Milton Friedman on the Rise of Socialism in the U.S.
Since I grew up during the Cold War with Russia, I couldn’t help but hear anti-communist remarks almost daily. Communism was, and still is, regarded as nothing short of evil. But I never did any more research into it outside of what I heard from others. I just assumed Communism was contained to government and didn’t affect me as long as we didn’t elect someone from the Socialist party.
Call me naive, but it took me decades to learn that Socialism affects MUCH more than just the government; it affects our way of life through ownership rules and market constraint. I won’t go into a diatribe against socialism until I understand more, but I do want to highlight an article recently posted at the NY Times by author Milton Friedman. You may have heard his name from books like “Capitalism and Freedom“, which is on my to-read list.
Milton prefaces his argument against socialist by stating that “Socialism is a failure” and “Capitalism is a success” and following up with a definition of socialism and some stats from 1989 (when this article was first posted):
What is socialism? In its purest form, socialism is government ownership and control of the means of production. Ownership of anything implies the right to the income produced by that thing.
All means of production in the United States – people, land, machines, buildings, etc. – produce our national income. Spending by government currently amounts to about 45 percent of national income. By that test, government owns 45 percent of the means of production that produce the national income. The U.S. is now 45 percent socialist.
Friedman goes on to add that ownership implies rights to the output of the use of these resources. In 1989, and today, the federal government imposes ownership rights on industry and property:
It prohibits certain uses (to deliver first class mail, to sell some drugs at all, to sell others without prescription, etc.); it controls other uses through laws governing wages, hours and working conditions, rent control and in other ways.
But the two paragraphs with the most impact were the following. They describe in more detail what the author identifies as inefficient government control and use of resources and industry:
Socialism has proved no more efficient at home than abroad. What are our most technologically backward areas? The delivery of first class mail, the schools, the judiciary, the legislative system – all mired in outdated technology. No doubt we need socialism for the judicial and legislative systems. We do not for mail or schools, as has been shown by Federal Express and others, and by the ability of many private schools to provide superior education to underprivileged youngsters at half the cost of government schooling.
Airlines have had no difficulty in acquiring the planes and personnel to handle the increased traffic produced by deregulation. What has been the bottleneck? Airports. Why? Because they are government owned and operated.
While you might say that “FedEx costs so much more than the post office, why would we want to get rid of the USPS?”, be reminded that the feds prop up the USPS through subsidies and by restricting who can deliver first-class mail to only the post office. Heck, FedEx and UPS aren’t even allowed to place parcels into your mailbox as it’s reserved only for the USPS! In private industry, we would call that a monopoly.
So for anyone voting for a candidate because he says he will spend more for education or roads, or use government funds to stabilize the economy, look a little deeper into their agenda (both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of these statements). Think about Friedman’s final thoughts:
Yet what are the loudest complaints? Government should be doing more; government is strapped for funds; taxes should be raised; more regulations should be imposed; build more prisons to house more criminals created by socialist legislation. Child care? Program trading? Earthquakes? Pass a law. And every law comes with a price tag and is cited as a reason for higher taxes.
Can we learn only from our own mistakes? Or not even from them?
Oh, and remember that contractors are running the government anyway 🙂