The Cause That Dare Not Speak Its Name

The New York Times writes that Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is beginning to develop after being “held back by a half-century of war and privation.”

A slightly more accurate statement would be that economic development in Vietnam has been held back by “a half-century of war and socialism.” The privation was a result of the socialism, not a cause.

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Hoyer’s a Liberal

In at least two stories today (here’s one), the Washington Post described new House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) a “moderate.”

Nonsense. National Journal scores for votes on economic issues show that Hoyer is a consistent liberal. His percentile rank in the House for favoring conservative economic policies was toward the bottom end at 26 percent, 20 percent, and 26 percent for 2003, 2004, and 2005, respectively. His voting record also shows a strong preference for “liberal” social and foreign policy positions.

In his latest Almanac, Michael Barone calls him “fairly liberal,” but does note the exception of Hoyer’s votes in favor of free trade agreements.

To Milton What Belongs to Milton

When I was 18 years old in 1966, I read this paragraph in Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom:

The “social security” program is one of those things on which the tyranny of the status quo is beginning to work its magic…. [I]t has come to be so much taken for granted that its desirability is hardly questioned any longer. Yet it involves a large-scale invasion into the personal lives of a large fraction of the nation….

These words, and the brilliant Chapter 11 of that book, changed my life and the future of my long and narrow country.

Many years later, after we had fully privatized Social Security in Chile in 1980, I was honored to become an intellectual friend with this giant of liberty. We met at his beautiful San Francisco apartment, we interacted at many Cato events, and we even rode together in a very long black limousine with his wife Rose and Ed Crane from San Francisco to San Jose to a joint appearance in front of Sillicon Valley entrepreneurs. I saw him for the last time when he was honored at the White House on May 9, 2002, during an event appropriately called “A Lifetime of Achievement: Milton Friedman at 90.”

A great leader has left us. He was a man who understood the wisdom in T.S. Eliot’s words: “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

Because Milton dared to “risk going too far,” he advanced decisively the frontiers of liberty.

Friedman Was No Squish

We’re all deeply saddened by the passing of Milton Friedman, but remembering our fondest recollections of the man at the same time.  Obviously, his contributions to economics were his singular achievement (I even remember being puzzled at how much I enjoyed reading Money Mischief, not exactly a general-appeal book), but the man was a hardcore libertarian all around.

I recalled reading this passage in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 5, 2005:

Friedman supported Bush’s first-term candidacy, but he is more accurately libertarian than conservative and not a reliable Bush ally.

Progress in his goal of rolling back the role of government, he said, is “being greatly threatened, unfortunately, by this notion that the U.S. has a mission to promote democracy around the world,” a big Bush objective.

“War is a friend of the state,” Friedman said. It is always expensive, requiring higher taxes, and, “In time of war, government will take powers and do things that it would not ordinarily do.”

Worth remembering.  We will all miss Friedman’s contributions: not just to economics, but to libertarian thought generally.

Milton Friedman, RIP

Sad news for freedom fighters the world over: Milton Friedman has died.

He was a great economist, but he was so much more than that.  He was the most effective spokesperson for liberty in the post-WWII period.  I expect the media to do a fairly good job in summarizing his work and accomplishments, but it should be noted that he was a gentleman-scholar who was unfailingly polite in debate and very generous with his time.  I was amazed by the time that he took to reply to a letter from me when I was an undergraduate student.  A few years ago, I was honored when he agreed to write the foreword to my book on the disastrous drug war.

Dr. Friedman’s five-part documentary “Free to Choose” originally aired on PBS in 1980, but I hope a private network will air the documentary again in his honor this month or next.  

Here’s a terrific video clip of the man in action (courtesy of Radley Balko).

Rest in peace, Dr. Friedman. 

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Milton Friedman’s Passing

I am deeply saddened to hear that Milton Friedman, Nobel laureate economist, champion of market education reform, and a truly wonderful human being, has passed away at the age of 94.

Dr. Friedman’s writings on education policy, both individually and with his wife, Rose, were the seminal theoretical works of the American school choice movement. And with each passing year, the evidence supporting that theoretical analysis has mounted.

He believed that the system of education most compatible with a free society was one in which families were free to determine how and where their children were educated, and in which every family had ready access to the educational marketplace. Though an economist, and someone who believed that market provision of education would be more cost-effective than state-run monopoly schooling, he did not base his case for educational liberty on dollars and cents. He simply argued that government-operated schools were not only unnecessary to a free society, but were, in fact, incompatible with it.

Though best known for the products of his keen mind, his poise and personal character were no less impressive. When I first met him at a conference in 1998, a protestor hit the then-86-year-old in the face with a cream pie. He shrugged it off as though it were routine. Though inundated with endorsement requests, he refused to attach his name to anything that he had not written himself unless he had personally read it and agreed with it 100 percent. He made it a point to never say anything about a person in private that he would not be willing to say in public.

He was a man of integrity, humor, intelligence, candor, fortitude, and humility. I will miss him.

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