It has been almost 50 years since Milton Friedman, Nobel economist, released his classic, Capitalism and Freedom. The book has slowly slipped from my course syllabus, not to mention that of the political elite. And why not? What Friedman said is now obvious. Surely, Americans, given the indisputable superiority of the free market over the statist model, no longer needed reminding of the abject failures of socialism, collectivism, wealth distribution, prime-the-pump “stimulus” spending, Keynesian deficit spending, and other discredited policy prescriptions?
Well, after a century of examples of what works and what doesn’t, look at how America voted on November 4, 2008. As Ronald Reagan said, freedom is always a generation from extinction; it must be handed on again and again. The teaching process never ends.
So, I dusted off Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. To be sure, Friedman had his faults, particularly in monetary policy, but, generally, his thoughts on economic freedom and the dangers of collectivism and central planning are timeless—especially right now. Consider this nugget from Freidman, critically relevant to the fundamental misunderstandings being painfully reenacted before our very eyes by the progressives now running America:
In the 1920s and 1930s, intellectuals in the United States were overwhelmingly persuaded that capitalism was a defective system inhibiting economic well-being and thereby freedom, and that the hope for the future lay in a greater measure of deliberate control by political authorities over economic affairs. The conversion of the intellectuals was not achieved by the example of an actual collectivist society, though it undoubtedly was much hastened by the establishment of a communist society in Russia and the glowing hopes placed in it. The conversion of the intellectuals was achieved by a comparison between the existing state of affairs, with all its injustices and defects, and a hypothetical state of affairs as it might be. The actual was compared with the ideal.
Tragically, the intellectuals are still striving for that ideal, certain that if only they can get in charge, they can apply all their collective wisdom, learned in their arcane graduate schools, where history’s real lessons are sacrificed at the altar of fantasy and superstition. They can create a better, just society.
“The attitudes of that time are still with us,” wrote Friedman. “There is still a tendency to regard any existing government intervention as desirable, to attribute all evils to the market, and to evaluate new proposals for government control in their ideal form, as they might work if run by able, disinterested men.”
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism" and "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."