All the prosperity we enjoy today we owe to capitalism. For decades, progressivists have attempted to challenge this notion. One of the most notable was Phil Donahue in his 1979 interview with Milton Friedman, the 1976 Nobel Prize winner in economics.
Donahue posed this question to Friedman: “When you see around the globe the mal-distribution of wealth, the desperate plight of millions of people in underdeveloped countries; when you see so few ‘haves’ and so many ‘have-nots’; when you see the greed and the concentration of power; did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism, and whether greed is a good idea to run on?”
Friedman brilliantly turned the table on Donahue: “Well, first of all tell me, is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? Do you think Russia doesn’t run on greed? Do you think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed?” And then cracking a smile he jested, “Of course none of us are greedy. It’s only the other fellow who’s greedy.”
Friedman then turned serious again and bore down on his main point: “The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under orders from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped the kind of grinding poverty you are talking about, the only cases in recorded history, are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worst off, it is exactly the kind of societies that depart from that. The record of history is absolutely crystal-clear: That there is no alternative way, so far discovered, in improving the lot for ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.”
Donahue responded, “It seems to reward, not virtue as much as, the ability to manipulate the system.”
But Friedman again shines a bright light on the truth of things. “And what does reward virtue?” he asked. “Do you think the Communist Commissar rewards virtue? Do you think a Hitler rewards virtue? You think, excuse me if you’ll pardon me, do you think the American president rewards virtue? Do they choose their appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed, or on the basis of their political clout? Is it really true that political self-interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest? You know, I think you’re taking a lot of things for granted. Now please tell me, just where in the world will you find these angels who are going to organize society for us?” Friedman’s smile then returned and looking Donahue in the eye said, “Well, I don’t even trust you to do that.”
The same can be said of our state politicians. Does the governor reward virtue? Does he choose his appointees based on their virtue? Or does he choose them based on his political self-interest? Do the House Speaker and Senate President appoint their committee chairmen on the basis of their virtue? Or is it based on how well that chairman will do their bidding? Are we to believe these politicians are somehow more virtuous than individual citizens, small business owners, and private charities?
Economic prosperity, especially for the poor, doesn’t come from government programs. The record of history is clear. It comes when individuals enjoy freedom from government micromanagement in decisions about their lives, their businesses, their property, and their philanthropy.
* John Pickerill is the Libertarian Party candidate for Colorado State Senate District 3. He advocates for individual liberty, free market economics, private property rights, and constitutionally-limited government. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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