… is from pages 232-233 of the 1975 collection – An Economist’s Protest – of some of Milton Friedman’s Newsweek columns; specifically, it’s from Friedman’s February 19, 1973 column “Barking Cats.” In this column, Friedman reports his reply to a correspondent who shared Friedman’s frustration with the poor – nay, lethal – performance of the Food and Drug Administration, but who, unlike Friedman, believed that the problem would be solved by staffing the FDA with different and better people.
I replied as follows: “What would you think of someone who said, ‘I would like to have a cat, provided it barked’? Yet your statement that you favor an FDA provided it behaves as you believe desirable is precisely equivalent. The biological laws that specify the characteristics of cats are no more rigid than the political laws that specify the behavior of governmental agencies once they are established. The way the FDA now behaves, and the adverse consequences, are not an accident, not a result of some easily corrected human mistake, but a consequence of its constitution in precisely the same way that a meow is related to the constitution of a cat. As a natural scientist, you recognize that you cannot assign characteristics at will to chemical and biological entities, cannot demand that cats bark or water burn. Why do people suppose that the situation is different in the social sciences?