Due to the current economic situation in which we find ourselves, many expect President Obama to have government monitor and regulate more areas of our lives, similar to the approach taken by FDR following his election. Many are concerned that this might amount to government control of various industries, and have even gone so far to label such policies as “socialist” in nature.
We here at the Institute read anything and everything. We are often reminded of a comment from a prospective colleague, to whom we considered extending an invitation to join us as a fellow. Upon informing him that we considered all works to be of equal value, and that we reviewed them all, he responded that he only examined those works which supported his views and positions, since to do otherwise would be a waste of his time, and therefore inefficient.
Needless to say, we withdrew the invitation to join us, since his view of information was inconsistent with our philosophy. Probably 10-20 times a week, we come across something that makes us re-think issues about which we have previously written. This blog, like the Constitution, constitutes a “living document.” (Snicker.)
While visiting friends last evening, we came across “Capitalism and Freedom” by Milton Friedman, a Nobel Laureate in Economics. Published in 1962, our reading of this relatively thin volume made us rethink some of the comments which we made, and those made by others, about our current economic situation. You may find the following excerpts to be of interest. Keep in mind that the book, a collection of papers presented at various lectures, was published in 1962. In a subsequent post, we will provide you with other excerpts from the book, including the original meaning of “liberalism.” You’ll be surprised.
"In a much quoted passage in his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” It is a striking sign of the temper of our times that the controversy about this passage centered on its origin and not on its content. Neither half of the statement expresses a relation [,] between the citizen and his government[,] that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society."
"[Paragraph break added.] The paternalistic “what your country can do for you” implies that government is the patron, [and] the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man’s belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, “what you can do for your country” implies that government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary. To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them."
"[Paragraph break added.] He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common conditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors or gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped or served. He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive."
"The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather “What can I and my compatriots do through government” to help us discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom?"
"[Paragraph break added.] And he will accompany this question with another: How can we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect? Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, [and] it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they are not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp."
"How can we benefit from the promise of government while avoiding the threat to freedom? Two broad principles embodied in our Constitution give an answer that has preserved our freedom so far, though they have been violated repeatedly in practice while proclaimed as precept."
"First, the scope of government must be limited. Its major function must be to protect our freedom both from the enemies outside our gates and from our fellow-citizens: to preserve law and order, to enforce private contracts, [and] to foster competitive markets. Beyond this major function, government may enable us at times to accomplish jointly what we would find it more difficult or expensive to accomplish severally."
"However, any such use of government is fraught with danger. We should not and cannot avoid using government in this way. But there should be a clear and large balance of advantages before we do. By relying primarily on voluntary cooperation and private enterprise, in both economic and other activities, we can insure that the private sector is a check on the powers of the governmental sector and an effective protection of freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought."
"The second broad principle is that government power must be dispersed. If government is to exercise power, better in the county than in the state, [and] better in the state than in Washington. If I do not like what my local community does, be it in sewage disposal, or zoning, or schools, I can move to another local community, and though few may take this step, the mere possibility acts as a check. If I do not like what my state does, I can move to another. If I do not like what Washington imposes, I have few alternatives in this world of jealous nations."
"The very difficulty of avoiding the enactments of the federal government is of course the great attraction of centralization to many of its proponents. It will enable them more effectively, they believe, to legislate programs that – as they see it – are in the interest of the public, whether it be the transfer of income from the rich to the poor or from private to governmental purposes."
"[Paragraph break added.] They are in a sense right. But the coin has two sides. The power to do good is also the power to do harm; those who control the power today may not tomorrow; and more important, what one man regards as good, another may regard as harm. The great tragedy of the drive to centralization, as of the drive to extend the scope of government in general, is that it is mostly led by men of good will who will be the first to rue its consequences."
"The preservation of freedom is the protective reason for limiting and decentralizing governmental power. But there is also a constructive reason. The great advances of civilization whether in architecture or painting, in science or literature, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralized government. Columbus did not set out to seek a new route to China in response to a majority directive of a parliament, though he was partly financed by an absolute monarch."
"[Paragraph break added.] Newton and Leibnitz; Einstein and Bohr; Shakespeare, Milton, and Pasternak; Whitney, McCormick Edison, and Ford; Jane Addams, Florence Nightingale, and Albert Schweitzer; no one of these opened new frontiers in human knowledge and understanding, in literature, in technical possibilities, or in the relief of human misery in response to governmental directives. Their achievements were the product of individual genius, of strongly held minority views, of a social climate permitting variety and diversity."
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