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Published: 15 January 2013 MESTE | 11
WAS MILTON FRIEDMAN A
SOCIALIST? YES.
Walter E. Block
Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Chair in Economics and Professor of Economics,
College of Business Administration, Loyola University New Orleans, 6363 St. Charles
Avenue, Box 15, Miller 321, New Orleans, LA 70118
© MESTE NGO
JEL category: B, B59
Summary:
Milton Friedman was a socialist, because his publications and speeches meet the criterion for the
definition of this word: government ownership or control over significant sectors of the economy
particularly means of production, such as money, roads; and/or redistributionist schemes such as his
negative income tax. This is a controversial claim. It is backed up by the evidence.
Keywords:
Milton Friedman, socialist, means of production, income redistribution
1 Introduction
Before we can answer any such question, we
must be clear on what socialism is. Then and
only then can we ascertain whether, if, and to
what extent was Friedman a socialist. But,
before we do that,
1
let us reflect upon why it is
important to even ask this question, let alone
answer it in a careful systematic way. There are
several reasons.
First, categorization is an important tool of
scholarly scientific pursuit. It is an exaggeration
to claim that biology (genus, species, family) and
1
Since many people will object to this question even
being posed
chemistry (the periodic table) consists of nothing
but compartmentalization; however, there is
surely a germ of truth in so outlandish a claim. In
like manner, law distinguishes between legal and
illegal,
2
philosophy is commonly divided into
subjects such as ethics, metaphysics,
epistemology, and also into schools of thought
such as utilitarianism, deontology, ordinary
language (analytic), hermeneutics,
existentialism, etc.; sociology partakes of both
structuralism and functionalism; in economics
there are the Marxist, Austrian and mainstream
2
Antitrust law, supported by Friedman (1999), is an
exception to this rule. In that case, a businessman
can be found guilty of charging too high a price
(profiteering, price gouging), too low a price
(predatory price cutting, price warfare) or even the
same price as everyone else (cartelization,
conspiracy).
The address of the author:
Walter Block
wblock@loyno.edu
Block W. Was Milton Friedman a socialist? Yes.
MEST Journal Vol.1 No.1 pp. 11 - 26
12 | MESTE Published: 15 January 2013
or neoclassical schools of thought; in psychology
there are Jungians, Rogerians, Freudians,
behavioralists, etc. With all this plethora, is the
distinction between socialists and capitalists,
alone, to be ignored? Hardly.
A second reason for the present inquiry is that
Milton Friedman is known far and wide as a
supporter of capitalism, free enterprise, private
property rights, etc. Summers (2006) said
Friedman's great popular contribution was "in
convincing people of the importance of allowing
free markets to operate." Here is a similar quote:
“(Milton Friedman) advocated minimizing the role
of government in a free market as a means of
creating political and social freedom” (Donahue,
2007). Here is another: “Milton Friedman was
the twentieth century’s most prominent advocate
of free markets” (Anon, The concise
encyclopedia of economics - Milton Friedman
(1912 - 2006), 2008). Here is what he said about
himself (Friedman M. , 1999) in this regard: “… a
believer in the pursuit of self-interest in a
competitive capitalist system.” According to
Doherty (2012), Friedman self-describes as a
person “who...preach[es] laissez faire.” Can it be
that such a description is justified? Or is it the
case that the very opposite is far nearer to the
truth? The very title of the present essay exhibits
the viewpoint on this matter of the present
author.
Third, enquiring minds want to know the truth
about this issue because in all too many cases,
critics of the free enterprise system are likely to
say that even Milton Friedman supports some
governmental program or other. You, therefore,
in not agreeing with this scholar, place yourself
outside the realm of responsible discourse. If
Friedman, however, is the socialist I claim he is,
then this rejoinder is no longer open to the
explicit enemies of economic freedom; all such
accusations against true libertarians would be at
one fell swoop defanged. This, alone, would
render the present inquiry justified.
In section 2 of this paper we base our analysis
on the assumption that socialism is defined in
terms of governmental ownership of the means
of production.” Section 3 is given over to
assessing Friedman’s role in terms of the “from
each… to each” definition of socialism. The role
of section 4 is to deal with objections to our
thesis. We conclude in section 5.
2 Socialism: state ownership of capital
goods
So we now return to our initial question: what is
socialism?
3
The most technical and perhaps the
most accurate definition of this concept is,
Government ownership of all of the means of
production, e.g., capital goods. States Mises
(2009): “My own definition of Socialism, as a
policy which aims at constructing a society in
which the means of production are socialized, is
in agreement with all that scientists have written
on the subject.” The U.S.S.R., North Korea,
Cuba, China, many countries in Eastern Europe
and Asia before, during and after World War II
would qualify under this definition. Clearly,
Friedman cannot be a socialist in this sense,
since large parts of his career were spent
inveighing against precisely these types of
institutional arrangements.
But, there are socialists, and then there are
socialists. Suppose a nation’s government owns
not 100% of all capital goods, but 90%, 80%,
70%, etc. It what point does such a country
cease being socialist, and begin its move toward
a mixed economy? The point is that there is a
continuum (Block & Barnett II, Continuums,
2008.) in this measurement, as there is in many
others.
4
States Hoppe (Hoppe, The Economics
and Ethics of Private Property: Studies in
Political Economy and Philosophy. Second
Edition., 2006) in this regard: “Socialism must be
conceptualized as an institutional interference
with or aggression against private property and
private property claims…(Capitalism) on the
other hand, is a social system based on the
explicit recognition of private property and of
nonaggressive, contractual exchanges between
3
Socialism may be broken down into its voluntary
and coercive strands. In the former case, there are
the nunnery, convent, kibbutz, commune, collective,
syndicalist, cooperatives, monastery, abbey, priory,
friary, religious community; in the latter, the
economies of socialist countries such as Cuba, North
Korea, the USSR, Nazi Germany, etc. We will use the
word “socialism” in the latter understanding
throughout this paper.
4
Is a person tall? Short? It all depends.
Block W. Was Milton Friedman a socialist? Yes.
MEST Journal Vol.1 No.1 pp. 11 - 26
Published: 15 January 2013 MESTE | 13
private property owners.” In like manner,
whether a scholar such as Friedman is a
socialist or not, depends upon where on this
spectrum he lies, in terms of what percentage of
capital goods he wants the government to own.
However, outright explicit ownership is only a
first approximation. Ludwig Wittgenstein was
walking down the street with Norman Malcolm.
The first philosopher said to the second, I’ll give
you these trees, provided you do nothing to
them, nor prevent the previous owner from doing
anything he pleases with them.
5
The point is,
there is ownership, and then there is ownership.
Or, to put this in other words, control is what
ownership is all about. The Nazi socialist
government was not extreme in its explicit
ownership of the means of production. But that
version of socialism, that is, fascism, was
earmarked by implicit state ownership, or
control, of capital goods. The pertinent question
then becomes, To what extent did Friedman
advocate government ownership or control of the
means of production.
Let us list the ways.
First and foremost, this economist supported the
Federal Reserve System all throughout his
professional life.
6
That organization of course
5
Here is the exact quote (Malcolm, 2001, p. 29): "On
one walk he 'gave' to me each tree that we passed,
with the reservation that I was not to cut it down or
do anything to it, or prevent the previous owners
from doing anything to it: with these reservations it
was henceforth mine." I owe this cite to David
Gordon.
6
It cannot be denied that he was disappointed with
the fact that the Fed did not follow anything like his
famous 3% rule, but he did not join Ron Paul (2010)
in calling for the entire elimination of this
organization, root and branch. Doherty (2012) gives
an alternative view: “Despite his earlier statement
that government paper currency monopolies were
necessary, as this book’s 1984 essay ‘Freezing High-
Powered Money’ shows, the later Friedman was as
radical as Ron Paul in his opposition to the Fed.
Friedman called for elimination of the Federal
Reserve’s role in ‘determining the quantity of
money’ and says its regulatory and service role to
the banking system ‘could, if desired, be continued,
preferably by combining it with the similar roles of
the FDIC.’ In other words, End the Fed!” It hardly
does not own the money stock, but it certainly
controls it.
7
Friedman was an inveterate hater of
the gold standard, denigrating its advocates as
“gold bugs.” In the view of Rothbard (Rothbard,
Milton Friedman Unraveled, 1971 [2002]): “…
Milton Friedman is a radical advocate of cutting
all current ties, however weak, with gold, and
going onto a total and absolute fiat dollar
standard, with all control vested in the Federal
Reserve System.” Whenever people were free to
choose,
8
they chose gold as their money, and
sometimes silver. The “gold standard” is, then,
properly characterized as free market money.
Friedman is clearly on the socialist side of this
very important means of production.
Friedman was a road socialist. He favored
9
government ownership and control over the
nation’s highways and streets (Seagraves, 2008)
seems like an “end” to the Fed if its role is merely
transferred to other organs of government. It cannot
be denied that Friedman did explicitly support the
“end the fed” movement. He stated: “Any system
which gives so much power and so much discretion to
a few men, [so] that mistakes -- excusable or
not -- can have such far reaching effects, is a bad
system. It is a bad system to believers in freedom just
because it gives a few men such power without any
effective check by the body politic -- this is the key
political argument against an independent central
bank. . .To paraphrase Clemenceau: money is much
too serious a matter to be left to the Central
Bankers.” (Friedman M. , 2012A)
However, Friedman’s ending of the fed is of a very
different variety than that of a Ron Paul or a Murray
Rothbard. The latter wanted not merely to “end the
fed” but to call a halt to any government
involvement in the monetary stock. Friedman
wanted not so much to end the fed as to rein it in,
limit it to following his 3% rule for monetary
increase.
7
For the view that money is a capital good, see
Barnett and Block (2005A).
8
This of course is the title of Friedman (1980), and
also his television series (Friedman M. , 2012B). But,
we can see that Friedman’s advocacy of “freedom to
choose” is a rather limited one.
9
This claim is based on an informal debate I had with
Milton Friedman at a Liberty Fund Conference,
sometime in the 1980s. However, for an alternative
perspective, see Friedman and Boorstin (1951). See
also Lindsey (2006).
Block W. Was Milton Friedman a socialist? Yes.
MEST Journal Vol.1 No.1 pp. 11 - 26
14 | MESTE Published: 15 January 2013
These are clearly capital goods.
10
As such, this
opinion of his further qualifies him as a socialist.
Nor did Friedman support the full and entire
conversion of all public schools to private hands.
Rather, he urged that the state maintain
ownership of these facilities and control them
through a voucher system. If that is not support
for governmental ownership and/or control over
the means of production, then nothing is.
Another socialist and disastrous
11
policy of
Friedman’s (1962) was to support the concept of
“neighborhood effects.” This is the idea that
since we all affect each other, this constitutes a
market failure, and justifies government
intervention into the economy. Rothbard
(Rothbard, Milton Friedman Unraveled, 1971
[2002]) explains:
“Friedman maintains that it is legitimate for the
government to interfere with the free market
whenever anyone’s actions have ‘neighborhood
effect.’ Thus, if A does something which will
benefit B, and B does not have to pay for it,
Chicagoites consider this a ‘defect’ in the free
market, and it then becomes the task of
government to ‘correct’ that defect by taxing B to
pay A for this ‘benefit.’
“It is for this reason that Friedman endorses
government supplying funds for mass education,
for example; since the education of kids is
supposed to benefit other people, then the
government is allegedly justified in taxing these
people to pay for these ‘benefits.’ (Once again,
in this area, Friedman’s pernicious influence has
been in trying to make an inefficient State
operation far more efficient; here he suggests
replacing unworkable public schools by public
voucher payments to parents thus leaving
intact the whole concept of tax-funds for mass
education.)”
Prof. Friedman also favored eminent domain, the
forceful takeover of private property by
government, at prices, if any, set by the latter.
This is hardly in keeping with the tenets of
laissez faire capitalism, which is predicated on
10
Rothbard (1997) to the contrary notwithstanding.
In his view, anything owned by the government must
necessarily be a consumer, not a capital good. For a
critique, see Barnett and Block (2009A).
11
I repeat myself here.
voluntary exchanges, not coercive ones.
According to Northrup (2003, p. 494)
“Milton Friedman provided the theoretical basis
for eminent domain he described the forced
removal of particular urban neighborhoods and
their populations as a necessary plan for the
improvement of the entire city. According to
Friedman, as local governments selected
neighborhoods for purposes of redevelopment,
a decrease in low income housing led to the
displacement of poor populations. But the social
consequences for slum residents translated into
gains for the greater community as luxury
apartments and commercial buildings replaced
dilapidated buildings…”
Now, it is indeed true that Friedman is in “good
company” on this matter, in that virtually all
economists, politicians and city planners would
agree with his assessment. But, that will not
deflect in the slightest the charge that he is a
socialist on this issue.
3 Socialism: from each, to each
There is another definition of socialism against
which we will now measure the contribution of
Friedman. It is not as technically correct as the
one we have been utilizing in our examination,
but, is also mentioned in the literature: “from
each according to his ability, to each according
to his needs” (Polya, 2007) (Pena, 2011) (Marx,
1875). This is certainly in keeping with Hoppe
(2006): “… there must then exist varying types
and degrees of socialism and capitalism, i.e.,
varying degrees to which private property rights
are respected or ignored. Societies are not
simply capitalist or socialist. Indeed, all existing
societies are socialist to some extent.” For,
surely, forcing rich people to give their hard-
earned money to those poorer than themselves
would be a prime instance of disrespecting or
ignoring private property rights.
How does Friedman measure up to socialism in
this regard? Very well, unfortunately.
12
His
negative income tax fits this bill to a “T.”
Certainly, it constitutes a coercive transfer of
funds from those with great ability to those
12
Fortunately, from the perspective of the thesis of
the present paper.
Block W. Was Milton Friedman a socialist? Yes.
MEST Journal Vol.1 No.1 pp. 11 - 26
Published: 15 January 2013 MESTE | 15
presumably in need. What, precisely, is the
negative income tax? According to Allen (1993):
“The idea of a negative income tax (NIT) is
commonly thought to have originated with
economist Milton Friedman, who advocated it in
his 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom…
“In its purest form a NIT promised a revolution in
American social policy. Gone would be the
intrusive and costly welfare bureaucracy, the
pernicious distinctions between ‘worthy’ and
‘unworthy’ recipients, the perverse disincentives
for work effort and family formation. The needy
would, like everyone else, simply file annualor
perhaps quarterlyincome returns with the
Internal Revenue Service. But unlike other filers
who would make payments to the IRS, based on
the amount by which their incomes exceeded the
threshold for tax liability, NIT beneficiaries would
receive payments (‘negative taxes’) from the
IRS, based on how far their incomes fell below
the tax threshold.
“The NIT would thus be a mirror image of the
regular tax system. Instead of tax liabilities
varying positively with income according to a tax
rate schedule, benefits would vary inversely with
income according to a negative tax rate (or
benefit-reduction) schedule. If, for example, the
threshold for positive tax liability for a family of
four was, say, $10,000, a family with only $8,000
of annual income would, given a negative tax
rate of 25 percent, receive a check from the
Treasury worth $500 (25 percent of the $2,000
difference between its $8,000 income and the
$10,000 threshold). A family with zero income
would receive $2,500.”
One difficulty with this proposal is that it would
reduce at least the perceived need for charity
from the rich in behalf of the poor, and,
presumably, actual donations. Another is that it
would further incentivize people to declare
themselves poverty stricken, and even to act so
as to bring about this result.
13
A further difficulty
is that it would entrench “welfare rights” into the
tax code, as those with less earnings than the
13
Supply curves slope in an upward direction. The
more that is paid for a good or service the more of it
there will be ceteris paribus, and this applies to
poverty as much as to anything else.
cutoff point would have a “right” to their “negative
tax.”
14
It is perhaps for these sorts of reasons
that Ludwig von Mises dramatically rejected this
idea. He is famous for walking out of the first
Mont Pelerin Society meeting in 1947 in a huff,
stating: “You’re all a bunch of socialists” in
response to a discussion of the NIT, and other
such coercive income redistribution schemes.
15
4 Objections
4.1 Changes over time.
According to this objection, the leopard has
changed its spots. Friedman may have been a
socialist early in his career, but he “grew in
office,” and was much less so later on. There is
some truth to this.
16
A much younger Milton
Friedman was active in propagating the
withholding tax (Rothbard, 2002); an older one
actually apologized for this socialistic initiative
(Friedman & Friedman, 1998).
Something similar seems to have occurred with
antitrust. States Friedman (1999):
“My own views about the antitrust laws have
changed greatly over time. When I started in this
14
Lind ( 2012 ); Mullat (2012); Rothbard (1971
[2002]). The title of the former, and its source, is
especially telling, given the overall thesis of the
present paper. Charles Murray, a “libertarian” of the
Friedmanesque variety, makes the point that “not
only would people receive money they need, others
would [not] know you are receiving money(RB,
2012). But from a truly libertarian perspective, this
would count as an argument against the NIT, not in
favor of it.
15
See on this Kaza (1997), Memehunter ( 2012),
Ebenstein (2012). According to Milton Friedman:
“The story I remember best happened at the initial
Mont Pelerin meeting when he (Ludwig von Mises)
got up and said, "You're all a bunch of socialists." We
were discussing the distribution of income, and
whether you should have progressive income taxes.
Some of the people there were expressing the view
that there could be a justification for it” (Wiki, 2012).
16
Mitt Romney has been considered a weathervane
of politics, in that he has changed his mind on so
many, many issues. See on this: (Romney, 2012);
(Huntsman, 2011); (TiMT, 2012); (Saletan, 2012).
In like manner, although certainly to a lesser extent,
all of these changes have rendered Milton Friedman
a weathervane of political economy.
Block W. Was Milton Friedman a socialist? Yes.
MEST Journal Vol.1 No.1 pp. 11 - 26
16 | MESTE Published: 15 January 2013
business, as a believer in competition, I was a
great supporter of antitrust laws; I thought
enforcing them was one of the few desirable
things that the government could do to promote
more competition. But as I watched what actually
happened, I saw that, instead of promoting
competition, antitrust laws tended to do exactly
the opposite, because they tended, like so many
government activities, to be taken over by the
people they were supposed to regulate and
control. And so over time I have gradually come
to the conclusion that antitrust laws do far more
harm than good and that we would be better off
if we didn’t have them at all, if we could get rid of
them.”
But this is not a root and branch attack on
antitrust, of the sort taken by true libertarians.
17
The strong implication here is that if these laws
could somehow be modified so that they would
not “be taken over by the people they were
supposed to regulate and control” then
Friedman’s rejection of them would disappear.
18
There is one topic upon which it can clearly be
denied that Friedman became less socialistic as
he aged and presumably “learned his lesson”:
school vouchers.
19
Until the very end of his life,
17
(Anderson, et al., 2001); (Armentano, 1999);
(Barnett, Block, & Saliba., 2005); (Barnett, Block, &
Saliba., 2007); (Barnett & Block, 2005A) (Barnett &
Block, 2007); (Block W. , Austrian Monopoly Theory -
a Critique, 1977A) (Block W. , 1982) (Block W. ,
1994); (Block & Barnett., 2009); (Boudreaux &
DiLorenzo, 1992); (Costea, 2003); (DiLorenzo T. J.,
1996); (DiLorenzo & High., 1988); (High, 1984-1985);
(McChesney, 1991); (Rothbard, 2004 [1962]);
(Shugart II, 1987); (Smith, 1983); (Tucker,
Controversy: Are Antitrust Laws Immoral?, 1998A)
(Tucker, 1998B)
18
Doherty (2012) has been taken in by this supposed
change of heart on antitrust: “Friedman tells a
similar story while eulogizing his best friend and
University of Chicago colleague George Stigler, an
economist who became more opposed to the very
antitrust laws the 1951 Friedman lauded earlier in
the book the more he learned about them.”
19
For a critique of school vouchers from a libertarian
point of view, see North (1976) (2011); Rockwell
(1998), (2000), (2002); Rome and Block (2006);
Rothbard (1971 [2002]), (1994), (1995); Salisbury
(2003); Vance (1996); Yates (2002A), (2002B); Young
and Block ( 1999).
and even after it based upon his inheritance
decisions, this socialist was a warm supporter of
school vouchers.
20
In his will he left a goodly
portion of his wealth to the Friedman Foundation
for School Choice.
21
Another is public (socialist)
roads, highways and streets. In Friedman and
Boorstin (1951) there are some indications of a
free enterprise perspective. Not so in the later
period (Seagraves, 2008).
4.2 Embarrassment
Anyone who says Friedman was a socialist will
bring embarrassment down upon the heads of all
proponents of the free economy and the freedom
philosophy. There is some truth in this claim, too.
After all, this man is widely known if not as the
most radical exponent of capitalism ever, at least
among its all-time leaders. Anyone who
deprecates this claim will be disrespected.
Anyone who goes further and even asks if he is
a socialist will be dismissed out of hand. And, a
low rung in intellectual hell will be reserved for
such as the present author who gives a positive
answer to this question.
As against this, I am not seeking popularity.
Rather, truth. And the evidence I have compiled
above requires one and only one response:
Friedman was indeed a socialist. Perhaps a
moderate one. But a socialist nonetheless.
4.3 Context
Suppose we were to rank all people in the U.S.
according to their political economic philosophies
in the direction of a free society. We would
award a score of 100 to anarcho-capitalists such
as Murray Rothbard, Hans Hoppe, Lysander
Spooner, Lew Rockwell. We would place in the
99th percentile limited government libertarians
such as Ron Paul, Ayn Rand and Andrew
Napolitano. We would earmark with a zero all
those outright socialists, communists, fascists
who favor income redistribution, complete
government ownership and/or control over the
means of production, such as Htiler, Stalin, Mao,
20
(Gillespie, 2005)
21
Its motto is “Advancing Milton & Rose Friedman’s
vision of school choice for all children.” See on (FF).
Also see (Friedman M. , 2003)
Block W. Was Milton Friedman a socialist? Yes.
MEST Journal Vol.1 No.1 pp. 11 - 26
Published: 15 January 2013 MESTE | 17
Pol Pot. More moderate socialists such as
Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Bill and Hillary
Clinton, Mayor Mike Bloomberg would earn a 5
on our scale, and Republicans of the ilk of Mitt
Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Buddy
Roemer, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann,
Herman Cain, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson
and Tim Pawlenty a 7.
22
Where oh where would
Milton Friedman rank in such an undertaking? It
is difficult to ignore the conclusion that he would
score somewhere in the 90s. Let us award him a
96, arguendo. This means he is more capitalist,
and thus less socialist that people falling into the
95th percentile or lower.
23
From this two conclusions might be drawn. One,
it is silly, it is absurd, it is diabolical, it is the
ravings of a madman, to consider such a man a
socialist. If Milton Friedman falls into the 96th
percentile of our socialist-capitalist spectrum in
the direction of the latter, then, he cannot be
characterized as the former. But there is an
entirely different way to interpret these statistical
assumptions: the entire world is socialist to one
degree or another, Milton Friedman along with
the rest of his socialist brethren. Just because
the entire world has gone crazy, Friedman less
so than many others, does not mean that he,
too, has not been sucked in to that category.
The first interpretation is a relativistic one: since
most people support socialism to a far greater
degree than Friedman, he himself is not, cannot
be, linked with them; he is not a socialist. Since
very, very few people support capitalism to a
22
In my view, the Republican candidates are
somewhat better than the Democrats on economic
policy, slightly worse on personal liberties and
foreign affairs.
23
Another way of asking this question is, Under
whose economic control would I rather live? Milton
Friedman’s or, pick your favorite GOP candidate from
the 2012 election, mentioned above. The obvious
answer is this Nobel Prize winning University of
Chicago economist. I could count on him to
unilaterally declare full free trade with all nations, rid
us of occupational licensure, rent control, minimum
wages, and hundreds of other such regulations.
None of these others would even come close.
greater degree than him, he must be counted as
a member of that category.
The second interpretation is objective. I claim it
is more scientific. It sets up criteria for socialism
in terms of government ownership or control of
basic resources, and redistributionist income
schemes. It notes that Friedman fails this
objective test in terms of roads, money, school
vouchers, negative income taxes, etc. Therefore
he is a socialist.
Let us try to make this case by analogy. Right
now, there are objective criteria for an
observation being considered a kangaroo. At
present, there are relatively few such entities.
But suppose a gigantic change took place. Most
observations now fit into this category. Say, 96%
of all things became kangaroos. According to
objective criterion, we would then say 96% of
things are kangaroos, 4% of things are not.
Period. According to relativist considerations, we
would be tempted to say that big, or small, or
dark, or light, or otherwise distinguished
kangaroos were not really kangaroos. After all, a
system that categorizes almost everything as a
kangaroo cannot be a helpful one. The purpose
of enterprises of this sort is to make distinctions.
Therefore, we cannot allow virtually everything to
be a kangaroo.
I suggest this is a good analogy. Yes, Friedman
is less socialistic than 96% of people, we
presume. According to the relativist viewpoint,
he cannot be a socialist. But, according to
objective scientific considerations, he most
certainly is. From the point of view of making
distinctions, it is absolute madness to count
Friedman as a socialist. The word will lose
virtually all, but not quite all, of its meaning, if we
do so. However, from the perspective of
maintaining an unwavering yardstick, it is
imperative to view him in this way. How else can
we measure how far to the left we have all
moved in terms of economic policy prescriptions,
well, most of us, if we do not? Mises, as usual,
was correct.
Block W. Was Milton Friedman a socialist? Yes.
MEST Journal Vol.1 No.1 pp. 11 - 26
18 | MESTE Published: 15 January 2013
Friedman is a socialist.
24
For that matter, he and
his entire Chicago School
25
are a “bunch of
socialists.”
Some might say in this regard it is not a good
way to classify things if most items fall under
only one category. It cannot be denied that the
system employed in this paper places most
people, Milton Friedman certainly included, on
the socialist side of the ledger. However, the
overwhelming majority of species are
invertebrates. Some 95% of all animals lack a
spinal chord.
26
Does this render a distinction
between invertebrates and vertebrates invalid?
Of course not.
4.4 Cognitive significance
According to this objection, I emphasize that
Friedman did not fully support the free market,
and provide a good list of examples to support
this. But what is gained by the extra step of
calling Friedman a socialist? It adds nothing to
the list of deviations and appears empty of
cognitive significance.
But there is “cognitive significance.” It is in this
way, and only in this way, that we can
demonstrate how far our society has come from
24
States Rothbard (1971 [2002]): “… as we examine
Milton Friedman’s credentials to be the leader of
free-market economics, we arrive at the chilling
conclusion that it is difficult to consider him a free-
market economist at all.”
25
For criticisms of other members of the Chicago
School on these grounds, see on Simons (Block W. E.,
2002) (Rothbard, 2002); on Brozen and Posner (Block
W. , 1994); on Becker (Murphy, 2008), on Becker and
Coase (North, 1990); on Coase (Barnett & Block.,
2005B) (Barnett & Block, 2007) (Barnett & Block,
2009B); (Block W. , 1977B), (Block W. , 1995), (Block
W. , 1996), (Block W. , 2000), (Block W. , 2003),
(Block W. , 2006), (Block W. E., 2010A), (Block W. E.,
2010B), (Block W. E., 2010C); (Block, Barnett, &
Callahan, 2005); (Cordato R. E., 1989), (Cordato R. E.,
1992A), (Cordato R. E., 1992B), (Cordato R. E., 1997),
(Cordato R. , 1998), (Cordato R. , 2000); (Fox, 2007);
(Hoppe, 2004); (Krauss, 1999); (Krecke, 1996);
(Lewin, 1982); (North, 1990) (North, 1992) (North,
2002); (Rothbard, 1982), (Rothbard, 1973);
(Stringham E. , 2001); (Stringham & White, 2004);
(Terrell, 1999)
26
(Encyclopedia, 2012)
its former embrace of laissez faire capitalism.
This objection relies, for its coherence, on a
relative measure. Yes, in this sense, it is barking
mad to consider Friedman as a socialist, since
there are so many, many people who are far
more socialist than he. However, if and only if we
use an absolute calculus can we see the
movement of the entire society. Let us employ
an analogy. According to the Flynn (1984),
(1987), (2007), (2012 ) effect, all of our IQ
measurements are rising over time. An individual
with a high IQ many years ago might have been
4 standard deviations above the mean. If this
Flynn effect long continues, a person with that IQ
score will only be mediocre. According to the gist
of this objection, it would be untoward to utilize
an objective criterion; only a relative one would
be significant. But this would hardly hold true if
the Flynn effect is actually occurring.
4.5 Mises, too, was a socialist
If “socialist” includes those who favor any
government ownership or control, then of course
Mises would be a socialist as well Friedman.
That may be technically true, according to the
author’s definition, but then by what criteria to we
distinguish Mises from Marx, or Friedman from
Marx?
This is a very powerful objection, in that I am
very loath to consider Mises as a socialist.
However, this objection, too, must be rejected.
Mises may have had one or two deviations from
true laissez faire capitalism, or anarcho
capitalism; Friedman had more than a dozen.
‘twas Mises who called Friedman a socialist, not
the other way around. Perhaps the most
powerful argument undermining this objection is
that there is even a case to be made in behalf of
the claim that Mises was actually an anarcho
capitalist.
I take it as a given that secession, not merely to
the state, county, city, borough, neighborhood
level, but down to the individual, is a form of free
market anarchism (Gordon, 1998); (Hülsmann,
2003); (Kinsella, 2009); (Kreptul, 2003); (McGee,
Secession Reconsidered, 1994A), (McGee,
1994B). (See also (Secession Equals Anarhy, 2012);
(Smithson, 2010) (Smithson, 2010); (Wright, 2010))
Block W. Was Milton Friedman a socialist? Yes.
MEST Journal Vol.1 No.1 pp. 11 - 26
Published: 15 January 2013 MESTE | 19
Here are some statements from Mises that are
compatible with this stance:
“A nation, therefore, has no right to say to a
province: You belong to me, I want to take you.
A province consists of its inhabitants. If anybody
has a right to be heard in this case it is these
inhabitants. Boundary disputes should be settled
by plebiscite” (Mises L. v., 1969).
“No people and no part of a people shall be held
against its will in a political association that it
does not want” (Mises L. v., 1983).
“Liberalism (Mises’ position present author)
knows no conquests, no annexations; just as it is
indifferent towards the state itself, so the
problem of the size of the state is unimportant to
it. It forces no one against his will into the
structure of the state…. When a part of the
people of the state wants to drop out of the
union, liberalism does not hinder it from doing
so” (Mises, 1983, pp. 39-40, emphasis added).
“If it were in any way possible to grant this right
of self-determination to every individual person,
it would have to be done” (Mises L. , 1978, p.
109). For support of the claim that while Mises
was not a free market anarchist, he came close,
see (Kinsella, 2009)
As to distinguishing Friedman and Marx, the
former was a moderate socialist, the latter a
radical one.
5 Conclusion
Milton Friedman is a socialist. It matters not at all
that most of the world is far more socialist than
he. It would not deflect this accusation if he were
the most capitalist, the least socialist, of any
person on the entire planet. He would still be a
socialist, objectively speaking. It matters not one
whit that such a conclusion will prove to be an
embarrassment among the cognoscenti, the
intellectuals of political philosophy.
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Received for publication: 10.12.2012
Accepted for publication: 28.12.2012
Block W. Was Milton Friedman a socialist? Yes.
MEST Journal Vol.1 No.1 pp. 11 - 26
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