Sunday, July 23, 2006

War and the Friedmans

Certainly the most famous libertarian alive today is Milton Friedman. And his partner in life and ideas has been his wife of almost 70 years, Rose. Recently the Friedman's were interviewed and Milton, although opposed to the Bush big spending plans, said that "What's really killed the Republican Party isn't spending, it's Iraq. As it happenes, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression."

Rose dissented saying: "This was not aggression." Milton responded: "It was aggression. Of course it was!"

Ilya Somin, on The Volokh Conspiracy, said: "The dissension in the Friedman family would be unimportant if not for the fact that it mirros a broader split within the libertarian community over the war." My view is that this is overstated. I don't find the split to be as broad as some think. This is not to say that some libertarians or libertarian-leaning conservatives have not favoured the war. Some have. But among the libertarians I deal with the pro-war faction is a clear minority. And most of them seem to be people who are closer to being Objectivists than being libertarians.

Certainly most libertarians I know, and almost 100% of those I respect, oppose the war. And while the Friedman household looks evenly split one should not forget the opinions of David Friedman, their son, who teaches in both the law and business departments at Santa Clara University. David posted a comment on Volokh Conspiracy site saying he is an anti-war libertarian as well. He wrote: "My basic argument in favor of a generally noninterventionist foreign policy, sketched later in the same book, is that a badly done interventionist policy is usually worse than no interventionist policy. Instead of getting other people to fight your wars with their blood and treasure you fight theirs with yours. Our foreign policy is being run by the U.S. government, so I expect it to be run badly. The Bush administration has given me no reason to change that opinion. "

He said a second reason for opposing the war is "that war tends to increase government power." True. It does increase it and it also offers a pretext for the power hungry to grab more power. George Bush has done that in spades. David notes that a counter argument offered is "the lesson of Munich" but he notes that "at the time of Munich, England and France had an interventionist foreign policy -- that was why Hitler had to get their permission to annex Czechosolovaki. Munich was an example, not of a non-interventionist policy, but of n incompetently run interventionist policy." David also said he was recently surprised to learn that "Hitler's first attempt to annex Austria was blocked, not by France or England but by Mussolini..." Also true. In fact France and England basically encouraged Hitler who was not prepared for the venture and surprised by their encouragement. (Anyone wishing to read one book on the topic ought to make use of A.J.P. Taylor's The Origins of the Second World War.)

And for good measure we shouldn't forget the views of Patri Friedman, son of David, grandson of Milton and Rose. He notes that the only valid argument for attacking Iraq was that it was a threat to the US but says this doesn't hold up. "Iraq had no WMD's, almost nothing to do with 9/11, and no real capability to hurt the USA."

Patri also gave a basically Hayekian argument against the war as well: "I also find it laughable that libertarians, who normally believe the government is notoriously incompetent at even simple tasks, are calling for it to handle a massive, complex, difficult, multilayered task like eliminating worldwide terrorism. I wish that poverty could be eliminated - but I don't trust the government to do it. Same for infectious disease, lack of education, and all the other things that make the world an imperfect place. Why is terrorism any different? Is it really so much worse than the other problems facing the world that its worth putting resources into this horribly wasteful, inefficient, plodding piece of crap that is government?"

So the Friedman household is not quite as divided as the interview indicated. Of the four Friedmans prone to make public comments on various issues three are opposed to the war and one was in favour.