongest special interest has become the entrenched bureaucracy. Whether at the national or at the local level. In addition, each of us gets special benefits from one or another governmental program. The temptation is to try to cut down government at someone else’s expense while retaining our own special privileges. That was a stalemate.”
Ep. 10 – How to Stay Free [4/7]. Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose (1980)
Friedman: Criminal tax evasion in Britain, laws and regulations defied in the U.S. It’s nothing to celebrate. The hopeful thing is that throughout the free world the public is coming to recognize the dangers of big government and is taking steps to control it. But it will be no easy task to cut government down to size. Today in country after country the strongest special interest has become the entrenched bureaucracy. Whether at the national or at the local level. In addition, each of us gets special benefits from one or another governmental program. The temptation is to try to cut down government at someone else’s expense while retaining our own special privileges. That was a stalemate. The right approach is to tackle head on the explosive growth in government spending. Lets give the government a budget the way each of us has a budget. A movement in this direction is already underway in the U.S. with the many proposals for Constitutional Amendments limiting government spending. Several states have already adopted such an amendment. There is strong pressure for a similar amendment at the federal level. Those amendments would force government to operate within a strict budget. Each special interest would have to compete with other special interests for a larger share of a fixed pie instead of all of them being able to join forces at the expense of the taxpayer.
This is an important step, but it is only a first step. No piece of paper by itself can solve our problems for us.
What we need is widespread public recognition that the central government should be limited to its basic functions. Defending the nation against foreign enemies. Preserving order at home. Mediating our dispute. We must come to recognize that voluntary cooperation through the market and in other ways is a far better way to solve our problem than turning them over to the government.

This is where much of the future strength of the United States lies. In places like Utuma, Iowa where ordinary hardworking American people live. People of all economic levels live in Utuma, but there are no extremes of either wealth or poverty. All are part of a community. Each part of which depends on the others for a stable and happy life worth living. This is a kind of community that formed the character of democratic America.
We began this series by stressing two ideas, the idea of human freedom as embodied in Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the idea of economic freedom as embodied in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Those two ideas working together, came to their greatest fruition here in the heartland of America. But the basic character of the society that they created has been changing as a result of the rise of another set of ideas.
We have forgotten the basic truth that the founders of this country knew so well. That the greatest threat to human freedom is a concentration of power whether in the hands of government or anyone else. Throughout the Western world, more and more of us are coming to recognize the dangers of an over-governed society. But it will take more than a recognition of danger. Freedom is not the natural state of mankind. It is a rare and wonderful achievement. It will take an understanding of what freedom is, of where the dangers to freedom come from. It will take the courage to act on that understanding if we are not only to preserve the freedoms that we have, but to realize the full potential of a truly free society.
Lawrence E. Spivak: Milton, all through your discussions, you hammer away at two things, the theories of Adam Smith on the free market and of Thomas Jefferson on central power. One thing that troubled me a little bit about your discussions is that it seemed to me that you are little bit the way psychoanalysts used to talk about Freud. That you believe they had given us the word and that even thought 200 years have gone by, it was still in the world, that circumstances had not changed the meaning anyway. Are you that fixed about their ideas?
Friedman: There’s a great difference between principles and the application of principles. The application of a principle has to take account of circumstances. But the principles that explain how it is that an automobile operates, are no different from the principles that explain how a horse and buggy operated or how a bow and arrow operated. The principles that Adam Smith enunciated, the philosophy that Thomas Jefferson enunciated, are every bit as valid today as they were then. But the circumstances are different and therefore the applications in many cases are very different. In addition, there has been a great deal of work and study and scholarly activity that has gone on since then. We know a great deal more about the way in which an economy works than Adam Smith knew. He was wrong in many individual details of his theory but his overall vision, his conception of how it was that without any central body planning it, millions of people could coordinate their activities in a way that was mutually beneficial to all of them. That central concept is every bit as valid today as it was then, and indeed, we have more reason to be confident in it now than he had because we’ve had 200 years more experience to observe how it works.
Lawrence E. Spivak: Let’s go back to Jefferson. You say cut the functions of central government to the basic functions advocated by Jefferson which was what? Defense against foreign enemies, preserve order at home, and mediate our disputes. Now, can we do that in the complicated, the complex world we live in today, without getting into very serious trouble.
Friedman: Suppose we look at the activities of government in the complex world of today. And ask to what extent has the growth of government arisen because of those complexities? And the answer is, very little indeed. What is the area of government that has grown most rapidly? The taking of money from some people and the giving of it to others. The transfer area. HEW, a budget 1_1/2 times as large as a whole defense budget. That’s the area where government has grown. Now, in that area, the way in which technology has entered has not been by making certain functions of government necessary, but by making it possible for government to do things they couldn’t have done before. Without the modern computers, without modern methods of communication and transportation, it would be utterly impossible to administer the kind of big government we have now. So I would say that the relation between technology and government has been that technology has made possible big government in many areas, but it’s not required it.

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