Free To Choose 1990 – Vol. 03 Freedom & Prosperity – Full Video


In 1980, a friend of mine did something of rare importance that some historians might miss. Dr. Milton Friedman, a scientist, a careful thinker, and a great teacher, first presented his TV series Free To Choose. His TV series was about choices, risks, freedom, equality, and making a better future for all of us. In 1976, the 200th birthday of our nation, Milton Friedman won the Nobel Peace Prize in economics. Two hundred years earlier, in the same year as the Declaration of Independence, Adam Smith, a Scotsman, published a book titled The Wealth of Nations. The United States was the first country to apply the ideas in Adam Smith’s book. Those ideas have led to our prosperity and given us our freedom. In Free To Choose, Milton Friedman shows us how those ideas can help us today. In this program, Milton and his wife Rose take us on a brief tour of Eastern Europe. They wanted to see if the Czechs, Hungarians and Poles were taking the steps needed to achieve prosperity and a lasting freedom. In fact, a member of the Polish Parliament has said that Milton Friedman’s Free To Choose was a major influence on the Polish drive for freedom. I find it exciting to watch the rebirth of freedom in Eastern Europe. Being free to choose should be every person’s birthright. Everywhere in the world, and especially here in the United States, we need to keep government on the sidelines. Let the people develop their own skills, solve their own problems, better their own lives. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to call Milton Friedman’s Free To Choose a survival kit for you, for our nation and for freedom. Human and political freedom has never existed, and cannot exist without a large measure of economic freedom. Freedom is making choices: what’s best for me? What do I want to do? We all want to be free to choose. No government official is telling these people what to do. Parental control‚ parents choosing the teacher, parents monitoring the schooling. Free to live your own life, pursue your own goals, chase your own rainbow without the government breathing down on your neck or standing on your shoes. Most of us would choose prosperity if we could. But what’s the best road to that goal? Free trade set off a process that revolutionized Japan and the lives of its people. The pilgrims tried a form of socialism over 300 years ago. Unfortunately, for their fair-minded plans, they prospered only after they were allowed to keep for themselves all the food they grew. Who says economic institutions don’t matter? We may dream of a perfect world, but we all know that’s not possible. Hong Kong is very far from utopian. Life is unfair‚ there’s nothing fair about one man being born blind and another man being born with sight. I do not know any exception to the proposition that if you compare like with like, the freer the system, the better off the ordinary poor people have been. Dr. Friedman has spent a lifetime studying freedom and prosperity. To him, the lessons of history are clear. People are better off making their own choices. Better off not relying on government. Free to Choose is a survival kit for you and for Liberty. Those are the Parliament buildings. This is the river Danube and I am in Budapest, the capital of Hungary. Over there somewhere is Czechoslovakia, over there Poland, and farther away yet, the Soviet Union. Socialist states that started out with the very best of intentions, intending only to improve the lots of their citizens, they all ended up making the people poor, miserable and into slaves. And every one of them has been learning that lesson that socialism is a failure. They are all trying to move in the direction of a free, private market. What happened here in Eastern Europe was a major event: the first time in history that totalitarian countries decided to move toward free markets. Will they succeed? That is the question that brought my wife Rose and me here. As economists, we wanted to witness the most exciting experiment in political and economic organization that is likely to occur in our lifetime. In the center of Prague, there is a famous cafe, a relic from the days when Czechoslovakia was one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Today we find only faded elegance, a pale echo of a productive past that was created by market incentives. What happened? Communist central control- that is what happened. The same culture, the same people, the same resources but what a different outcome- a vastly lower standard of living, the result of substituting orders from the top for incentives from below. Who says economic institutions don’t matter? A year ago, right outside that cafe, hundreds of thousands of Czechs massed in Wenceslas Square to demand their freedom. This is where it all happened. In three days they got political freedom. The hopes were high. They thought economic miracles would follow quickly. Yet now it is a year later and almost nothing has happened. Political freedom can be achieved rapidly; economic freedom and prosperity is a very different thing. And that’s what is beginning to dawn on these people. In reality they are not yet free. They are still the victims of thousands of controls the communists put in place. If the newly elected governments are going to keep the support of the people, they must give them real freedom and they’ve got to do it fast. That was the secret of Margaret Thatcher’s success in England. She had a well worked out program and she put it into effect right after coming into office. It was the secret of Ronald Reagan’s program. On the other hand, Menachem Begin in Israel came in without any plans whatsoever, and he ended up a failure. If Czechoslovakia is going to achieve the objectives of its revolution, it must move rapidly to put into effect the economic institutions which alone can convert political freedom into economic and human freedom. Those institutions are the institutions of free, private markets. There are examples all over the place of both the opportunities and the problems. Yuri Malick wants to publish a magazine for people who are trying to set up their own private businesses in Czechoslovakia. He runs it from his living room. It’s a small family enterprise. The magazine is packed with information for would-be businessmen on how to thread their way through the jungle of bureaucratic regulations that still exist. The irony is that some of those very regulations are preventing him from getting his business off the ground. For a start, he needs to obtain 15 separate government licenses before he can distribute the magazine. After nearly a year, he still hasn’t got them. He’s had to come here again and again to this government licensing bureau to try to persuade a bureaucrat to allow him to do business. Yet again, it’s not his lucky day. Yuri Malick doesn’t give in easily, but things are not looking too hopeful. The man he has got to see is not available and no one else is interested in his problem. The Czech government owns all the newsstands, the bookshops, the nationwide distribution system, which is controlled from here. There’s one way, and only one way, to put an end to all this nonsense: the government must get out of business and stay out. It must transfer these assets into private hands. These are the kinds of forms you have to fill out in this country in a place like that if you want to start a business or get anything done. But if you think that only happens here, tell me when was the last time you stood in line to get a driver’s license or a registration plate, or do you know anybody in Britain, or France, or Germany or the United States who has built a house sometime in the last 10 years. Ask him what he went through. Years ago, I asked a graduating student at a communist university what he was going to do when he got his degree. He said, “I don’t know, they haven’t told me yet.” The people around here were told not only where to work, but also where to live. In these concrete blocks, thousands of identical pre-fabricated housing units, each one the property of the state. Maria and her husband live in one of them with their two children. Some years back they were put here by the Czech communist authorities and given jobs nearby, but they have never liked the place. Yet even now, after the revolution, they can’t move. There is no excuse for any of that. Housing can easily be converted to private property, and one result would be that people could sell their homes and move to get better jobs or just to go and live where they really want to. All sorts of new opportunities would open up. Among the East European countries, Hungary has been moving away from total state control for more than a decade. However, the government still owns most of the country’s enterprises. Now that it is permitting private individuals to start up their own businesses, it wants to control them, too. The Hungarians aren’t alone in that. Nothing is harder than to give up power. Throughout Eastern Europe industry is strangled by government controls, especially small, private businesses trying to succeed in international markets now that trade barriers are supposed to be coming down. This place makes electronic circuits for cheap consumer goods like alarm clocks and toasters. Their competitors in Hong Kong and Taiwan may smile when they see this as their competition. The machines are all 10 and 20 years old. But this firm can’t buy modern equipment from abroad. It’s not allowed to acquire and spend foreign currency. They can now manage, because the wages they pay are so low, but they can’t count on that forever. Sooner or later the owner of this business will be trapped. He has to be able to deal in foreign exchange at any price that’s mutually agreeable in a truly free market. That’s what is needed to set him free. West of Budapest, the road passes through this little village. It’s mainly a farming community, but there is also a small cooperative that processes wood for house building. It is owned by the workers. With a construction boom just around the corner, they can see an expanding market for their goods, but they need more equipment. That’s their problem. Their only recourse with finance is through the local government bank. It won’t help them because it wants to protect the state factory down the road. One alternative is a joint venture with a foreign company, but the workers are jealous of their independence. Permitting competitive banks or freeing the foreign exchange market would broaden their options. They’d be able to get the new equipment they need to expand and prosper. As it is, the only way that they can break out of their quandary is to break the law by buying foreign exchange on the black market. And that’s what is going on here: money hustlers trading in foreign currencies. Corrupting? Yes, but also serving a real function by promoting business efficiency. It should be legal, not illegal, done through private banks, not on the street. Government can promote the transition to a free market in two very different ways. One way is simply to get out of the way. Let dozens of Rubik’s Cubes emerge from the ingenuity, the enterprise, and drive of the Hungarian people. Another way is to try to plan the transition. That way one thing is sure: the people who do the planning will make sure that they end up on the top and the little man is on the bottom. And here in Budapest, like everywhere in Eastern Europe, small enterprises are only too well aware of that reality. Every building in this street of shops is state owned, but out of sight, down the back alleys, there is a new and vibrant world of business growing. This place has nothing to do with the state. It is truly a free, uncontrolled market. The women earn three times as much as they could in the state clothing factories. They make fashion garments for the young. It’s a fickle market that is always changing. Their job is to keep ahead of it- to innovate. The clothes are sold from market stalls and trade is thriving. Two years ago this place was a derelict building site. Now taken together, all the stalls have the annual turnover of a good-sized department store, simply because the market has been allowed to develop without state interference. Imagine the effect if production all over Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia were set free like this. Here’s another real success story, this time in Czechoslovakia. Martin was a rock musician. Today he makes documentary films. Some years ago, he did a concert tour of the United States and brought back second-hand recording equipment. The communist government let him bring it back, after paying a hefty import tax, because he said he wanted to record folk music, something the government was not doing and did not plan to do. In the past year, since things have opened up, his business has exploded. Along with music and films, he now duplicates videocassettes. He also makes audiocassettes for other Czech producers and has devised his own English language course on tape. He’s on his way, and many more will follow if the government just gets out of their way. You just can’t keep good people like that down. The guests at this party aren’t much interested in self-driving entrepreneurs like Martin. High-powered business executives from North America and West Europe, they’re interested in bigger game. They are here to do business and make good profits for their firms. They’ll do it by arranging joint ventures between their western companies and government enterprises. To succeed, they have to get on the right side of the politicians and the bureaucrats who are in charge. It is large scale lobbying, very much in the western manner. The danger is that in the process, local government bureaucrats and big foreign business will end up freezing out local entrepreneurs. But Les is very aware of the fact that the government is worrying about selling out the country. The assets of Hungary belong to the people of Hungary. I do not believe they should be sold. You are a citizen of Hungary, who owns the state enterprises? Okay, the society as a whole. Not the society, the people! Well, that’s the society. Well, give it to the people! Yeah. In finance ministries all over Eastern Europe, the talk is all about privatization, but rhetoric is one thing- action sometimes very different. One example is in Prague, where Vaclav Klaus, the finance minister, is desperately trying to free the Czech economy. The people who were the reformers at that time were done after the Russian regime, they were fired from their jobs, and they returned to politics with their own extremely obsolete ideas, and now they are trying . . . But he’s up against political interests that aren’t ready to give up control. They are all anti-communists, all in favor of markets, but many are still beguiled by the idea of market socialism, a third way between capitalism and socialism. Klaus and I believe that is a mirage, that a third way will take Czechoslovakia straight to the third world. It must either move directly to a pure free market, or it will get stuck just as Yugoslavia has. I think intellectuals tend to underestimate the intelligence of the ordinary people- Poland and Hungary have exactly the same problem. Some, like Klaus, want to move to free markets right away. Others still hanker after socialist control of the markets. …those who use the word naive citizens. They are the interventionist economies and the other, so this is my speech in the Parliament- Political power is limited, but economic power is not limited, and you can have, if you have one millionaire, you can have another millionaire, you can have another millionaire, without anybody else being worse off. In fact, everybody else will be better off. And it seems to me again, the people understand that. I can’t believe that your ordinary people here don’t. They know overnight you can make a change if you could only get the government off the back of the people. Where are we heading? We are heading all the way up here. We’ll get there. Let’s not get any more gas than we need to. What is it? It is about $1.00 a liter, which makes it about $4.00 a gallon of gas. In these countries, the hardest problem is to transform their heavy industries. This is Nowa Huta, a vast collection of steel mills in Poland and a disaster in every sense. It’s inefficient, costly, and above all, a major polluter. The best thing to do with places like this would be to bulldoze them, but that’s almost impossible. They are too well shielded by special interests: the unions, the bureaucrats, and all the other political interests on the fringes. The communists socialized the means of production. They tried to run everything from the center. It didn’t work. It was a mess and a failure. We in the United States, on the other hand, have been socializing the fruits of production. That is, the government has been taking money from some people, the people who produce the goods and services, and giving it to other people who do not produce goods and services. The end result is likely to be the same loss of incentive and organization if we carry it too far. That’s one lesson we should learn from these countries. A year ago, the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables and other things in this street market were simply not obtainable. It’s one of the first signs of the flowering of enterprise under the new regimes. This market is in Krakow, Poland. Goods are readily available now only because the government eliminated price controls, allowing the market to set the prices. Like a miracle, overnight the stalls had goods for sale. This gentleman sells bulbs and seeds. He’s happy in the market, but many traders would like to set up in stores and develop on a larger scale. At the moment, they can’t. The stores are all owned by the state. The traders are stymied unless and until the stores become private property. When they do, the market will get another boost. This youngster is 16, and he’s still in high school. But this is Saturday and he’s in the market selling jeans from Thailand, making a little money for himself. He’s studying to be a gardener, but when I asked him what he was going to do when he left school, he had no hesitation; he was going to be a businessman. There’s the hope of Poland. Everybody knows what needs to be done. The property that is now in the hands of the state needs to be gotten into the hands of the private people, who can use it in accordance with their own interests and values. The problem is how to do it. Now that you have some degree of political freedom, there is an awful fight going on about who is going to get what share of the total pie. Everybody wants a little bigger piece. It is a political minefield. But unless that minefield can be gotten through, the game is up. It will be a failure. If it can be gotten through, then you will have an opportunity for these resources to be used the right way for the right things. We in the West know only too well how hard it is to get the government out of something once they’ve been in it. Here in Poland they’ve been in it for 50 years, and in a much bigger way than in the United States. So they have got a real job on their hands. It would be silly of us, on the basis of a brief trip, to try to judge how successful these countries will be in doing what no country has yet been able to do: transform a totalitarian state into a prosperous, free society. If this experiment is successful, it will not only transform Eastern Europe, it will also offer an invaluable blueprint for the economic development of many poor countries. You know, nothing is more striking than the wide differences in the standard of life of people who live in different parts of the world. Why? Not because of race or religion, or culture or natural resources. After all, the Chinese who live in Hong Kong and in Taiwan are of the same race and background as those who live in Red China, yet their standards of living are vastly different. The same thing is true of East Germany and West Germany; of South Korea, North Korea, of Japan before the Meiji Restoration and Japan after the Meiji Restoration. The real explanations are the economic institutions that they adopt- free private markets versus central planning. The countries of Eastern Europe have finally overthrown their communist masters who foisted central control on them. They have the rare opportunity to write on a clean slate, to create the institutions of private property and free markets that are the only ones that have ever achieved widespread prosperity and human freedom. We in the United States, on the basis of our experience of the last 10 years, know how hard it is to cut a government down to size. We hope they succeed better than we did. If they do, we will learn as much from them as they have learned from our example. Hello, I’m Linda Chavez and welcome to Free To Choose. Joining Dr. Friedman for a discussion of the failure of socialism are Gary Becker from the University of Chicago and Samuel Bowles of the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Bowles, I think we can all agree that socialism has failed Eastern Europe. Dr. Friedman believes that the path out of that is the free market and I think he thinks there are lessons for the United States. What do you think? Well, there is much to celebrate in Eastern Europe- not only the elimination of dictatorial rule. I go back on that a long time. I was in the Soviet Union in the late 50s, in ’58 and ’59, as a musician and I met many Russian musicians and made friends with a lot of Russian people who found themselves harassed and victimized by the police. In fact, my own musical group was prevented from singing a couple of times by the police. That is all on the way out and I hope it is gone for good. Equally welcome is the end of this myth of the centrally planned society. That is gone too and I hope that basically the lesson is learned. But Milton seems to think that we have to choose between either a centrally planned society or a society in which we have markets which are basically unregulated. So the choice is really between all or nothing. I don’t think that’s the choice. I think what Milton is posing for us is a model which is as unrealistic as a centrally planned model. It’s outdated, it won’t work, it is extreme and I think it’s undemocratic. I think that we have choices in between. What Milton called the third way, a way that he said wouldn’t work, has been shown to work around the world, and I think that Eastern Europe would be very ill-advised to take Milton’s advice on this. Yet, the last time anybody took Milton’s advice on economic policy it was Ronald Reagan, and Ronald Reagan has put the U.S. economy into a situation where it can’t pay its bills and is facing mounting economic instability and difficulties. Dr. Friedman, what about this midway path? Well first of all, I utterly reject what Sam says about the results of Ronald Reagan’s changes. We had a decade of extraordinary growth, increasing employment, in which inflation was brought down sharply. Ronald Reagan came into office at a period of very high inflation and so on. But this program is not about the Reagan administration. This program is about Eastern Europe and I want to go to Eastern Europe. I believe Sam is completely wrong in saying that the model I propose is outdated. I believe that what he calls obsolete is something very different. You have had the third way. You have had it in the United States; you have had it in Sweden; you have had it in Britain; you’ve had it elsewhere. In every case it’s been built on the foundation of a long period of what I call the first way. The United States had 150 years of essentially a free private market before it launched on this period of the welfare state. The same thing was true in Britain; the same thing was true in Sweden. I believe he will find it very difficult to site any example of a country which started from a very low level and immediately adopted that combination of policies. Well let me add something on that. I think the lesson that we learned from what happened in Eastern Europe goes beyond simply that central planning doesn’t work. I think we all agree it doesn’t work. But it is more than that; it is the role of private property in the system and the incentives provided by private property. I don’t know what socialism means anymore, but I remember when I was in Poland and I asked the head of the ideology department, is private property consistent with socialism? He said, “It may be.” Then I asked him, “Well what is the difference between socialism and capitalism?” And his answer was, “We are still working on that.” I think what we have seen is a rejection of the ideas associated with traditional socialism which are: suppression of private property, government ownership of property, and so on. Now how far should we move in the other direction? I think that is question you are asking, Sam. And is there a middle way? I think the middle ways that have been successful have all been largely reliant on private property, private ownership, private incentives. The difficult question is the one that Milton raised in the documentary. How far can you redistribute income and make it consistent with effective incentives? I don’t think we know the boundary point there, whether 30% of the income being redistributed is too much, 40%, 50%. My own feeling is that we have gone much too far in Sweden and some of the other Scandinavian countries, and they are beginning to step back from this. They are lowering maximum tax rates to 50% now- they were up to 80%. So I think there is a third way, but that third way is going to be a lot closer to unregulated market than toward a socialist organization of resources and a suppression of private property. Let’s get back to the particulars though. You talk about Sweden and you talk about the third way failing, and Milton says nobody has ever really gotten rich on the third way- they have only benefited from that. Let’s talk about the United States. The period you described included a very long period in which the United States was a highly protectionist country, in which our industrial base was developed from Alexander Hamilton on for some time, and then during the late 19th and early 20th century. To call that a free market solution would be against everything you have taught. Or, if one wants to go back into the 19th century, the huge subsidies of the railroads were of course an intervention in the market. Look, no one can- Let me continue, Milton. In the case of England that you talk about, the same is true. The role of the British Navy and the role for example of the Parliament, in actually establishing the private property, which is what you favor. This was done by a government intervention. We talk about the other cases. Talk about Sweden or let’s talk about Korea. These are two countries which I think are justly admired for their economic performance. Both countries have income distributions far more equal than the United States. In Sweden, over the half the GNP is taxed. Now, people in this country would say, well, it’s obviously they have gone too far. But let’s look at the test of the market. Sweden and Korea have been defeating the United States in world markets. Exports have grown 5% per year during the Reagan/Bush years in Sweden. In the United States, they have grown 1% per year. In Korea we know they have grown much better. If you want to go on to Norway, where much of the investing is done by the government, they have grown their exports even faster than Sweden. Meanwhile, we can’t compete in world markets. So the lesson of these countries is, if you look at the facts, Milton- a combination of government regulation and the market works. I agree with Gary. I think private property is extremely important because the incentives associated with owning the result of your work is essential. But private property does not mean that we have to let the market go unregulated and all the evidence says that the countries that are beating us in the world market today don’t do it. They are not that dumb. Japan doesn’t do it; Korea doesn’t do it; Sweden doesn’t do it. Let’s not throw straw men around. Obviously I am not in favor of no government. Government has some very important roles to play. Those are very limited. You take the case of the United States during the 19th century and of Britain in the 19th century. At the time of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1899, total government spending in Britain was 10% of the national income. Up until 1929 in the United States, except for periods of great war, total government spending in the United States was about 10% of national income. Now that is a very far cry from a government which spends over half of the national income- and a little less than half in the United States. You are opposed to capital controls. You are opposed to telling people they can’t move their money internationally. That is what Korea does. You are opposed to- I think Korea makes a mistake by doing it. Korea has beaten us by exactly the policies that you’re proposing. So has Hong Kong. Hong Kong has beaten us by the policies I am proposing. If Korea is not a middle way and if Sweden is not a middle way, then I would like to know what you’d call it. Korea is a lot closer to a market-oriented economy than any of the economies we have been talking about. The government approves the heads of the banks in Korea. It does, but- They have nationalized their steel industry and have one of the most efficient plants in the world at Pohang. If you call that a private economy- What fraction of resources in Korea goes through the government? A tremendous fraction if you take account of the fact that the banks are centrally run and they control the credit allocations there and they don’t let people take their money out of the- I would like to bring this discussion back to the United States for a moment. What about socialism in the United States? There has been one area where we have tried to redistribute wealth. We have done that through our welfare policies and Social Security. Has that worked? Some people it benefited, but taken as a whole, I think it has been a failure. I agree with that. I think the big problem in the United States has been, of course, some of the welfare programs have been successful. But by trying to do too many things, the government is no longer doing the things that it should be doing. We all agree there are many things government should be doing. I agree with Milton- it’s a straw man to say there’s an issue between no government and 100% government. The question is: what are the tasks the government should be doing? I believe the tasks are of course: defense against outside aggression, internal protection, some infrastructure, protection of the people who can’t make it, a safety net. In every one of these areas, we’re not doing very well. And I think we are not doing well mainly because we are trying to do a lot of things we shouldn’t be doing. And they can’t do all of them. I couldn’t help but think, Dr. Bowles, as I watched that film that the public housing area, the public housing that we saw in Eastern Europe and the problems that we have here in the United States. Aren’t there some lessons to be learned? There is absolutely no reason why housing shouldn’t be privately owned. That does not mean that the government has no role in housing. It seems to me housing is precisely something that ought to be a matter of private property. But we also know, from the experience of this country, that the market itself doesn’t provide housing that the rest of the public thinks is adequate for the vast majority of poor people in this country. Now, that doesn’t mean it has to be done by government building the houses, but it certainly does mean that something has to be done, or we are going to have the kind of homeless crisis that we have in this country, and they are getting one in Eastern Europe too. The homeless crisis is a tiny fraction of the population of the United States. Let’s not make that a major part of the housing problem in the United States. I am not at all convinced that there is any evidence suggesting that the private system cannot provide adequate housing. I think there is a good case to be made that there are poor people in this country and the government obviously has to help them out. We all agree on that. But should they be doing it by building housing, or by giving them income and permitting them to spend as they see fit? I see no evidence, from the U.S. or any other country, that we’re better off when the government takes a major role in housing, or any of these other particular activities that allocate resources. And what role has been played in the difficulty of getting housing by government interventions? By rent control? By excessive building code regulations, many of which are designed to protect the interests of special groups. Government played a very large role. The homeless people are homeless because they are poor and they are out of work. They are not homeless because of rent control. I beg your pardon. All of them aren’t. Of course there are some like that, but the existence of rent control has certainly increased the number of homeless. Many people are homeless because they are mentally ill. But the homeless is a tiny fraction. Housing policy in the United States should not be oriented around the homeless, because that is a tiny part of the problem in any major city, and certainly outside of major cities. If you look at the bulk of housing in the United States, I see no evidence that that cannot be adequately provided by the private sector. Let’s talk about incentives because I know that both of you like to talk about incentives a lot. Well I think incentives are terribly important. And Milton says in the show- and I agree with him that we have to choose between taking orders from the top down, or incentives at the bottom. Now, Milton’s idea of how do you get the incentives down at the bottom is essentially a view of an economy in which individuals, through their ownership of property, can own the results of their hard work and their innovation. It is a great idea. It doesn’t exist anywhere, and it can’t exist. When I read your stuff, Milton, and when I watch you on TV I think you know, Milton has this idea of, Charlie Brown and Linus are going to have a lemonade stand and Lucy is going to have another lemonade stand and that is your idea of capitalism. But that’s a myth. That is not what capitalism is. We don’t have thousands and millions of little firms competing on a level playing field. We have giant industrial corporations that use their power to their own advantage, and to the disadvantage of others. And that’s what you have to be able to deal with you if you want to be relevant to the modern world. That’s what the countries that I talked about, Sweden, Korea, Norway, Japan, are very good at doing: dealing with the problem of economic power so that the power of those institutions can be used by and large for public good. If you ignore them with this lemonade stand capitalism myth, you are simply giving those powerful spenders of wealth and affluence free rein. Gary, it is a strange thing that not a single one of the countries that you have described has a standard of living as high as that of the United States with respect to the bulk of its population. Yes and the United States got its standard of living through precisely the policies that you have opposed such as protecting our industrial base from- Tariffs were a tiny part of U.S. I’d be very happy to go back to the 19th century U.S. policy. It was a tiny part. The government, sure they did some things. They built canals and then so on- I agree…I agree. I have a colleague at Columbia who did a lot in that area. But it’s a tiny part of the economy. And let’s go back to a resource that went through the government at that time what was it? Ten percent at the maximum. The largest employer of the government was the postal system. That is the main thing the government was doing. Some tariff policies, to be sure, probably hurt us and a few other activities. Let me come back to the other issue raised then. There are millions and millions of companies in the United States. It’s true that in some sectors these are very large companies like in manufacturing. But what I think has happened, particularly in the modern world, is these large companies are now having to compete with large companies from elsewhere. It is not capitalism; it’s the political sector that is limiting that competition, partly at the behest of these companies, but also at the behest of the employees of these companies, to limit the competition from abroad. But most industries, it would be hard put for you to argue now that even the large companies aren’t facing significant competition in the United States markets, not only from domestic companies, but from large companies based abroad. Oh, I agree with that completely. But what I am concerned about is this. If you work at say General Motors or IBM and you’re a secretary or you’re a production worker, what you are getting there is you are getting orders from the top down. You don’t own your work. You don’t own the results of your work. When you talk about incentives from the bottom, if you want to get incentives from the bottom, you have to get the people who work at the bottom to own the results of their work and to have a say in how their work is going to be used. You can do that if you- like employee ownership and employee control. That is what made Weirton Steel from almost bankruptcy to one of the most successful steel companies in the United States: employee ownership and control. The same with Columbia Aluminum, one of the most efficient aluminum companies in the United States. It went from shutdown to being a very successful company through employee ownership and employee control over their production processes. That is what I call putting incentives at the bottom where they belong, but you never advocate that. I am not against employee ownership, but you have to permit employee ownership to compete on a level playing field against other forms. We permitted that in the United States, up until 1975, when you had trivial employee ownership in the United States. That to me suggests that workers didn’t want it. Dr. Friedman, who owns companies now? Are these in the hands of a small number of people or is it stockholders? No, it’s the stockholders who own it; and a very large fraction of that is owned in pension plans, which are for the benefit of the employees. But of course, Gary is right, what produced the spate of employee ownership was government subsidy through the ESOPS. ESOPs since 1975. And I think that’s disgraceful. That’s the only reason you have gotten the growth of employee ownership in the United States. We have 5,000 or 6,000 employee owned companies now in the United States, and you take away these subsidies and I think that would go down to 1,000 or so. Let them be there, that is fine. Let the market determine which form is most desired and which form is most efficient. Gentlemen, obviously we have not exhausted this subject, but we are out of time. Thank you for watching Free To Choose. Next week we will be discussing the failure of our schools. We send our kids to school hoping that they will receive something that will benefit them in the future for when they go out here and compete in the job market. Unfortunately, none of that is taking place out of Hyde Park.

11 thoughts on “Free To Choose 1990 – Vol. 03 Freedom & Prosperity – Full Video

  • Gov regulations help big corporations and government itself more than the small player. Same goes for tax laws helping the rich more than the poor. Complexity in laws and regulations do not serve the interests of the common people. That's why it's called special interests. Government is supposed to limit itself to the common interest.

  • Any business can be employee-owned. They are free to choose! Our company is effectively employee owned as employees control most of the equity.

  • All the opponents of Milton Friedman in the debate segment could be held up as they hold collectivist arguments; they keep talking about 'countries' that have done well using government regulations, protectionism and government intervention. Clearly, the big corporations in those countries – from the Toyotas and Mitsubishis (the zaibatsu) in Japan; to the chaebols in Korea; to the industrial houses of Germany – have benefited from government intervention on their behalf. Each of these state-protected industrial groups are increasingly being implicated in corruption scandals. And if one cares to look at the history of these large groups, one will notice that they were all linked to the state apparatus in one way or another. The Toyota family were in-charge of collecting taxes before they went into industry; not very hard to imagine where the initial capital came from.

    The effect of state favouritism of particular groups in these countries has been, and it is a surprise Milton Friedman did not use this to attack his opponents, that the common people in all these countries were relegated to a status of subservience to these big bosses. The common man always loses out in a protectionist economic system. Agreed that Japan as a whole increased their industrial output; agreed that Germany as a whole increased their industrial output; same for Korea. But who among the people in these countries actually reaped the economic benefits out of the growth of these countries – it was almost without exception those who relied on political patronage.

    This exists everywhere – but it is much harder for an upstart to make it big in a Germany or a Japan that it is in a free market. It also points to why neither Germany nor Japan has a modern start-up environment anywhere close to being as competitive as Silicon Valley. When did Japan or Germany or Sweden for that matter come up with a Tesla? Or a Google? All their large businesses are well over 70 years old. By erecting barriers keeping the upstart from rising in these countries, they have ensured that their economies will bite the dust once these companies become uncompetitive.

    Even in countries that are adopting 'the middle path' these days like India, it is the big corporate houses of old – the Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis and a host of other politically connected industrialists, who form the bulk of the business class and are benefitting most from the country's economic growth. Cronyism is the name of the game. And they are clearly the ones who benefit most from India's ridiculously protectionist tariff policies. Come to think of it, I pity the generation of Indians who had to live through the 1950s to the 1990s with their local, state-protected knock-off Morris Minors and Fiats when the rest of the world were living it up with Lamborghinis and Maseratis.

    Milton Friedman probably was not on form in this debate – he should have walked all over his opposition.

  • And how do you find people who will look you straight in the face and lie about everything knowing that you know that they're lying! It's insane you can't possibly believe that government is working we're 20 trillion dollars in debt!

  • The calmness and respect of Milton Friedman towards that annoying guy is beyond my understanding. That is why respect Milton Friedman to the utmost level. A true gentleman who only deals with reasoning and truth.

  • Employee ownership – i didnt see it working in our own company. Simply an employees did not understand management and ownership. Lost the whole company on employee rules.

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