Young Man, You Owe Milton Friedman a Thank You.

Every young man living after 1973 owes his life to Milton Friedman. In that year, Friedman, became the intellectual father behind ending conscripted military service. He wasn’t the first person to voice his opposition to the draft, but he was the first to communicate his ideas effectively enough to change the public mindset on the issue.

Ideas lay the groundwork for a philosophy and provide the foundation for a society. As Peter Kreeft said, “Philosophy is just thought, but sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. This is just as true for societies as it is for individuals.” Given that ideas guide our every action, we must look to have not just valid ideas, but ones that are intellectually grounded and sound.  Ideas must be communicated, compared and pieced together in order to create even better ideas. Communication is particularly important, as the better the communication, the more accessible and understandable ideas become. Fortunately, Friedman was a great communicator. His ability to communicate the message of liberty and free choice in regard to the draft kept young American males out of compulsory military service.

What was he able to communicate about the draft?

When making a case for the draft, advocates claimed that if soldiers enlisted for pay, it would create an army of mercenaries.  They argued that a paid volunteer army would not be a virtuous army, because the soldiers would join for monetary desire and not for patriotic duty.  Milton Friedman rebutted this by pointing out that mandatory conscription hypocritically fails this patriotic test, since forced servitude, rather than inner volition, causes individuals to serve.  Friedman believed that incentives are the foundation of each individual’s action, and therefore, it was inappropriate to attribute unpatriotic motives to paid army volunteers.

Friedman’s repudiation of such mercenary concerns are illustrated in a famous confrontation with General William Westmoreland:

In the course of his [General Westmorelands] testimony, he made the statement that he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. I [Milton Friedman] stopped him and said, General, would you rather command an army of slaves? He drew himself up and said, I dont like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves. I replied, I dont like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries. But I went on to say, If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher. That was the last that we heard from the general about mercenaries.

This example highlights the importance of communicating ideas effectively. By doing so, Friedman successfully convinced people of the ills of conscripted military service and persevered in the all-important court of public opinion. Friedman changed the landscape of modern war — and along with it the destiny of young Americans everywhere.

Friedman: the Influence of Ideas

On the bookshelf of an average American patriot, it would be more common to see a collection of Ronald Reagan biographies than books on the life of Milton Friedman. Ask a person on the street who they think holds the most power in America and you have a good chance of hearing “the president.” However, the president is a single man whose power is limited by checks, balances, and, depending on his character, his personal desire for re-election. One free man with an idea can prove influential and limitless without holding public office. Milton Friedman was that man.
Behind every great success lies a great inspiration. For the millions of conservatives who venerate Reagan, they are also (wittingly or unwittingly) admiring the impact Friedman made on the mentality of his times and on Reagan himself. That the political climate even allowed a man with Reagan’s platform to be elected was due in part to Friedman’s work, starting as early as the failed Barry Goldwater presidential campaign, which began calling for a return to laissez-faire economic principles when the position was extreme. This movement gained momentum, culminating in Reagan’s election.
In 1980, Reagan appointed Friedman to the select Economic Policy Coordinating Committee. As a team they applied Adam Smith’s concepts, and the economy became a freer and more prosperous place; regulations were limited, inflation was brought under control, taxes were cut, and government began to find its place – on the sidelines. Reagan’s policies are widely recognized as bringing about the second-longest peacetime economic expansion in the history of the United States. The key to bringing this prosperity was the wisdom of those advisors who, like Friedman, truly understood economic policy. Later, Friedman was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Friedman didn’t only have an influence at home in America; his ideas brought significant changes around the world. Former prime minister of Estonia, Mart Laar, who is credited with bringing Estonia’s rapid economic development in the 1990s, said that the only book on economics he read before his election was Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose.” Under Laar, Estonia became the first country to institute a flat tax, which was very successful. While speaking about Friedman’s “Free to Chose” TV series, Reagan mentioned that the principles Friedman expressed had also helped inspire the Polish drive for freedom.
Although politicians come and go and their ideas can change with the political winds, the protection and presentation of sound economic ideas remains a vital tenant of freedom. Politicians are only in power for a few terms at most, but influencing the electorate and swaying public opinion toward freedom is a full time job with no term limit. This position in the cause of freedom is taken today by think tanks like the Mackinac Center. They, like Friedman, publish articles, give lectures and research responsible policy changes, sharing their findings publicly.
As an intern at a think tank, I am inspired by Milton Friedman. Looking at his example, I know that as a responsible citizen, I can live an influential life of loving and sharing liberty without needing to be elected. My job is to provide, present and protect the principles which will bring about the next age of prosperity.

Capture is part of regulation itself

Here’s a letter I sent to the WSJ about a week ago

by D. Pontoppidan, Summer Fellow at the Mackinac Center

Thomas Frank [“Obama and Regulatory Capture, June 24] calls the present moment a time “for a ringing reclamation of the regulatory project.” To protect consumers, he argues, we need regulation, and better people in charge, lest we suffer from “regulatory capture,” a concept developed by the Chicago economist George Stigler.

I am reminded of another Chicago economist, Milton Friedman, who once recounted the history of the Federal Register, which records all matters concerned with regulatory agencies in the United States. From its inception in 1936, the Federal Register grew from 2,599 pages and six inches of shelf space to 36,487 pages in 1978, the year before Friedman’s book ‘Free to Choose’ was published, taking up 127 inches of shelf space – a veritable 10-foot shelf. Though the Federal Register was not even able to tell me the number of pages they publish today, they did inform me that they now published on a daily basis.

There are two myths at play in Frank’s article. One is that a lack of regulation was to blame for the financial crash. The second myth is that the answer to regulatory capture is to get better people into regulatory agencies. The whole point, however, of regulatory capture is that it is an inherent flaw in the system. To quote Stigler himself, “The state—the machinery and power of the state—is a potential resource or threat to every industry in the society. With its power to prohibit or compel, to take or give money, the state can and does selectively help or hurt a vast number of industries.” Leaving consumers free to choose on an open market seems a better way of punishing those who deal in bad products.

Bringing Competition to Government

Kurt Bouwhuis, Mackinac Center Intern

Patri Friedman is working on a very interesting project to bring competition into government.  He has received funding to create floating platforms out in the ocean.  These platforms will not be subject to any one countries laws, and therefore will allow a variety of governments to flourish.  It has also been said that these platforms will be movable, allowing people to “vote with their feet”, without having to worry about the immensive costs involved.  An audio recording of an interview with Patri Friedman is located here, and an article written by Reason is located here.  The official website for the project is