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Wapshott Gets Friedman Wrong, Majorly … Again

Posted By Don Boudreaux On July 31, 2012 @ 11:29 am In Myths and Fallacies,Politics | Comments Disabled

Here’s a letter to the Daily Beast:

Nicholas Wapshott claims that a 1988 essay that Milton Friedman wrote on J.M. Keynes is a “key lost document” in which Friedman “concedes not only that Keynesianism can work but that big government is not evil so long as it is honestly administered” (“A Lovefest Between Milton Friedman and J.M. Keynes [1],” July 30).  In his conclusion Mr. Wapshott repeats this suggestion – astonishing to anyone who has actually read Milton Friedman’s works – that Friedman believed big government to be benign as long as it is in the right hands.  Wapshott: “The lost essay … calls into question whether those today who rail against the size of the state are blaming the system when they should be rooting out corrupt politicians and public officials instead.”

Mr. Wapshott doesn’t link to Friedman’s allegedly “lost” article [2] – a curiosity explained, perhaps, by the fact that in the article Friedman says almost exactly the opposite of what Mr. Wapshott claims that he says.  After questioning the general applicability of Keynes’s economic notions, Friedman commented on Keynes’s politics: “I conclude that Keynes’s political bequest has done far more harm than his economic bequest and this for two reasons.  First, whatever the economic analysis, benevolent dictatorship is likely sooner or later to lead to a totalitarian society.  Second, Keynes’s economic theories appealed to a group far broader than economists primarily because of their link to his political approach.”*

Does Friedman sound here like a man having a “lovefest” with Keynes?  Does he strike you as someone who shared Keynes’s and Wapshott’s naive confidence that the danger of big government can be avoided simply by efforts to “root out corrupt politicians and public officials”?

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

Wapshott’s article is a Niagara of nonsense – too much to address in a single letter.  But here’s one more, related to the misrepresentation that I do address in my letter.  Wapshott writes that

Yet in his buried essay on Keynes, Friedman expressed a more complicated view. Abruptly dismissing Hayek’s notion that big government tends to curb the rights of individuals, Friedman reports that in Britain, where government was administered with integrity and honesty, governments have grown large without endangering the public good.

I challenge a reader to point to the place(s) in his essay where Friedman can be said to be “Abruptly dismissing Hayek’s notion that big government tends to curb the rights of individuals.”

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[1] A Lovefest Between Milton Friedman and J.M. Keynes: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/07/30/nicholas-wapshott-a-lovefest-between-milton-friedman-and-j-m-keynes.html

[2] Friedman’s allegedly “lost” article: http://www.richmondfed.org/publications/research/economic_quarterly/1997/spring/pdf/friedman.pdf?WT.si_n=Search&WT.si_x=3

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