Milton and Rose Friedman on Inequality
By David Henderson
Last week my group of students who work their way through readings had our last formal meeting. Good news: they decided over drinks afterwards that they want to continue the meetings informally next quarter and one of them suggested calling it “The Dead Economists Society.”
For our last readings, we covered Chapters 5 and 6 in Milton and Rose Friedman’s Free to Choose. They are “Created Equal” and “What’s Wrong with Our Schools.” As supplementary readings, we covered Murray Rothbard, “Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature” (for Chapter 5) and Armen Alchian, “The Economic and Social Impact of Free Tuition” (for Chapter 6). We did them in reverse order and so didn’t cover Chapter 5 on equality as thoroughly as any of us probably would have liked.
But here’s what I found interesting. In the 15 minutes or less that we devoted to the chapter on equality, three out of six students zeroed in on this passage from Chapter 5:
A society that puts equality–in the sense of equality of outcome–ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.
On the other hand, a society that puts freedom first will, as a happy by-product, end up with both greater freedom and greater equality.
In the view of all three, this was a nice summation of their message.
Why do I find this so striking? Two reasons. First, it is the quote I zeroed in on and was planning, even before our meeting, to blog about. Second, years ago, I had a conversation with Bob Chitester, the producer of the Free to Choose TV series. Out of all 10 1-hour shows in the series, the one item he highlighted as his favorite was a shortened version of the above. Notice, in fact, that this is what he highlighted on this blog.