Framing the Dialogue

Free to Choose

It often amazes me when I find a book written many years ago that still has so much relevance to today. Free to Choose was written over thirty years ago yet addresses many of today’s problems.  Written by Milton and Rose Friedman is “A Personal Statement” by two excellent economists and “unravel the mysteries of economics for the man or woman in the street (Wall Street or Main Street).”  That quote from the book cover may be a little cheesy, but the Friedmans cover a variety of economic topics in an interesting and understandable manner.

It is obvious that the Friedmans are free market economists and offer an in depth overview of market principles.  There is a lot to learn from them about America’s beginnings:

“The story of the United States is the story of an economic miracle and a political miracle that was made possible by the translation into practice of two sets of ideas – both, by a curious coincidence, formulated in documents published in the same year, 1776.  One set of ideas was embodied the The Wealth of Nations, the masterpiece that established the Scotsman Adam Smith as the father of modern economics…The second set of ideas was embodied in the Declaration of Independence…it proclaimed a new nation, the first in history established on the principle that every person is entitled to pursue their own values…To Smith and Jefferson, government’s role was as an umpire, not a participant.” [emphasis added]

Regardless of progressive assertions that the United States has been too much at the mercy of businesses and Wall Street, America is far, far from a free market economy unlike:

“Hong Kong has no tariffs or other restraints on international trade…It has no government direction of economic activity, no minimum wage laws, no fixing of prices.  The residents are free to buy from whomever they want, sell to whom they want, to invest however they want, to hire whom they want, to work for whom they want…low taxes preserve incentives.  Businessmen can reap the benefits of their success but must also bear the costs of their mistakes.”

There was a great deal of concern when, in 1997, the colony was put back under control of China.  Even the Chinese seemed to understand that Hong Kong’s success was not something to tinker with.  What a long way we have come when Communist China accepts more free market principles than out government and elected officials.  In the United States Progressive thinking centers around spreading wealth, redistribution for some ideological quest for:

“A very different meaning of equality has emerged in the United States in recent decades – equality of outcome.  Everyone should have the same level of living or of income, should finish the race at the same time.  Equality of outcome is in clear conflict with liberty.”

And in contrast:

“equality of opportunity is not to be interpreted literally.  Its real meaning is perhaps best expressed by the French expression dating from the French Revolution:  Une carriére ouvert aux les talents – a career open to the talents.  No arbitrary obstacles should prevent people from achieving those positions for which their talents fit them and which their values lead them to seek.”

Is there any doubt which equality our Founders had in mind?  Sometimes reading these books make me long for that kind of free society and discouraged by what we actually have.  We should celebrate that, while we have veered far off of the path, we are not quite off of the cliff just yet.  It would be great to have high school students learn about REAL economics.  I find it interesting that we teach children how to balance a checkbook (though not so much anymore in school), but not how free markets work and what they are missing in intrusive big government and I’ll leave you with the Friedmans Constitutional amendments that would put the brakes on the federal government:

  1. Congress shall not lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws.
  2. Congress shall make no laws abridging the freedom of sellers of goods or labor to price their products or services.
  3. Not State shall make or impose any law which shall abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to follow any occupation or profession of his choice.
  4. The right of the people to buy and sell legitimate goods and services at mutually acceptable terms shall not be infringed by Congress or any of the States.
  5. The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes of persons, from whatever sources derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration, provided that the same tax rate is applied to all income in excess of occupational and business expenses and a personal allowance of a fixed amount.  The word “person” shall exclude corporations and other artificial persons.
  6. Congress shall have the power to authorize non-interest-bearing obligations of the government in the form of currency or book entries, provided that the total dollar amount outstanding increases by no more than 5 percent per year and no less than 3 percent.
  7. All contracts between the U.S. government and other parties stated in dollars, and all dollar sums contained in federal laws, shall be adjusted annually to allow for the change in the general level of prices during the prior year.

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