Milton Friedman on Phil Donahue, circa 1979

Big Swede inserted a Milton Friedman link over at 4&20, and so I went for a longer version. The appearance in 1979 on the Phil Donahue show [which I think I saw at that time] was forty-five minutes, Swede’s link was about 90 seconds, and this one runs about ten minutes. Swede’s portion is part of the longer clip here.

I have my own views of Friedman, and some ability to hold them with integrity as I was swayed by him in the 1980’s with his book/TV series Free To Choose. His logic was so crystal clear that it seemed unassailable to me, and like Swede, I could not understand how anyone could argue with him. But so much of what he advocated turned out wrong. He was on the wrong side of a fascist dictatorship in Chile, and deregulation of the S&L industry and later electricity in California led to disasters. (Like the Great Depression, I assume Friedman hung those somehow on government failure too.)

But there was no way I could fathom in my mind a better way to organize an economy than around freedom of choice. I would not begin to break through the barriers of neoclassical economics until I removed the ideological underpinnings, removing “capitalism” and “free markets” and “free trade,” which are mere window dressing, and putting in their stead mere fascism. The essential feature of the market is market power. In a “free” market there are no restraints on power, and those who do not have it must suffer. The ultimate expression of this freedom they so cherish is slavery. After all, what force protects a man from being owned by another? The free market? Or government.

So I listened to him again so many years later and realized he was a charlatan, smooth and glib in his assertions. Most of them are just wrong. People like him (or Chomsky or Nader) should be presented to us on adversarial platforms, never to merely blandly assert to the tides, but to endure cross-examination and refutation until the subject has crystallized. Putting Friedman up against Donahue, an entertainer, was OK. At least there was some blowback, and Donahue did not pretend to understand economics well.

It is 1979, there is a Fairness Doctrine, so I imagine that Nader, who came under attack was allowed to respond. The format was cordial and the men were respectful of one another, each allowing time for full questions and answers. All of that went out the window with the Fairness Doctrine, so that TV interviews are torture these days, usually one-sided with mikes cut off, people talking over one another, audience unrestrained in their applause and jeers. It was a different era. Back then we were stupid, but polite. Today we are just stupid.

4 thoughts on “Milton Friedman on Phil Donahue, circa 1979

    1. We used to take our cat to the vet in a cage and it was hard to get her in there; it took two of us. And then when we got to the vet’s, she didn’t want to get out of the cage.

      Don’t know why that came to mind.


  1. The fascists like Mussolini opposed market economists. Mussolini nationalized three-fourths of the Italy economy. Mussolini boasted in 1934: “Three-fourths of Italian economy, industrial and agricultural, is in the hands of the state. And if I dare to introduce to Italy state capitalism or state socialism, which is the reverse side of the medal, I will have the necessary subjective and objective conditions to do it.” (As quoted in The Oxford Handbook of the Italian Economy Since Unification, by Gianni Toniolo, editor, Oxford University Press (2013) p. 59. Mussolini’s speech to the Chamber of Deputies on May 26, 1934.) Of course, Mussolini was an avowed Marxist for much of his early years. If you want to find an Italian Fascist just look at Marxism. Most historians now believe that Italian Fascism came out of Marxism.


    1. Your last sentence is an appeal to authority. State what you think, please, not what authority figures tell us we should think.

      I care neither about fascism or Marxism, as they each lead to disaster no matter their origin. So too with “free market” economics. It is a siren song.


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