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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Michael Strong

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Michael Strong

Last Build Date: Sat, 18 Nov 2006 00:47:57 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Milton Friedman, A Modern Galileo

Sat, 18 Nov 2006 00:47:57 -0600

Defending free markets in the 20th century was a thankless task, to say the least. Although Friedman's technical economics won respect, his wide-ranging applications of free market principles was not highly regarded - people thought the notion of school vouchers absurd in the 1950s when he first suggested them. When he and Anna Schwartz published A Monetary History of the United States in 1963, the economics profession had almost universally accepted a Keynesian analysis of the Great Depression. Indeed, all of post-war economic policy throughout the developed world was based on Keynesian premises. Friedman and Schwartz' revival of 19th century monetary theory struck most economists as the equivalent of flat-earth theory, with the added distasteful aspect that Friedman's motivations were believed to be based in politically-incorrect conservative ideology. His public advocacy of free market ideas were regarded as even more bizarre and immoral, and confirmed negative suspicions. By the 1970s, when stagflation dealt the final death blow to the Keynesian consensus in both theory and practice, the "rational expectations" school of macroeconomics led the way more than did Friedman's monetarism, which kept many formerly skeptical economists from openly acknowledging that Friedman had been correct about the monetary causes of the Great Depression. It was a crucial premise of much of leftist thought that the Great Depression had proven that unregulated markets fail and therefore must be guided by government. By showing that mistakes made by the Federal Reserve were actually responsible for the terrifying economic collapse, Friedman showed empirically that government meddling (here the Federal Reserve) was again the culprit, not the free market. Friedman showed that much of the political and economic thought of the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s was based on a false premise and was thus irrelevant to reality. It is not surprising that most academics championed Galbraith, whose reputation within the economics profession was collapsing, rather than Friedman, whose ideas undermined their entire world-view. Fortunately for Friedman-haters, Friedman tainted himself by traveling to Chile and meeting with General Pinochet, the most hated military dictator in the western hemisphere. The Left used Friedman's visit to Chile to brand him as a fascist, an accusation that was widely disseminated among universities around the world and which resulted in protests and disruptions at his Nobel award ceremony. This sentiment is alive and well today - The Democratic Underground's discussion of Friedman's death includes comments such as "Memo to Pinochet - Your buddy just went to hell and is waiting for you" among its less vulgar sentiments. When I entered Harvard in 1979, it was commonplace in most circles to refer to Friedman as evil without debate, reflection, or justification. Now, of course, Chile has a democratic government, the strongest economy in Latin America, and a surging middle class - all legacies of Friedman's influence. More relevant to the claim that Friedman was tainted through his one conversation with Pinochet is the fact that he later went to China and gave very much the same advice to Chinese leaders as he had given to Chilean leaders - and no one even remarked upon the trip, despite the fact that the repression practiced by the Chinese government makes Pinochet look like an amateur. Friedman was, in fact, critical of the Pinochet regime and clearly stated that his goal was to alleviate human suffering based on economic dysfunction, which he did so superbly. By contrast, J. K. Galbraith visited Mao's China and praised Mao and the Chinese economic system, which had caused incomparable misery. Focus on this: Friedman is tainted by one conversation with a dictator, whom he openly criticized, and the advice he provides ultimately brings great benefits to the people. Galbraith is not tainted by praising one of the most ruthless tyrants in human history, after disseminating his own advice, which has brought poverty to[...]

School Choice and Adolescence in America

Mon, 08 May 2006 12:44:47 -0600

So in May, 2006, we have an opportunity to learn a "new approach" that may "change the way we think about young people" based on findings that children thrive in the face of adversity when they learn "persistence, hardiness, achievement motivation, hopefulness, and a sense of purpose" based on "moral and religious beliefs." Although Damon deserves kudos for recognizing the politically incorrect truth that "moral and religious beliefs" are relevant to adolescent well-being, most parents knew it fifty years ago. In the 1955 Milton Friedman proposed educational vouchers that would allow children to attend private schools with public moneys. Friedman's proposal was dismissed in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. By the 1980s Brookings Institution researchers John Chubb and Terry Moe were coming to the conclusion that the decline in test scores despite doubling our expenditures in education was not an accident. They looked carefully at public and private schools and concluded that, in fact, Friedman had been correct: the private sector was more efficient and innovative than the bureaucratic government-managed sector. Despite their liberal Brookings base, they broke ranks with the Democrats and advocated school vouchers in their 1990 book, Politics, Markets, and America's Schools. Today the school choice debate is being fought by scholars analyzing the limited test score data in an attempt to determine what academic benefits, exactly, school vouchers bring to education. In the meantime, when parents who do have a choice are asked what their primary basis for choosing a school is, their highest priority is their child's "happiness" or "overall well-being." Some voucher opponents argue that this is evidence that vouchers will be ineffective: because parents care more about their child's happiness and well-being than about academics, vouchers will not improve test scores. It seems odd that anyone would be against improving young people's happiness or well-being. It seems quite natural, in fact, that parents' first concern would be for their children's happiness and well-being. And they have reason to be concerned; as a 1988 New York Times article pointed out: Despite revolutionary progress in preventing and treating life-threatening infections through immunization and antibiotics, teen-agers today are as likely to get sick and die before reaching their 20's as they were in the 1940's and 1950's. Only the causes of death and disability have changed dramatically, shifting from traditional medical problems to health effects stemming more from social causes. Instead of communicable diseases, the primary causes of adolescent death are now accidents, suicides, homicides, substance abuse, pregnancy, venereal disease and physical and sexual abuse. Indeed, 77 percent of deaths among 15- to 24-year-olds are now attributed to accident, suicide and homicide. From 1950 to 1980, deaths from homicide rose four-fold and suicides five-fold in this age group. Although there have been some improvements since 1988, our adolescents are still suffering from a plague of "health effects stemming more from social causes." [2] I have a cousin who sniffed glue, developed brain-damage, and later stabbed his room-mate to death. A brilliant former student of mine in elementary school went on to a middle school she hated where she dropped out and hung out with drug addicts who raped her and murdered a homeless person. Prior to the worst of it her mother, a good person, hand-cuffed her to her bed at night in a desperate attempt to keep her from running to these people. Another former student of mine was terrified of leaving the safe school that I had created, up through middle school this time; I later heard that he had attempted suicide and was institutionalized. Adolescence in America is largely a disaster. Bill McKibben, the environmentalist writer and advocate of natural living, is as vocal in his critique as any fundamentalist Christian: "If one had set out to create a culture purposefully damaging to children, you [...]