Milton Friedman – The Proper Role of Government



the subject of the talk tonight is the role of government in a free society and I think in discussing that subject the first thing you have to do is to emphasize the very different meanings that Free has there are two quite different meanings of free which tend to get confused and which it's important to keep separate the first is freedom in the sense of the absence of coercion that's the sense in which I shall be trying to use the term the second is free in the sense of free lunch in the sense of absence of cost the two meanings are very different and there are few sources few more important sources of confusion about the proper role of government in our society than the confusion between the two very different meanings of the word free the freedom that was suggested back in the days of world war ii by franklin roosevelt when he spoke of the Four Freedoms and spoke of the freedom from want how can you guarantee one person of freedom from want except by coercing another person to provide the material means for his being free from want freedom from want involves coercion it may be a fine objective but it uses the word freedom in an altogether different sense now obviously if men are going to live in a society there is no way in which you can have absolute freedom there is a famous dictum of a Supreme Court justice then my freedom to move my fist is limited by the proximity of your chin in a society in which there are many people freedoms are bound to interfere one with the other we are bound to have and the question that we need to ask and the question that I want to talk about tonight is what arrangements in a society will minimize coercion while preserving the maximum opportunity for members of a society to cooperate with one another to achieve their separate objectives the fundamental principle that I am going to try to uphold was stated by John Stuart Mill in on Liberty over a hundred years ago the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will is to prevent harm to others his own good either physical or moral is not a sufficient warrant that's the fundamental principle that I am going to take as a given as describing my own values in trying to discuss the question of what government government's role in a society dedicated to promoting freedom in that sense what its role is from this point of view the nation-state is a means to an end not an end in itself this notion that the individual or rather in our society in every society the family is a basic unit that we have responsible individuals or families cooperating one with another to achieve their objectives is in very very sharp contrast to the notion that the fundamental unit is the state that you have a nation-state and that the individual serves the individual exists to serve the state the ideal is it you shall have joint action only insofar as people have been persuaded to act together that you should have joint action only insofar as responsible individuals after free and full discussion have agreed jointly to cooperate in some venture it's from this point of view that the market voluntary exchange through buying and selling is so important as a basis for a free society the market has the enormous virtue that it enables you to achieve voluntary cooperation to achieve unanimity without conformity everybody can do his own thing everybody can go to the store and buy what he wants to buy however there are some items where it is not feasible for everybody to do his own thing there are some cases in which you must have uniformity some cases in which the answer must be the same for all the people the most obvious example is in the case of national defense there is no way in which some people in a country can be engaged in an international war and other people in a country can be not engaged in that war the decision whether the country is at war is a yes or no decision that must be the same answer for all ideally the ideal would be that we should not engage in such joint activities unless we have first achieved unanimity but it is clear that that's not a feasible ideal it is clear that you cannot in a changing world subject to problems that come up from time to time that you cannot afford the time that would be required in order to get everybody jointly to agree on the same course of action and hence all of us who have lived in these kinds of societies all societies of this kind have been led to adopt something short of unanimity a majority rule as an expedient for reaching those kinds of decisions which require conformable I let me stress that the majority rule in that concept context is not a principle it's an expedient people generally are inclined to equate democracy with majority rule I believe that is a great mistake there is nobody who believes in majority rule as an absolute there is nobody who believes that if 51% of the people should vote to shoot the other 49% that that would make it okay and our society in particular is is erected on the notion that minorities have rights and not merely majorities the bill of rights of our constitution was an attempt to prescribe an assurance that majorities would not rule and we are not willing to have a simple majority said as it settle everything for some purposes a simple majority will do if it's more important to reach a decision than it is what decision to reach find a majority will do but if it's something fundamental for example of foreign treaty our Constitution requires a two-thirds vote if it's something even more fundamental such as changing our basic Constitution well then we provide that you must have much more than a simple majority you must have a a qualified majority of the various states as well as of the Congress so majority rule is an expedient which we have adopted in those cases where we need conformity now the reason why this is important is because the use of the political channel for deciding issues while it is absolutely inevitable while you must do it inevitably tends to strain the social cohesion essential for a stable society no society can be stable unless there is a basic unthinking unquestioning allegiance to certain common principles if we are going to maintain a free society especially in a society in which you have why differences of customs and values and beliefs it is essential that you rely as little as possible on the political mechanism and as much as possible on the market mechanism of voluntary cooperation where each group can go its own way

Maurice Vega

27 Responses

  1. The only people seeking free lunch are African Americans. Perhaps, this is why they have not progressed for years now.

  2. Ownership is just entitlement, without itself being enforced by force. To use the same example as milton "the freedom for me to extend my fist" – good luck living in a overcrowded society.
    His version will undoubetly end in totalitarianism in the end, because ownership limits as much as it creates. People will not be able to move freely when all land is owned privatly.

  3. Friedman failed to mention that the american people was not ask to give an opinion on global free trade. Actually he never mentions that the MSM never allowed the word protectionism to be spoken on the airways. If it was spoken by someone like Pat Buchanan or Ross Perot the media quickly silenced it. Remember Al Gore holding up the picture of Smoot – Hawley on Larry King live and accusing tariff for causing the great depression.
    Friedman was a believer in throwing US Markets open to the world. That approach to trade has been proven wrong, and it was government that liberalizing our markets. Which Friedman never condemned. Know why — because he was carrying water for a entity that had taken over our government since the end of WWll.

    Friedman completely upheld the concept of dumbing down america, through open borders, inferior education and total liberalization of our schools. Friedman was completely willing to exploit the ignorance of the American People concerning the fact that the US was founded on protectionism, NOT free trade.

  4. It seems like he is saying that everyone should be involved in important decisions in this country and not just the Government.

  5. while certain banking familys are here on this planet it does not matter what system you have it will always be corrupted by those familys and inevitably become oppressive and controlling through control of banks and the media.

  6. Can you please take out the noisy music and the intro it's really annoying and I don't want to explain why if you want me to explain why then I'd say you never watched your own video seriously

  7. Lots of anarchists in the comment section I see.

    Government is based on violence because it was violence that the creation of government was designed to respond to. If your community is completely stateless, two things will most certainly happen: firstly enormous economic growth, resource creation, and prosperity due to the implementation of laissez faire capitalism, and secondly weak-minded people with evil intentions that will happily use force to take their undeserved portion. How will the individuals of this rich society defend themselves? Ostracism? It only takes a few ostracized people to get the bright idea of banding together in an organized effort to return to the community that drove them out and start pillaging. One option is for each individual to arm themselves and fight for themselves, but an individual even if armed is no match for multiple attackers. The only response to an organized group using force is with an organized group to respond to force. But since evil people like using force, they will probably be more skillful at practicing force than a good person who doesn't like using force (practice makes perfect), meaning that in a conflict between good and evil groups of people with equal numbers on both sides, the evil group will always have a better chance to win. So this organized response to force by good people will have to be specialized in their practice of responding to force in order to stand a chance, and you now have the beginnings of the military. I can't see how this can be any other way so long as humans have the potential for evil

    I don't think this military body should have a monopoly on force, and individuals should be free to arm themselves for protection against minor attacks as well as having a last resort if this military body becomes corrupt (founding fathers weren't stupid), but an organized effort by outsiders with bad intentions needs to be responded to with a more than equal force, meaning this military body (although vulnerable to corruption just like any one person) is necessary.

  8. Here again, Milton avoids acknowledging the thinly veiled political agenda behind the "economics" of his corporate sponsors, among them. Exxon-Mobil. General Electric and Olin Arms. This antigovernment demonology was originally scripted by the economist for the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign in 1964. Friedman continued recycling this conversion narrative about the wickedness of government thru the Reagan Administration in which he served as a senior economic advisor. While pontificating on the evils of the public's "improper role" in influencing public policy, Friedman himself forgets that his career was devoted to doing just that, beginning with his role drawing up the Federal policy program permitting payroll withholding, while working at the Treasury Department in1942.

  9. Milton's case against the welfare state is a straw-man argument. The only items in the federal budget that are comparable to social spending levels in countries like Sweden or Norway as found in the US would be in the ratio of public spending to GDP, for the Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons or the Department of Defense. A cursory examination of the public record reveals the existence of something more like a national security state, functioning as a global protectorate that has displaced colonialism to install a regime of "free-trade" in its place. In fact, Friedman's market fundamentalism rests on a theory recognizable to historians of Fascism as the doctrine of Social Naturalism, which seeks the overthrow of democracy to allow "natural forces" originating in the market to govern society, Social naturalism. demands that the political sphere be subordinated , so the market can reach a natural equilibrium once it is permitted to regulate itself. In effect what market fundamentalism seeks to enforce via the legislation of social naturalist practice is the transfer of powers to unaccountable, private interests who seek to reorganize and regulate society in their own interest,.
    Milton as an ideologue was skilled at performing this kind of rhetorical fast shuffle and it can be seen to support the covert political agenda of marketization which is, the promotion of a political regime, antithetical to majority rule. If accumulated capital provides access to the power to rule society by a minority who circumvent popular sovereignty by effectively assuming ownership of the resources of society, then holding those necessities of life for ransom. This is obviously an agenda that opposes "the government" if that means the right of citizen to choose public policy and its representative institutions to serve the public good, rather than a state retooled to serve the private interests of that elite already empowered by accumulated wealth…

  10. This is where Milton was utterly wrong, and his son David perfectly right.
    The proper role of government is in the dust-bin of history. Period.

    Everything the government does is based on violence, aggression, coercion and perpetual theft, that is to say, its essence is criminality. Everything it does is done orders of magnitude better and more efficient and at a lower cost, by voluntary consensual spontaneous self-organization in the free market.

    There IS no free market under government, how can that be so hard for people to understand?

  11. and this is one of the few things where friedman went wrong. government is an inherent immoral unnecessary evil that will always grow in size, he understood the efficiency of the market when it came to food or cars, but not with a legal system or roads (as if expecting the government to be less bureaucratic when monopolizing these two commodities), thankfully his son david knows better

  12. and this is one of the few things where friedman went wrong. government is an inherent immoral unnecessary evil that will always grow in size, he understood the efficiency of the market when it came to food or cars, but not with a legal system or roads (as if expecting the government to be less bureaucratic when monopolizing these two commodities), thankfully his son david knows better

  13. The end conclusion inevitably means that mass immigration of foreing cultures must result in the abolishment of "welfare state" and a radically educed government. Or society… wont be stable.

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