Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Greed"

This video of Milton Friedman on Phil Donahue's show back in 1979 made the rounds of the blogosphere not so long ago, but with the midterm elections only 10 weeks away, I think it's well worth posting again:


I actually remember watching this when it first aired. I was 14 years old, and I was home sick from school. (Truthfully, I was faking being sick, because I wanted to stay home and read Foundation and Empire.) And like a lot of 14-year-old kids who had more advantages growing up than they ever realized at the time, I was only just discovering that the world was unfair, and that we had to change it. All of it. And do it all right this very minute.

I remember sitting there and being appalled by what Milton Friedman was saying. The man had no heart. The man had only cynicism and no ideals. Hell, the advantages of my (and Phil Donahue's) preferred "tyranny of the caring" (not that I ever thought of it in those words back then) were so bleedingly obviously that even Friedman had to acknowledge them, even if he would never admit it. So the only reason he could possible stand against us had to be that Milton Friedman was just plain old downright mean.

Today, at 45, I watch this and know that Milton Friedman was absolutely right.

It was never about who cared the most, or who was the more virtuous person. But it was about realizing that utopia will never exist, that human beings will always be flawed creatures, that power corrupts, and that sometimes, the best way to help the poor (and everyone else) is the very method that least allows us to feel like we deserve to pat ourselves on the back because we've just "done good."

The goals of both Friedman and Donahue were always the same here, I think, but the difference involved the best means to achieve those goals. Government has always had a role to play, obviously, and it always will. But the federal government has grown from checking the worst excesses of capitalism to believing that it not only can choose winners and losers but also save us from ourselves. It's grown from what the Founding Fathers intended to something much nearer that "tyranny of the caring" I so longed for on that morning in 1979.

Of course, at 45, I also know that the "tyranny of the caring" won't be very caring. Or virtuous.