University of Chicago Press Undermines Its Own New Edition of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom

(p. C9) I had never read “Capitalism and Freedom” and was renewed in my admiration for midcentury American reading audiences. The book, full of tightly reasoned arguments about the principles of economic freedom in various spheres of life, sold 400,000 copies in its first 18 years. The University of Chicago Press, which first published the book six decades ago, evidently would rather it stop selling. The new edition’s foreword is written by Binyamin Appelbaum, a member of the New York Times editorial board, who treats Friedman’s classic text as mildly interesting artifact. “Friedman’s claim that ‘widespread use of the market reduces the strain on the social fabric,’ ” Mr. Appelbaum assures us, “misapprehended the nature of society, which is more like a muscle than a fabric.” I await Chicago’s edition of J.K. Galbraith’s “The Affluent Society,” with a foreword by Larry Kudlow.

For the full review, see:

Barton Swaim. “Of Markets and Morals.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 [sic]): C9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 29, 2021 [sic], and has the title “Politics: Of Markets and Morals.”)

The book under review is:

Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2020 [1st ed. 1962].

The Applause at Davos for Milei’s Defense of Free Market Capitalism “Was More Than Polite”

(p. A17) There were no marches for Adam Smith or posters of Milton Friedman at Davos this year, but the applause for the combative defense of free markets by Argentina’s new libertarian President Javier Milei was more than polite. Citing the contrast between ages of stagnation and the miracle of accelerating progress in the modern era, Mr. Milei reminded his audience that “far from being the cause of our problems, free-trade capitalism as an economic system is the only instrument we have to end hunger, poverty and extreme poverty across our planet.”

His words resonated because, as one heard in panel after panel, the empirical foundations of the fashionable statist view appear to be crumbling. For now at least, the China miracle seems to be over. Beijing isn’t only suffering one economic shock after another. Its worst problems—demographic decline, a property bubble, overinvestment in manufacturing, and fear of arbitrary state actions against both foreign and domestic businesses—are the result of government planning gone wrong. As China doubles down on repression, its economic problems get worse.

Fifteen years after the financial crisis, meanwhile, tightly regulated Europe has fallen behind the U.S. Using chained 2015 dollars to minimize the effect of currency fluctuations, total European Union gross domestic product in 2008 was 81% that of the U.S. In 2022 it was 73%, hardly an argument for the European way.

For the full commentary, see:

Walter Russell Mead. “GLOBAL VIEW; Davos Turns Gently to the Right.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024): A17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 22, 2024, and has the same title as the print version.)

Stigler’s Account of Friedman’s “Exhilarating” Conversion of 20 Chicago Economists to Coase’s Theorem

(p. C8) Although he never reached the renown of his lifelong friend Milton Friedman, George Stigler was a founding member of the Chicago school of economics. His charming and readable memoir—really a linked series of vignettes—recounts his time at Chicago, from graduate school to professor.

. . .

Riveting accounts of notable moments in the history of economic thought include the “Coase conversion evening”—a long argument that ended with Friedman convincing 20 economists to embrace a founding theorem of the law and economics movement. “What an exhilarating event,” Stigler recalls. “I lamented afterward that we had not had the clairvoyance to tape it.”

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Burns. “Five Best on Biographies of Economists.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, November 4, 2023): C8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 3, 2023, and has the title “Five Best: Lives of Economists.”)

The book under review is:

Stigler, George J. Memoirs of an Unregulated Economist. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1988.

Milton Friedman Made the Case for Freedom to 15 Million Viewers

New York Times reviewer Szalai says that watching Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” documentary today is a surreal experience. To the contrary, I say that watching Milton Friedman’s documentary today is an exhilarating experience and watching the the evening news today is a surreal experience. (As a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I was in the audience for a couple of the episodes of Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” documentary.)

(p. C1) The documentary series “Free to Choose,” which aired on public television in 1980 and was hosted by the libertarian economist Milton Friedman, makes for surreal watching nowadays. Even if Ronald Reagan would go on to win the presidential election later that year, it was still a time when capitalism’s most enthusiastic supporters evidently felt the need to win the public over to a vision of free markets and minimal government.  . . .

They had an enormous audience: The 15 million viewers who watched the first episode saw an avuncular Friedman (diminutive and smiling), leaning casually against a chair in a Chinatown sweatshop (noisy and crowded), surrounded by women pushing fabric through clattering sewing machines. “They are like my mother,” Friedman said, gesturing at the Asian women in the room. She had worked in a factory too, after immigrating as a 14-year-old from Austria-Hungary in the late 19th century. Friedman explained that these low-wage garment workers weren’t being exploited; they were gaining a foothold in the American land of plenty. The camera then cut to a tray of juicy steaks.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “Sounding an Alarm Over America’s Values.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 18, 2023): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Feb. 17, 2023, and has the title “Is the Marriage Between Democracy and Capitalism on the Rocks?”)

The book based on Milton Friedman’s documentary is:

Friedman, Milton, and Rose D. Friedman. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1980.

Milton Friedman’s “Unflinching Defense” of Libertarianism

(p. A3) . . . [Milton] Friedman was highly influential. In academia, he did pioneering work on consumer behavior, monetary history and the unstable relation between inflation and unemployment. Outside the ivory tower, he is remembered for his unflinching defense of classical liberalism—a position that today is often called libertarianism. “Capitalism and Freedom” is the best entry into Friedman’s lucid mind. You will enjoy reading it even if you disagree with most of his judgments. A socialist student at Harvard once told me it was one of his favorite books. “Why?” I asked. “Because it clearly explains the point of view I have to argue against.”

For the full review, see:

N. Gregory Mankiw. “Five Best: Economics Primers.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 18, 2023): A3.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed name, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 2, 2023, and has the title “Five Best: Economics Primers.”)

Friedman’s best popular book, developed from lectures first presented at Wabash College that were co-organized by my mentor Ben Rogge, is:

Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962.

Milton Friedman Was a “Formative Intellectual Influence” to George Shultz

(p. A13) [George] Shultz, an unflamboyant personality once described by a college classmate as a “steady, plodding intellect,” reached the commanding heights of American government, holding four cabinet posts over his career from secretary of the Treasury to state. Shultz died in 2021 at the age of 100.

. . .

For a time Shultz was on track for a career in academia, working in the economics department at MIT and later the University of Chicago. “Chicago is what started me,” Shultz said. Milton Friedman, a formative intellectual influence and enduring friend, methodically deepened Shultz’s faith in free markets and his skepticism of government intervention in the economy. “Milton didn’t hit the tennis ball hard but it always came back,” Shultz once remarked, “which was reflective of the way he argued, too.”

. . .

. . . Shultz was hardly immune from being wrong. For example: Along with the rest of the State Department, he tried to talk Reagan out of using the line “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Shultz worried it was too provocative.

The cautionary tale is that many know Shultz from perhaps the biggest error in judgment he ever made, some 90 years into his life. That’s his association with Elizabeth Holmes, the Silicon Valley founder convicted of fraud in federal court. Shultz was one of Ms. Holmes’s first marks, and he helped her assemble a board for her blood-testing company from his Rolodex. Among the wreckage was Shultz’s relationship with his own grandson, Tyler, who early on discovered the company’s misrepresentations.

For the full review, see:

Kate Bachelder Odell. “BOOKSHELF; Subsume the Ego And Stay Loyal.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 7, 2023): A13.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed name, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 6, 2023, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘In the Nation’s Service’ Review: George Shultz’s Quiet Strength.”)

The book under review is:

Taubman, Philip. In the Nation’s Service: The Life and Times of George P. Shultz. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 2023.

Mamet Was Opened to Friedman, Hayek, and Sowell by a Guy Who “Wasn’t Strident or Arrogant”

I often wonder what sort of person, making what sort of argument, is most able to convince those who start out disagreeing. My mentors Ben Rogge and Deirdre McCloskey exemplify the attitude that impressed David Mamet in the passage quoted below. (On the other hand, Murray Rothbard, Karl Marx, and Ayn Rand convinced a lot of people, and each of them could sometimes be strident. I wonder still.)

(p. A11) . . . I received a galley copy of the playwright David Mamet’s “Recessional: The Death of Free Speech and the Cost of Free Lunch,” published Tuesday. The book is a collection of essays written over the past two years on an array of cultural and political topics: pandemic zealotry, Donald Trump, terrorism, California’s punitive tax code, Christianity and Judaism, Broadway and the movies. The essays are by turns witty, insightful, affecting and cryptic. What struck me most about the book, though, was how superbly out of place its author must be in the eminent environs of his chosen industry.

. . .

Mr. Mamet announced a turn to the political right in a 2008 essay for the Village Voice, “Why I Am No Longer a ‘Brain-Dead Liberal,’ ” but he was a black sheep long before then. His 1992 play “Oleanna,” for instance, features a male academic whose life and career are ruined by a calculating female student’s spurious accusation of sexual harassment.

Was there a moment when he decided to break ranks altogether? “I met a guy at my synagogue here maybe 20 years ago,” he says. “He was talking about Milton Friedman and [Friedrich] Hayek and Thomas Sowell. It didn’t make any sense to me, but I was impressed by his attitude. He wasn’t strident or arrogant. It was that guy’s attitude that impressed me.”

The man lent Mr. Mamet some books by these authors. “I said to him, ‘Good, I’ll read them. But,’ I said, ‘when my friends come over, I’ll have to hide them.’ He said: ‘I don’t.’ And that changed my life. What was I saying? Did I really think I had to hide books from my friends? How sick was I? It was a Road to Damascus moment.”

. . .

Woke signaling, blind compliance with public-health authoritarianism, deference to theater critics and tyrannical city officials—Mr. Mamet doesn’t play along. I’m reminded of the line spoken by Richard Roma, the aggressive and highly successful real-estate salesman in “Glengarry Glen Ross” played by Al Pacino in the 1992 film adaptation. “I subscribe to the law of contrary public opinion,” Roma says. “If everyone thinks one thing, then I say bet the other way.”

For the full interview, see:

Barton Swaim, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; A Defiant Scribe in the Age of Conformity.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 9, 2022): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date April 8, 2022, and has the title “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Opinion: David Mamet Is a Defiant Scribe in the Age of Conformity.”)

Mamet’s recent book, mentioned in the interview above, is:

Mamet, David. Recessional: The Death of Free Speech and the Cost of a Free Lunch. New York: Broadside Books, 2022.

Rogge and Friedman on Bread and Freedom

At the start and end of the movie above, you can hear the voice and thoughts of my Wabash College mentor Ben Rogge. His interview of Milton Friedman at the end is especially wonderful if you are a libertarian fan of Rogge and Friedman. I believe Rogge had an important hand in the production of this movie, as he did in a couple of movies from Liberty Fund. I think he also advised Milton Friedman on his famous “Free to Choose” television series. Rogge was a libertarian intellectual entrepreneur, who encouraged and enabled many now-more-famous libertarians to think, write, and speak. Whether he is remembered or forgotten, Rogge made a difference.

The movie is based on the book of the same title:

Brown, Susan Love, Karl Keating, David Mellinger, Patrea Post, Stuart Smith, and Catriona Tudor. The Incredible Bread Machine. San Diego: World Research, Inc., 1975.

(Note: the book is based on a poem by R.W. Grant that had the title “Tom Smith and His Incredible Bread Machine.” I believe, but have not confirmed my memory, that a version of Grant’s poem appears in the book by Love et al.)

University of Chicago’s Milton Friedman Center Now Run by “Former Obama Staffers Who Cheer” . . . “Moves Toward Socialism”

(p. A15) Colleges’ ideological turn leftward has become sharper. At my own institution, a center dedicated to Milton Friedman is now run by former Obama staffers who cheer on the Biden administration’s moves toward socialism.

These policies reward professors and administrators who can then raise the price of their services. It’s basic economics that subsidizing demand increases the price of the product. Tuition rising as loan subsidies expand is no different. It isn’t a coincidence that education and health care, the industries in which government subsidies are most pervasive, took the highest price increases over the past 15 years—3.7% and 3.1% a year, compared with the 1.8% average across industries.

For the full commentary, see:

Tomas J. Philipson. “College Subsidies Are a Feedback Loop for Bigger Government.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 11, 2021): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 10, 2021, and has the title “College Subsidies Are a Feedback Loop for Bigger Government.”)

Milton Friedman Will Be Vindicated on China

I was lucky to be able to take Milton Friedman’s Price Theory graduate course the last time he taught a full version of it. (I think he taught an abbreviated version a year or two later.) He was, and remains, one of my heroes. He predicted that China’s move to the market would also lead it to more political freedom. I suspect that he will still turn out to be correct, but with a longer delay than he or I thought likely. A dynamic economy depends on innovative entrepreneurship and innovative entrepreneurship depends on freedom of thought and speech. Xi is systematically destroying freedom of thought and speech in China; the house of cards will fall and Milton will be vindicated in the end.

(p. A15) “I predict that China will move increasingly toward political freedom if it continues its successful move to economic freedom.”

So spoke Milton Friedman in 2003. It seemed a good idea at the time, especially after the transformations of the dictatorships in Taiwan and South Korea into messy but functioning democracies.

. . .

Under Mr. Xi, Beijing has carried out genocide against China’s Uyghur minority, threatened Taiwan with invasion, shut down a pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, covered up the origins of Covid-19, and so on. Even so, China’s economy continues to boom—it grew more than 18% in the first quarter from a year earlier—and Friedman now looks to have gotten it colossally wrong about capitalism and freedom.

For the full commentary, see:

William McGurn. “Milton Friedman Wrong About China?” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 29, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 28, 2021, and has the title “Was Milton Friedman Wrong About China?”)

To Force Gaffney to Retire at Age 65, They Only Let Him Teach Intro Courses; So He Taught Intro Courses Until Age 89

(p. B11) Professor Gaffney died at 96 on July 16 at Loma Linda University Medical Center, not far from the University of California, Riverside, where he taught economics for 37 years.  . . .

Taxing land is less intrusive than taxing income or estates, Professor Gaffney taught, drawing on Henry George’s influential 1879 book, “Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry Into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want With Increase of Wealth: The Remedy,” reportedly the best-selling popular book in America in the 1890s.

. . .

The idea that land creates a natural economic surplus that can be taxed with minimal economic damage has drawn supporters from across the political spectrum.

Winston Churchill declared in 1910 that the “land monopoly is not the only monopoly, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies — it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly.”

The economist Milton Friedman, another conservative, called the land-value tax “the least bad tax.”

And Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and Labour Party leader, urged a land-only tax as a “fairer and more rational system of property taxation.”

The idea has never been widely embraced by lawmakers, though. Only about 20 communities in Pennsylvania impose a version of the land-value tax concept. It has also been applied in parts of Australia and Taiwan.

. . .

Mason Gaffney enrolled at Harvard University in 1941. Drafted in 1944, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Air Forces and served in radio communications in New Guinea and the Philippines until 1946.

Returning to civilian life, he transferred to Reed College in Oregon to complete his bachelor’s degree, unhappy that his professors at Harvard knew little of Henry George’s work. He then moved to the University of California, Berkeley, to get his doctorate.

. . .

He started teaching at the University of California, Riverside, in 1976. He once said in an interview that as he was about to turn 65 he was pressured to retire. He refused, he said, and was told he had to teach Econ 101.

“I was delighted,” he said. “I got a chance to indoctrinate students about economic theories so they weren’t stunted by the standard neoclassical texts.”

He retired in 2013, at 89.

For the full obituary, see:

David Cay Johnston. “Mason Gaffney, 96, Economics Professor Who Argued for Taxing Only Land, Not Buildings.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 30, 2020): B11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date July 26, and has the title “Mason Gaffney, Who Argued for Taxing Only Land, Dies at 96.”)

The influential book by Henry George mentioned above is:

George, Henry. Progress and Poverty. 5th ed. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1881.