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Free to Choose: A Personal Statement Paperback – 1 Nov 1990
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From the Back Cover
In this classic about economics, freedom, and the relationship between the two, Milton and Rose Friedman explain how our freedom has been eroded and our prosperity undermined through the explosion of laws, regulations, agencies, and spending in Washington, and how good intentions often produce deplorable results when government is the middleman. The Friedmans also provide remedies for these ills--they tell us what to do in order to expand our freedom and promote prosperity.
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If you are an economics student, it will be one of the most important books you will ever read. I don’t agree with his philosophy entirely especially about monetary policy, environment and education. However, I give it up to his brilliant mind. It takes courage to be as imaginative open minded as him, to so aggressively push his ideas into governmental change in the United States and Latin American countries such as Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and many others which have been directly or indirectly influenced by his ideas through his students, who are more popularly known as the “Chicago Boys.” It remains a subject of popular debate as to whether such influence has resulted in good or bad of these nations. If one has to compare the two extreme beliefs, it would be Free market theory as against Communism. They are bipolar opposites of each other. It is a thought provoking book and deserves five stars!
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
1- "Economic freedom is an essential requisite for political freedom. By enabling people to cooperate with one another without coercion or central direction, it reduces the area over which political power is exercised. In addition, by dispersing power, the free market provides an offset to whatever concentration of political power may arise. The combination of economic and political power in the same hands is a sure recipe for tyranny."
2- "The experience of recent years--slowing growth and declining productivity--raises a doubt whether private ingenuity can continue to overcome the deadening effects of government control if we continue to grant ever more power to government, to authorize a "new class" of civil servants to spend ever larger fractions of our income supposedly on our behalf. Sooner or later--and perhaps sooner than many of us expect--an ever bigger government would destroy both the prosperity that we owe to the free market and the human freedom proclaimed so eloquently in the Declaration of Independence."
3- "Prices perform three functions in organizing economic activity: first, they transmit information; second, they provide an incentive to adopt those methods of production that are least costly and thereby use available resources for the most highly valued purposes; third, they determine who gets how much of the product - the distribution of income. These three functions are closely interrelated."
4- "Our society is what we make it. We can shape our institutions. Physical and human characteristics limit the alternatives available to us. But none prevents us, if we will, from building a society that relies primarily on voluntary cooperation to organize both economic and other activity, a society that preserves and expands human freedom, that keeps government in its place, keeping it our servant and not letting it become our master."
5- "The ballot box produces conformity without unanimity; the marketplace, unanimity without conformity. That is why it is desirable to use the ballot box, so far as possible, only for those decisions where conformity is essential."
6- "Freedom cannot be absolute. We do live in an interdependent society. Some restrictions on our freedom are necessary to avoid other, still worse, restrictions. However, we have gone far beyond that point. The urgent need today is to eliminate restrictions, not add to them."
7- "In one respect the System has remained completely consistent throughout. It blames all problems on external influences beyond its control and takes credit for any and all favorable occurrences. It thereby continues to promote the myth that the private economy is unstable, while its behavior continues to document the reality that government is today the major source of economic instability."
8- "The waste is distressing, but it is the least of the evils of the paternalistic programs that have grown to such massive size. Their major evil is their effect on the fabric of our society. They weaken the family; reduce the incentive to work, save, and innovate; reduce the accumulation of capital; and limit our freedom. . These are the fundamental standards by which they should be judged."
9- "A society that puts equality--in the sense of equality of outcome--ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests...Freedom means diversity but also mobility. It preserves the opportunity for today's disadvantaged to become tomorrow's privileged and, in the process. enables almost everyone, from top to bottom, to enjoy a fuller and richer life."
10- "We believe that the growing role that government has played in financing and administering schooling has led not only to enormous waste of taxpayers' money but also to a far poorer educational system than would have developed had voluntary cooperation continued to play a larger role...We have tried in this chapter to outline a number of constructive suggestions...These proposals are visionary but they are not impracticable...We shall not achieve them at once. But insofar as we make progress toward them--or alternative programs directed at the same objective--we can strengthen the foundations of our freedom and give fuller meaning to equality of educational opportunity."
11- "Insofar as the government has information not generally available about the merits or demerits of the items we ingest or the activities we engage in, let it give us the information. But let it leave us free to choose what chances we want to take with our own lives."
12- "When unions get higher wages for their members by restricting entry into an occupation, those higher wages are at the expense of other workers who find their opportunities reduced. When government pays its employees higher wages, those higher wages are at the expense of the taxpayer. But when workers get higher wages and better working conditions through the free market, when they get raises by firms competing with one another for the best workers, by workers competing with one another for the best jobs, those higher wages are at nobody's expense. They can only come from higher productivity, greater capital investment, more widely diffused skills."
13- "Five simple truths embody most of what we know about inflation: 1. Inflation is a monetary phenomenon arising from a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output (though, of course, the reasons for the increase in money may be various) 2. In today's world government determines--or can determine -the quantity of money. 3. There is only one cure for inflation: a slower rate of increase in the quantity of money. 4. It takes time--measured in years, not months--for inflation to develop; it takes time for inflation to be cured. 5. Unpleasant side effects of the cure are unavoidable."
14- "We have been misled by a false dichotomy: inflation or unemployment. That option is an illusion. The real option is only whether we have higher unemployment as a result of higher inflation or as a temporary side effect of curing inflation."
15- "The two ideas of human freedom and economic freedom working together came to their greatest fruition in the United States. Those ideas are still very much with us. We are all of us imbued with them. They are part of the very fabric of our being. But we have been straying from them. We have been forgetting the basic h that the greatest threat to human freedom is the concentration of power, whether in the hands of government or anyone else. We have persuaded ourselves that it is safe to grant power, provided it is for good purposes."
Friedman sets out a strong case that when people are left to pursue their own interests, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts, and the commonwealth benefits more than when central planners try to orchestrate economies. That should be obvious now that nations like China and Vietnam, while retaining political repression, have given wide scope to free markets and thereby lifted millions out of poverty. Contrast that with Cuba or Venezuela, where central economic planning prevails, and the people are largely destitute.
The book's argument is often attacked as an appeal to "greed," which is unfortunate as "self-interest" is not necessarily greed. I think mostly of one of my leftist friends in this regard who assails capitalism and whatnot, but who, due to his comfortable job in a government bureau, is able to pursue an acting and singing career after hours. Is he not, there, pursuing his self interest? And doesn't the larger public benefit from his ability to deploy his talents? I along with many have enjoyed many of his performances, and will continue to. It's just Friedman's thesis at work: we all benefit when everyone seeks his own interest.
The book is often attacked as being anarchistic (or something like that) -- that is, that "limited government" or "less regulation" means "no government or "no regulation." Quite to the contrary, Friedman argues for a very clear and specific role for government in regulating natural monopolies, enforcing contracts, and taking many other actions to make sure that markets function openly. He clearly embraces regulation with the stipulation that when employed the benefits exceed the costs. And there's the rub with many government programs (say, agriculture subsidies): they favor entrenched interests rather than the commonwealth.
His arguments about free trade convince me that it is the best way to help the poor in the world. I've read that the annual subsidy for one cow in Belgium rivals the annual salary of an African subsistence farmer. Take down that trade barrier benefiting the rich Belgian cow owner, and that farmer suddenly has a chance to present his goods on a world market. My point is, if you care about the poor, and if you care about social justice and all that, this might just be a crazy (and, for a change, effective) way to go.
I don't fully agree with some of the book's policy prescriptions regarding environmental, education or monetary policy, but I suggest that Friedman's thoughts, formulated in the 1970s and published first in 1980, are far more likely to be successful than current ideas like "common core" or "quantitative easing."
Overall, this is a thought-provoking read no matter what your political stripe is. Check it out.