Good News from David Friedman
By David Henderson
Earlier this week, David Friedman announced that he is considering a third edition of one of my favorite books ever: The Machinery of Freedom. I’m not a big fan of the title but I love the contents. One of my biggest regrets when I was writing 5 or 6 book reviews a year for Fortune between 1984 and 1990 was that they “killed” my review of David’s second edition.
David is taking suggestions about what chapters to include, eliminate, etc. One of the most interesting sets of suggestions is by commenter Less Antman.
There’s so much to love about the book: the tight analytics not are never boring, always pithy, and often flashy; the clever turning of a phrase; the numerate take-apart of various ideas; the willingness to admit that he doesn’t have the solution for national defense.
Some of my favorite highlights from the book are below.
His argument (“Might Have Been”) that some Americans could have gotten to the moon with zero government funding:
The moon landing alone had an audience of 400 million. If pay TV were legal, that huge audience could have been charged several billion dollars for the series of shows leading up to, including, and following the landing. If the average viewer watched, altogether, twenty hours of Apollo programs, that would be about twenty-five cents an hour for the greatest show off earth.
His argument for open immigration:
In my opinion, the restriction on immigration is a mistake: we should abolish it tomorrow and reopen the most successful attack on poverty the world has ever seen.
One danger in this policy is that poor immigrants might come with the intent of somehow surviving until they become citizens, and then going on welfare.[DRH note: I guess he didn’t realize that you don’t need to become a citizen to get welfare.] I therefore include in my proposal the condition that new immigrants should face a fifteen year ‘residency’ requirement before they become eligible for welfare. I also suggest that the federal and state minimum wage laws be altered so as not to cover new immigrants, or, better yet, be repealed. [DRH note: his proposal for making only native-born and earlier immigrants subject to the minimum wage would be devastating to people in those categories who are less skilled. Why hire them at $7.25 an hour when you can hire a new immigrant at $4.00 an hour? It would be much better, therefore, to go with his more-radical proposal: repeal the minimum wage.]
The new immigrants will drive down the wages of unskilled labor, hurting some of the present poor. At the same time, the presence of millions of foreigners will make the most elementary acculturation, even the ability to speak English, a marketable skill; some of the poor will be able to leave their present unskilled jobs to find employment as foremen of ‘foreign’ work gangs or front men for ‘foreign’ enterprises.
Related to this is this point from the aforementioned Less Antman:
(6) In Welfare & Immigration section, discuss U of Hawaii Prof Ken Schoolland’s evidence that people move FROM the high welfare states TO the low welfare states.
Hmm. Are David, his late father Milton, many commentators on immigration, and I overstating the “welfare as a magnet for immigration” argument? Or could it be that Schoolland is not distinguishing between the kinds of people who move? Could it be that the more-productive people move from high-welfare states to low-welfare states and that the differential in welfare benefits between high-welfare and low-welfare states causes migration in the opposite direction?
I could go on and on. There’s much to love in The Machinery of Freedom.