Milton and Rose Friedman on High Taxation
By David Henderson
I have a special course I’m leading this quarter for students who did well in a previous course on Cost/Benefit Analysis. We work our way through articles–sometimes technical articles from economics journals and more often articles by economists in the more-popular literature. I thought it would be fun and enlightening to work our way through a modern classic, Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman. I hadn’t read it cover to cover in over 30 years. I hadn’t remembered how good it was.
In the next few days I’ll quote passages from it. One passage caught my eye because I knew Milton pretty well and I always thought of him as someone who would advocate obeying even fairly bad laws. I don’t know why I thought that: I never heard him say it.
Now I think he wouldn’t have advocated obeying fairly bad laws. On what basis? This passage:
When the law interferes with people’s pursuit of their own values, they will try to find a way around. They will evade the law, they will break the law, or they will leave the country. Few of us believe in a moral code that justifies forcing people to give up much of what they produce to finance payments to persons they do not know for purposes they may not approve of. When the law contradicts what most people regard as moral and proper,
they will break the law–whether the law is enacted in the name of a noble ideal such as equality or in the naked interest of one group at the expense of another. Only fear of punishment, not a sense of justice and morality, will lead people to obey the law.
Notice that Milton and Rose are simply stating facts. They don’t come out advocating that people break the law. But it’s hard to read this passage and not conclude that they would be very sympathetic to those who try to evade high taxation on their income.