Home > Uncategorized > Milton Friedman — an intellectually dishonest peddler of neoliberalism

Milton Friedman — an intellectually dishonest peddler of neoliberalism

from Lars Syll

Last Friday, November 9, saw the big “Milton Friedman Centennial” celebration at the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics. It was a big day for fans of one of the Founding Fathers of neoliberal/libertarian  free-market ideology …

One episode in Milton Friedman’s career not celebrated (or even acknowledged) at last week’s centennial took place in 1946, the same year Friedman began peddling his pro-business “free market economics” ideology.

According to Congressional hearings on illegal lobbying activities ’46 was the year that Milton Friedman and his U Chicago cohort George Stigler arranged an under-the-table deal with a Washington lobbying executive to pump out covert propaganda for the national real estate lobby in exchange for a hefty payout, the terms of which were never meant to be released to the public.

The arrangement between Friedman and Stigler with the Washington real estate lobbyist was finally revealed during he Buchanan Committee hearings on illegal lobbying activities in 1950. But then it was almost entirely forgotten, including apparently by those celebrating the “Milton Friedman Centennial” last week in Chicago.

Mark Ames

  1. Econoclast
    October 24, 2021 at 9:56 pm

    Thanks for this post, Lars. Everyone who reads it should read Ames’ entire article (just click on his name). Ames’ article shows what a sham libertarianism is (I have long considered it a naive and dangerous ideology) and goes way beyond discussing Friedman. For instance, this from a prominent colleague: “I do not believe in democracy. I think it stinks. I don’t think anybody except direct taxpayers should be allowed to vote. I don’t believe women should be allowed to vote at all. Ever since they started, our public affairs have been in a worse mess than ever.”

    And, by the way, Lars is criticized in this blog for only criticizing economics orthodoxy, but not offering a solution. I wish to present this as an alternative philosophical viewpoint: a critic has no obligation to offer a remedy, although some may choose to do so. Imagine asking a movie or book critic to make a better movie or write a better book.

    Please keep up your good work. Lars. We need some repetition to help bring down the cancer/virus that is neoclassical economics.

  2. Edward Ross
    October 24, 2021 at 11:15 pm

    I certainly agree with’ please keep up your good work. Lars. we need some repetition to help bring down the cancer/virus that is neoclassical economics.” As it has been said before Lars is so busy stimulating discussion that he has little time to offer solutions. However the way I see it is he is not trying to tell us what to think, he is trying to get us to think for ourselves and have a good open conversation, on how to dismantle neoliberal ideology, which is obviously the construct of the extremely wealthy and restore democracy . Ted

  3. Edward Ross
    October 24, 2021 at 11:34 pm

    Here I add that to restore democracy require academia to re think the importance of democracy an then by example inform students and the people of their rights and obligations in a democratic system. For example restore some sort of justice and equality between the rich and poor.Ted

    • Econoclast
      October 25, 2021 at 12:01 am

      Good points, Ted. I read today an excellent three-part series on taking action to restore democracy (https://befreedom.co/introduction-to-the-insideoutside-strategy/). In addition, I think democracy begins early in school. I had the privilege of attending an elementary school whose core philosophy included practicing the basics of democracy in the classroom and on the playground at all times, those basics including empathy, sharing, cooperation, teamwork, kindness, and problem-solving.

  4. Ikonoclast
    October 25, 2021 at 12:13 am

    I have long regarded Milton Friedman as a charlatan. To find out he was corrupt as well is no surprise. But it is always worthwhile to have such suspicions confirmed and to destroy, as far as is possible, reputations which not only deserve to be destroyed but need to be destroyed so that we can move on and make some genuine progress.

    On the philosophical side, I don’t think anyone reasonable expects Lars Syll to theoretically rebuild economics on his own. That will take many people from many disciplines and much direct action by the people. However, one of the disciplines necessary is philosophy. Amongst the cluster of reasons that conventional economics is such a mess is its nature as a hybrid discipline. It is neither a purely descriptive hard science discipline nor purely a formal prescriptive formal discipline. It is a strange and complex amalgam of both. Superadded to that is the issue of motivated reasoning from self-interest. In no other discipline other than that of the received religion(s) with their investment(s) in orthodox dogma is motivated reasoning from self-interest such a great part of a discipline suffering at the same time from an inadequate objective base. [1] Indeed, conventional economics is more like a religion than it is like a science.

    For a philosopher, to NOT be interested in that puzzle-complex (of conventional economics) with all its epistemological and ontological conundrums and implications is surprising to me. But then, I stay away from trying to reform (or abolish) religion. Maybe I should try to understand Lars’ position more than I have previously. Orthodox economics is a religion of material production. Unlike other religions, which cannot be materially refuted by material processes themselves, orthodox economics is potentially refutable by the material processes themselves. It promises an endless cornucopia here on earth. When that promise fails completely, as it shortly will, then faith in conventional capitalist economics will collapse. The real question then is “What do we replace it with?”, assuming “we” are still around. And do we endeavor to replace it before or after we start collapsing seriously?

    [1] The received religions have perfectly supportable philosophical and moral bases for those who accept certain premises (as beliefs), so the charge that they are not scientifically objective is not necessarily as severe or dismissive as it might appear.

    • Meta Capitalism
      October 25, 2021 at 3:54 am

      Orthodox economics is a religion of material production…. It promises an endless cornucopia here on earth. ~ Ikon

      You might enjoy reading Nelson’s Economics as Religion. There is an interesting historical relationship between the late-nineteenth-century _social gospel_ movement and the progressive social and economic reformers that went abroad to study in Germany and returned to the US to create American Economic Association (AEA). Leonard’s _Illeberal Reformers_ also recounts this history. Point being, your comment is closer to the truth than many would like to admit.

    • Meta Capitalism
      October 26, 2021 at 2:56 am

      As for what will replace neoliberal/libertarian free-market ideology is hard to say it seems. But there are a few resources that might shed some light on old ideas and recent trends and how they inter-relate. One is Civil Economy: Another Idea of the Market” by Professor Luigino Bruni, Professor Stefano Zamagni (https://a.co/7ij4P9B), Another is The Ethical Economy: Rebuilding Value After the Crisis” by Adam Arvidsson, Nicolai Peitersen (https://a.co/4CfCGma). And perhaps another (I have not read it yet) is Humanomics: Moral Sentiments and the Wealth of Nations for the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge Studies in Economics, Choice, and Society)” by Vernon L. Smith, Bart J. Wilson (https://a.co/24b9V8v). the last is useful to debunk and re-contextualize Adam Smith’s works to counter the simplistic rhetoric about what his theories were all about.

  5. Edward Ross
    October 26, 2021 at 11:37 pm

    For me Lars Syll post October 24, 2021 Has sparked of some very useful conversation not only for me but could be very useful to community organizations and students. I thank both Econoclast and Meta Capitalist for their references which I have found very informative on what i have read so far. On demonstrations I think we have to be very careful that that they do not give the neoliberals and their financial supporters-controllers excuses to demonize the demonstrators and ignore their call for justice. In this regard I think it is necessary to inform the leaders of the demonstrators what they are really demonstrating for. If this was done well it could highlight the concerns of the demonstrators and gain public support. I also like the suggestion for all of the different schools of economic thinking to retain their individuality but combine in the cause of deflating economic neoliberalism and restore democracy. Therefore I thank the above for their help and support which I think could be a great help to interested organizations and students. Here I am concerned that we have not heard from Dave Taylor who I think would normally support the above conversation. Hoping to hear from you soon Dave and thank you all Ted

    • Econoclast
      October 27, 2021 at 2:12 am

      Ted, I have some comments about what you are advocating, which I agree with.

      I will not post a 5-page essay here, but anyone who wants one need only ask — davidhupp@charter.net — and they shall receive via email (an old, pre-Farcebook technology). The essay is entitled “Effective Principles for Community Organizing”. These ideas are not mine, they are derived from experience, practicing the ideas of Saul Alinsky. They work: we won 12 out of 12 campaigns. In our work, leadership emerged from within the group. Once acknowledged as leaders, we developed techniques to hold them accountable.

      One thing we need to understand clearly: there are two parts to American democracy: electoral and participatory. The former is the voting kind. The latter is the “movement” kind. My comments refer to the participatory. I have enough experience in electoral politics to know that it doesn’t fit my personality very well. The conventional belief is that “politics” refers to voting every 2 years and that’s it. In this belief, “leaders” refers to elected officials. The cliche “when the people lead the leaders will follow” is based upon this concept of leadership.

      In my preferred system of direct democray — community organizing — the leaders emerge from the group by showing some leadership skills that are then developed within the group. Time after time I have seen ordinary housewives and shy male tax accountants emerge as leaders. Lois Gibbs of Love Canal and Claire Dedrick of the Sierra Club are classic examples.

      The all-too-prevalent leadership in movements is what I call the “cult of the personality” type. This is the type I have seen eventually go off in the wrong direction and feeds the reaction of the reactionary right to which Ted refers.

  6. Ken Zimmerman
    November 4, 2021 at 1:06 am

    Most people get the story of Friedman backward. First, he was a rather mundane person who wanted to be famous and a king maker. But in a liberal way. So he took Hayek’s version of liberalism, which already stretched liberalism beyond its own limits and made claims about it having no empirical basis — historically or culturally. And to solidify his fame and in his view his power, he presented his claims in all venues loudly, grossly, and absolutely. Autocrats and would be autocrats loved him.

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