Thursday, November 23, 2006

Kiwi Christianists offer anti-eulogy to Friedman

The anti-liberal Left and the anti-liberal Right have both attacked Milton Friedman for being true to classical liberal ideas. Of course it is safer to do so the moment someone is dead since they aren’t there to reply.

The one attack on Friedman is of interest because the anti-liberal Maxim Institute, in New Zealand, has claimed (falsely) to be liberals and has managed to finagle funds out of admirers of Friedman. They claim to be pro-market but at best they pay the market lip service. They almost exclusively concentrate on pushing a Religious-Right agenda which is no surprise as it is run by anti-liberal fundamentalists.

In their less than complimentary “eulogy” they attacked not just Friedman but freedom. They wrote: “While [Friedman’s] economic thinking arguably helped create a framework for economic prosperity in the West, its success outside of the economic realm is questionable.” There is no confusion. They are not liberals and are specifically repudiating liberalism. They want state control of people’s private lives. This is why they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to stop prostitution reform in New Zealand and trying to prevent civil unions for all couples -- gay and straight.

What they believe quite clearly is that allowing people to make decisions with their own money is acceptable. But allowing them to make their own choices with there own lives is a different matter. Then they need virtuous politicians and bureaucrats to control them and regulate them. What they need is a form of moralistic socialism.

In their anti-eulogy they say that while Friedman is correct that people make better economic decisions for themselves than do bureaucrats “a blind faith in the free market...ignores the fact that society is more than an economic system; it is a complex and living fabric made of people, not machines.”

Accusing Friedman of having a “blind faith” is actually a bit funny from people who base their entire anti-freedom philosophy on exactly that! It is also false. Friedman clearly did not have a “blind faith” in freedom. In fact he often said that people sometimes made the wrong choices but that when left free the tendency is to make better choices than made by bureaucrats. Friedman, unlike Maxim which spends almost zero time on economic freedom, understood that there are vast feed back loops in a society. And that when left free those feed back loops influence human behavior.

The “blind faith” smear is normally found among the socialists. Every advocate of state control attacks a belief in freedom. Maxim advocates state control, they want bigger government in the realm of private morality. And it is freedom, not morality police, who actually see human beings as individual people, not machines. The socialist, be they the economic or moral variety, sees man as a machine who can be regulated and controlled. You just need someone to tinker with the machinery and otherwise control how it operates. People can’t be controlled in that manner.

Next Maxim further distorts Friedman’s views by attacking “personal freedom” “without regard for private virtue, the social fabric and the common good.” Where did Friedman say that “private virtue” was unimportant? Nowhere. That was not his position. But since Maxim despises classical liberalism and clings to a Right-wing conservative viewpoint they have to distort Friedman’s views. And it is almost predictable that every single advocate of state control has trotted out the “common good” argument when they want the power to rule others. The common good can be used to justify almost anything. In the name of the common good some even help themselves to work of others. (Scroll to bottom of the page at this link.)

And they say: “The free-market economics Friedman advocated cannot create a decent and prosperous society, unless they [sic] are accompanied by... obligation to our families and communities.” That last phrase is their usual code for their real illiberal agenda -- state control and imposition of biblical morality on everyone. And while socialists on the Left aren’t really enamoured with family per se they would applaud loudly the claim that we must be “obligated” to the community, to the collective around us.

And they also then take a swipe at free markets in principle. “The understanding of people as rational individualists... was one the reasons why the economic reforms of the 1980s caused harm as well as good.” So some freedom is some areas is fine. But we need a master to control people in their private lives. They complain that free market liberals like Friedman fail “to consider the interconnectedness of community and the relational nature of human society.”

In other words Friedman didn’t advocate state control of the individual. He was not a collectivist extolling the virtues of the “community” over the individual. Of course liberalism understands the importance of society, as Felix Morley pointed out in his essay “State and Society” all state power is created at the expense of society. Maxim’s attack on social freedom is a call to confiscate power from civil society and give it to the government instead.

As for this eulogy. They spent two paragraphs saying some nice things about Friedman and three paragraphs attacking him and his ideas. They obviously think he was some dolt who didn’t understand the importance of “society” and “family” and “community”. They false accuse him of ignoring such issues and of not considering such factors. In reality what they are upset about is not that Friedman didn’t consider such matters but that he didn’t advocate using the Bible as the basis for state law.

One has to wonder when various friends and admirers of Milton Friedman in the United States will wake up and realize that Maxim opposes them and Friedman. Of course Maxim is happy to take their cash. But one has to wonder why so-called libertarians in the US would want to give money or praise to this outfit. Various groups were founded to help promote classical liberal thinking have been bamboozled into giving funding and support to illiberal statists like Maxim. And it really ought to stop.