America's current struggles notwithstanding, life here is pretty good. We have a standard of living that's the envy of most of the world.
Why did that happen? Prosperity isn't the norm. Throughout history and throughout the world, poverty has been the norm. Most of the world still lives in dire poverty. Of the 6 billion people on earth, perhaps 1 billion have something close to our standard of living. Why did America prosper when most of the people of the world are still poor?
Milton Friedman taught me the answer. More than any other American, Friedman, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1976, clearly warned the world about the unintended consequences of big government.
"We've become increasingly dependent on government," said Friedman. "We've surrendered power to government; nobody has taken it from us. It's our doing. The results -- monumental government spending, much of it wasted, little of it going to the people whom we would like to see helped."
That's from Friedman's PBS TV series "Free to Choose," which aired 30 years ago and became the basis of his No. 1 bestseller by the same name. We'll celebrate the anniversary of "Free to Choose" on my Fox Business show tomorrow night.
The title says a lot. If we are free to make our own choices, we prosper. That was a new idea to many back then. At the time -- when inflation and interest rates were in double digits and unemployment approached 10 percent -- people thought a wise government could ensure economic growth, guarantee full employment and eliminate poverty. Friedman explained that the opposite was true, that bigger government had brought us "burdensome taxes, high inflation, a welfare system under which neither those who receive help nor those who pay for it are satisfied. Trying to do good with other people's money simply has not worked."
No, it hasn't. So why, 30 years later, is America doing so much more of it?
Because people still have not learned Friedman's lesson.