A man with silly views passes on
Milton Friedman died yesterday at the age of 94.
Why seem mean-spirited in saying the man had "silly views?"
Well, let's start with his book, "Free to Choose," which he wrote with his wife, Rose. Just check the index for the word "corporation" and look at the relatively few pages of the book where the word appears. The Friedmans speak of corporations with no practical understanding of how corporations have actually functioned since the late 19th century America on toward the time their book was published in 1980. At page 12 of the book, Friedman and his wife say it is wrong to think of a corporation having "income" because it is "figurative" due to a corporation not being a real person.
Tell the people who had to sue the corporate behemoths after being maimed by the Ford Pinto. Or maybe tell that to the state legislature of the state in which you live. There is something horribly naive and "post-modern" about Friedman's view of corporations as something not real.
Friedman was also, consequently, a leading proponent of the view that there is double taxation of people who own stock in corporations. He says the government should not tax the income of corporations and then, when the corporation pays dividends to each individual stockholder, require the shareholder to pay an income tax on the dividend received from the corporation. Friedman claims that is taxing the same money twice. See: page 306 of "Free to Choose."
Let's see now. When I get paid by a sole proprietor businessperson, I guess one of us shouldn't get taxed because it's also double taxation--the businessperson pays a tax on the profits and I pay a tax on my wage, which money making up the wage was already included in the calculation of the businessperson's profit. Or maybe when I buy the DVD of the latest movie release, I shouldn't pay a tax on it since there is going to be a tax paid on the profits generated by the company selling the DVD or the company which made the DVD, etc.
What's really silly (that word again) is that Friedman fails to see something painfully obvious when he tries to sell his garbage that corporations don't exist in "real" life: People set up corporations to create a legally recognized separate entity that shields them from personal liability. Yes, it is a separate entity by law! So, how can stockholders, who don't want liability as an owner, be upset when that legally recognized separate entity has to pay an income tax on money it makes?
Friedman also saw nothing good in things like the Food & Drug Administration, once telling Bill Buckley on the latter's program, "Firing Line," that when people died from bad medications, that would be incentive enough for companies to make changes to products. No need for government testing, he said. Even Buckley winced at that one. (Too bad the transcript is not available from what I believe is this particular Buckley-Friedman discussion).
Friedman was a guy who extolled the excitement of capitalism and brushed aside its terrible effects on individual workers who continue to be displaced and go from job to job--while he stayed in one job as a university professor sucking up to a corporate dominated culture (a couple of universities employed him over a 50 year period, including Stanford's Hoover Institution).
The obituary in the LA Times notes, without stating the obvious irony, that the young Milton gained his knowledge by going to a "local library," most likely a government (public) owned library (!), as a relatively poor youth, where he almost "exhausted its contents." Interesting that he wouldn't have been able to do that at Borders or Barnes & Noble if his community didn't have a public library.
While I recognize he saw the folly of a police-state response to drug abuse and now says he is against the war in Iraq,* that is not what Friedman was paid for at Stanford University. He was paid for his abject shilling for corporate power and his desire to destroy government's ability to ameliorate or solve problems for people.
Throughout his life, Friedman failed to understand the positive role of government in developing railroads, steel, airplanes, and computers, for example. Alexander Hamilton, for one, would have instantly recognized Friedman as a toady to power--and probably would have loved to quote Friedman against union leaders while Hamilton went on his way to using government power to enhance manufacturing interests in the United States in ways that primarily benefited those already in power. Friedman was like a mirror image of a "vulgar" Marxist ideologue: The vulgar Marxist never understands the social utility of businesspeople, while Friedman never understood the social utility of government programs designed to help working people and the poor.
Again, I hate to be rough here, but we're going to see all sorts of homages to this guy as if he was the Second Coming of Mother Teresa and Princess Di. Better for people to read the works of Michael Harrington. For more on Harrington, read this short article.
PERSONAL STUFF: I must note, for personal reasons, that both he and I share the same sounding name--Friedman/Freedman--and both attended Rutgers as young men. Friedman lived in Rahway, NJ for a time, while I lived for a couple of decades in the next town over (Woodbridge; particularly its boroughs Avenel and Colonia). And of course, we're both Jews. So much for thinking "All Jews think alike..."
Also, I was once on a panel with Milton's son, David, but he did not let on about his Dad, even when I went up to him and gave him an obvious opening to say so (Note his web site doesn't say anything about his Dad, either. Fathers and sons...hmmmm). David was also a bit reticient to challenge my economically left positions in the course of my comments about the Kennedys in the 1960s, at least that was how I recall it.
* Does anyone ever remember Friedman denouncing any particular American war in his very public life, despite his Randolph Bourne-like statement (near the bottom of this previously linked article) that "war is a friend of the State"?