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In 1979, the great economist Milton Friedman — a friend of The Heartland Institute — was a guest on Phil Donahue’s syndicated talk show. This was in the latter stages of the “golden age” of such shows, before the dawn of 24-hour cable news and endless babble and shouting. Back then, you could invite an intellectual on your program, give him the whole hour, and engage in a fascinating conversation. Geraldo getting his nose broken by a chair thown by a white supremacist came about a decade later.
Donahue, a proud liberal, was not afraid to have a conversation with an intellectual heavy weight such as Friedman on a national stage. In fact, Donahue is to be praised for this. He challenged Friedman, and then allowed him the time and space to make his case for free markets and capitalism.
One must only go to YouTube and put “donahue” and “friedman” into the search field to find the whole remarkable appearance. But what is striking about the short video highlights below is how apt both Donahue’s questions and Friedman’s answers are to the grievances put forth by the Occupy Wall Street crowd today. It’s almost eerie.
Here’s Donahue lamenting the “mal-distribution of wealth” in the world, fretting that there are “so few haves” and many more “have nots.” Donahue also decries the “concentration of power” among those “haves,” and suggests that capitalism does not “reward virtue” but an “ability to manipulate the system.” Sound familiar? Inherent in all of Donahue’s questions is the notion that government is the only vehicle that can correct these wrongs — the same message of the Occupy Wall Street crowd and their fans in the media. Friedman destroys all these points, and he does it in just two minutes.
Marvelous. As isn’t it quaint how Friedman apologizes for slightly criticizing the President of the United States? A different time.
In this second clip, a woman asks: “Why is it we have so many millionaires in the United States and we still have so many impoverished people who try to get up into the world? Why is it we have this lack of money where people who can’t support themselves decently and get a decent job, where all these big men are all on top making oodles and oodles of money? They don’t need it. They can only eat that much.”
She went on to say that these rich people “hoard” their wealth. Friedman got her to admit that these rich folks actually “keep investing it” in stuff like … (gasp!) … OIL! … and those investments are to the benefit of society. Watch and learn, OWS:
Even Donahue seemed impressed with that answer after his follow-up about the minimum wage. In that clip above, Friedman mentions his PBS documentary “Free to Choose,” based on his timeless book, written with his wife Rose, that argues the virtues of free enterprise and capitalism. The last clip I’ll share below is from that series.
The YouTube title is “Milton Friedman vs. and Academic Socialist.” Again, it should be noted, this documentary was produced before the Reagan Revolution. Back then, there was still a lively and thoughtful debate about what system is better: free markets and capitalism, or markets organized and directed by government — i.e. socialism. It is the same debate (sadly) we are having today. Clearly President Obama still holds to the latter, and he exercises it through the only way possible in an age after the Soviet Union crumbled and the Friedman/Reagan Revolution took hold: crony capitalism.
For me, the striking part of this 4-plus minute clip is how confident Friedman is that “experience” shows that socialism doesn’t work. That is experience the college-aged OWS protesters are too young to have seen for their own eyes. And Friedman would be disappointed that 30 years after his documentary, 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union … the proof of all that experience hasn’t yet taken full hold in America. He’d no doubt gently chide academia for indoctrinating so many naive youth.
Again, it’s amazing how prescient the words of the amiable Friedman have proved. We need him today. Since we can’t have him, we need someone in today’s political, policy and media culture to articulate the winning ideas of free markets at least half as well — before America goes down a path from which it will take another generation (if that) to recover. The Heartland Institute will continue to do its part.
Enjoy the following genius of Friedman — where he rebuts the idea that “large corporations” inflict great “harm” on society that only government can correct: