from Peter Radford
While I was checking the inner debates the Republicans are having about health care I came across this quote [in an article written by Tierney Sneed in TPM] from Representative David Brat, an extreme right winger:
“When it comes to how much you want to park in the HSAs for providing catastrophic care, that, when it comes, to the safety net, we have to find the Milton Friedman way of doing that,” Brat said. “The Price bill would do tax credits. I am not a fan of those because it keeps the federal government in the center of that.”
My heart sank.
Milton Friedman? Really.
His version of economics is simply an ideology cloaked in clever language. And it is profoundly anti-democratic.
Friedman’s stalwart libertarianism led him to develop an economics that started, unscientifically, with a built-in bias against communal action. This meant that anything the government did was, a priori, damaging to the magic that Friedman was desperate to ascribe to the workings of something he, and most economists, call markets.
Markets, you see, are wonderlands that always and inevitably lead to efficient outcomes. And it is no good any starry eyed liberal tinkering with those outcomes. They are magically correct. By correct we mean that they cannot be improved upon. Economists have this vice like attachment to certain core beliefs. One of those is that, if left unfettered, markets will zero in on an allocation of stuff that can never be improved, especially by meddlesome governments.
The way you get to this particular promised land is by letting the great forces of supply and demand batter away at individual preferences and budgets until all the trading and so on ends with no one able to make another trade without such a trade making someone else worse off. It sounds wonderful. Now to make this all work we have to believe in magic. We have to suspend our intelligence and imagine a world where everyone knows exactly what everyone else is doing, where no one cheats, where everyone is marvelously rational, where they don’t suddenly change their minds, where they can calculate at the speed of light, absorb vast amounts of data, and always — yes always — arrive at precisely that combination of stuff they wanted. Within the constraints of their budget of course.
The distribution of stuff in this fantasy world is not an issue to libertarians like Friedman. It is always deserved. It is always morally right. This leads the libertarians to have to argue that the distribution of original privilege and opportunity is equally deserved. They don’t care about egalitarian opportunity: what they are concerned with is the rationality of what people do with what they begin with — no matter how poor they are. Poverty is the individual’s fault.
Poverty, some of them argue, is relative anyway. Aren’t we all better off than our forbears? Yes of course we are. So, they argue, we ought not quibble about the distribution of wealth. Yes, we have poor people, but so what? They have lots of stuff our ancestors didn’t have. So quiet down and stop whining about redistribution.
Anyway, as Friedman argues, markets are never ever wrong. And markets can always fix any temporary problems: all those clever and rational consumers will punish bad companies and reward good ones, so we don’t need to regulate.
And so on.
It’s fantasy stuff. It’s patently absurd as a description of the real world. It is plainly ridiculous when you examine the contortions necessary to make it all work out the way Friedman says it does — he famously argued that we ought worry about the absurdity of the inputs to his reasoning we ought only focus on the veracity of the outputs. Naturally those outputs “proved” the efficacy of markets.
So, with this all swirling in my head I hope you can understand why my heart sank when I read that a member of Congress actually wants to build the real world in the image of the Friedman fantasy. It’s all simply ideology. It is an attempt to provide intellectual rigor to an anti-social policy outcome.
Beware of Friedman! He was an ideologue first and foremost. His so-called economics were, in truth, a political agenda. Quoting him approvingly marks you as anti-democratic because he valued market efficiency over and above any other social outcome no matter how repressive the political process needed to be to arrive at that efficiency.