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November 18, 2006

Delong on Friedman

Brad Delong gives Milton Friedman a superb send off. This one part is simply wonderful:

General William Westmoreland, testifying before President Nixon's Commission on an All-Volunteer [Military] Force, denounced the idea, saying that he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. Milton Friedman interrupted him: "General, would you rather command an army of slaves?" Westmoreland got angry: "I don't like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves." And Friedman got rolling: "I don't like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries. If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general." And he did not stop: "We are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher" http://www.davidrhenderson.com/articles/0199_thankyou.html. As George Shultz likes to say: "Everybody loves to argue with Milton, particularly when he isn't there."

And that, Mr Adams, is how you, in polite society, talk about people between their death and their burial.

November 18, 2006 in Economics | Permalink


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It is of course the same people who lauded JK Galbraith after his death who seek to condemn Friedman.

One thing I'll give them, they have an amazing capacity to actually ignore the world around them and the way people behave.

Friedman was right, intentions don't matter, its outcomes which do - these leftist commentators ignore outcome, they believe that if the intention is there then it will all be okay.

I have been inspired by Milton Friedman, and because his policies were to bring about the best results for as many as possible- his policies were far from heartless, unlike the utilitarianism of the left which happily consigns people to poverty for short term gain of a few.

I await a Guardian hatchet job on Richard Cobden now, I mean free markets? Can't be having them, they're heartless.

Posted by: Tristan | Nov 18, 2006 2:06:08 PM

What outcomes are we talking about Tristan? Our privatised railways being the most expensive in the world? The wipe-out of British manufacturing industry? The ever widening-gap between rich and poor?

Tim adds: What wipe out of British manufacturing industry? See my blog at the Adam Smith Institute today for more details: manufacturing employment is down, yes, but output is, for example, some three times or so what it was in 1948.

Posted by: Neil Clark | Nov 18, 2006 5:33:43 PM

Aah yes..The Adam Smith Institute, those bright sparks whose model of railway privatisation was the one the government adopted.
I'm sure if you lived in Blighty, Tim, and tried to get around using our extremely expensive and extremely unreliable privatised public transport, you'd rethink your ideas.

Posted by: Neil Clark | Nov 18, 2006 6:57:16 PM


Posted by: Brad DeLong | Nov 18, 2006 7:03:15 PM

Privatization of the railways was pushed through by the Major government because Nicholas Ridley, an arch-Thatcherite and ally of Mrs T, consistently and persistently opposed it while Mrs Thatcher had been prime minister. As Ridley saw it, the railways would inevitably need to be subsidized for social reasons so it would be preferable to retain the railways in the public sector for reasons of public accountability and better control of public spending on subsidies. He was secretary of state for transport in 1983-86 and made a life peer in 1992. He died in 1993.

Mrs Thatcher on Ridley: "Free-market economics was always Nick's passion. And he had a longer, better pedigree in that respect than most Thatcherites–or indeed I may add–than Thatcher herself. His first vote against a Conservative Government bailing out nationalised industries was in 1961. To be so right, so early on, is not to have seen the light–it is to have lit it."

The railways were privatized in 1993, the year Nicholas Ridley died. John Major as prime minister and his advisers thought they better understood about running the railways and privatization.

Didn't Friedman have something to say about judging politicians not by their declared intentions but by the consequences of their decisions?

Posted by: Bob B | Nov 18, 2006 8:12:42 PM

"The wipe-out of British manufacturing industry?"

so who wants to stand at a brake-press all day long stamping widgets? And for a chinese wage?

Much of the manufacturing we do have left is done by immigrants. The Brits have found less tedious and more lucrative ways of making a living.

Persoanlly, I think manufacturing is groovy and (almost) the only source of real wealth creatiion - I am sure that I would not have predicated (say 80 years ago) that the actual work would end up being done abroad but the benefits would still be enjoyed by us.

Posted by: johnnybonk | Nov 19, 2006 2:07:13 AM

"The computer industry faces a skills crisis, the president of the British Computer Society has told BBC News. Unless steps are taken now, there will not be enough qualified graduates to meet the demands of UK industry, warned Professor Nigel Shadbolt."

Well done, Tone. Another astounding achievement for your policy of Education, Education, Education.

Posted by: Bob B | Nov 19, 2006 8:03:54 AM

Ah so what, we are in this open European Labour Market and um, we can hire people from there for our IT industry? and then we can hire people from India, and all over the world too as there are fast track work permits for IT workers.

Professor Nigel Shadbolt is really talking rubbish. Skills shortages are small and highly specialised - that is what evidence tells us. And in our relatively open labour markets for IT skills, we have the world's labour supply to choose from.

Posted by: angry economist | Nov 20, 2006 11:11:41 AM