Category Archives: Free Trade

Milton Friedman on Libertarianism and Humility

On August 14, 1990, Milton Friedman gave a speech at the International Society for Individual Liberty’s 5th World Libertarian Conference on the subject of libertarianism and humility. There are many adjectives which can be ascribed to libertarians but “humble” usually isn’t one of them. Among the quotable parts of the speech, Friedman said the following:

On the one hand, I regard the basic human value that underlies my own beliefs as tolerance based on humility. I have no right to coerce someone else because I cannot be sure that I am right and he is wrong. On the other hand, some of our heros…people who have, in fact, done the most to promote libertarian ideas, who have been enormously influential, have been highly intolerant as human beings and have justified their views, with which I largely agree, in ways that I regard as promoting intolerance.

In searching for the above transcription of what I thought was very profound and wise, I found a couple of bloggers who thought this particular quotation as “an inadequate defense of liberty” or one of the “failures” of Milton Friedman.

I happen to disagree with these notions.

Maybe because I have been humbled in realizing that I had been wrong on some issues of great importance. By far the most difficult (yet ultimately liberating) post I have ever written was the post in which I declared that I was wrong about my support for the war in Iraq. I was so certain that regime change in Iraq would bring about peace in the Middle East and freedom would take hold. I thought the Ron Paul and big “L” Libertarian position on preemptive war was naïve and dangerous but now I believe the opposite to be true (for reasons I stated in the aforementioned post).

Having experiencing this, I can’t help but think that Friedman was right to say that each of us should be open to the possibility we may be wrong. If we aren’t open to this possibility, what is the point of debating an issue? Obviously, if I argue that X is correct and my opponent says Y is correct, I’m going to do my best to convince my opponent that I am right and s/he is wrong (meanwhile, my opponent is doing the same).

But what if I realize in the course of the debate that my opponent is at least partially right about Y being correct and/or that my reasoning is flawed or the facts do not support X? As a normal human being, I might not concede right away but if I am being intellectually honest, I’ll revise my thinking based on new information or new reasoning I hadn’t considered.

If Milton Friedman was willing to be open to the possibility of being wrong, how could I, someone whose mind will never in the same league as his, be so stubborn?

One thing I notice in watching Friedman debate people who are diametrically opposed to his positions was how patient he was with them. Something that many of us libertarians seem to forget is that much of what we believe to be true is counterintuitive to at least half of the people we encounter on a daily basis because many of these people have not been exposed to our philosophy. Friedman understood this. He knew that much of what he was saying was new territory for many who would hear his lectures or read his books.

Before he could make the case about any of his ideas to others, he had to be satisfied that the facts backed up his theory. These two sentences from the NPR obituary for Friedman summed up his approach beautifully:

Friedman was an empiricist, whose theories emerged from his study of the evidence, not the other way around. He also was a champion of the free market and small government.

We are supposed to believe this to be a weakness? I find this to be so refreshing!

Institute for Justice’s Bone Marrow Donor Compensation Legal Challenge Prevails

Here’s a follow up to a story I linked back in 2009 concerning the Institute for Justice’s legal challenge to the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 and the act’s applicability to bone marrow transplants. This is very good news for the roughly 3,000 Americans who die every year while waiting to find a bone marrow match:

Arlington, Va.—The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today issued a unanimous opinion granting victory to cancer patients and their supporters from across the nation in a landmark constitutional challenge brought against the U.S. Attorney General. The lawsuit, filed by the Institute for Justice on behalf of cancer patients, their families, an internationally renowned marrow-transplant surgeon, and a California nonprofit group, seeks to allow individuals to create a pilot program that would encourage more bone-marrow donations by offering modest compensation—such as a scholarship or housing allowance—to donors. The program had been blocked by a federal law, the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA), which makes compensating donors of these renewable cells a major felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Under today’s decision, this pilot program will be perfectly legal, provided the donated cells are taken from a donor’s bloodstream rather than the hip. (Approximately 70 percent of all bone marrow donations are offered through the arm in a manner similar to donating whole blood.) Now, as a result of this legal victory, not only will the pilot programs the plaintiffs looked to create be considered legal, but any form of compensation for marrow donors would be legal within the boundaries of the Ninth Circuit, which includes California, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and various other U.S. territories.

[…]

Rowes concluded, “This case isn’t about medicine; everyone agrees that bone marrow transplants save lives. This case is about whether individuals can make choices about compensating someone or receiving compensation for making a bone marrow donation without the government stopping them.”

Book Review: Slackernomics, by Dale Franks

Those of you that have been around the libertarian blogosphere for any length of time will recognize the name Dale Franks. His main writing gig is over at QandO, where he spends the bulk of his time writing about the economy. In addition, he’s a bit of a gunblogger, and runs a separate blog for motorcycles.

At one point a few years ago I had noticed a link to a book Dale has written called Slackernomics: Basic Economics for People Who Think Economics is Boring. Given that I’m not the type who thinks economics is boring, but had enjoyed his blogging, I wanted to get a chance to read it. At that time, the book was only available in print at a price above $20. It took a spot on my “buy when I get around to it list”, and sat there for quite some time, but I never pulled the trigger. Then, more recently, it became avaiable for the Kindle at only $2.99 — I no longer had an excuse not to buy it. So onto the Kindle it went, and after several long months of sitting there taking up space, I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.

Slackernomics is a primer on basic economic theory that, as the title suggests, is written for people who think economics is boring. It’s written in a convivial tone, and the illustrative examples that Dale uses reminds one more of Freakonomics than of Adam Smith. Don’t let that fool you, though — the book is not a “sideshow” like Freakonomics — it gets to the heart of the matter. I liken it to be similar to Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in one Lesson”, but written for people who may not be interested in the more formal writing style of Hazlitt. In addition, having been written many decades after Hazlitt’s book, it’s obviously much more up to date.

The book covers everything from price theory, minimum wage & rent control to monetary theory and the business cycle, Keynesianism, taxes / deficit spending, savings & investment, and economic statistics. He continues with a great defense of free trade and a bit of entrance into politics (touching a tad on public choice theory). In all, for being a relatively short book, he hits all the major notes that anyone looking for an introduction to economic thought would need to learn.

But the big question, for readers of this blog, is whether it’s worth it to buy. “Am I going to learn anything new?” And I can honestly say that despite the fact that I read economic books & blogs for leisure, and that I’ve blogged a fair bit about economics myself, I learned some new things from Slackernomics. Dale’s fourth chapter, unwinding the mess of the myriad of economic reports and statistics he’s constantly posting on Twitter, Google+, and at QandO, was wonderful. I’ve looked at many of these reports merely reading analysts *reaction* to the numbers (Higher jobless claims? How unexpected!), but rarely understood which group (public or private) was putting out certain reports nor how they all fit together. For me, a layman who is conversant on a lot of economic theory but not as perhaps on the technical reports, I have never seen an explanation of the reports that come out each week and each month as simple and readable as that chapter. That was more than worth it for my $2.99.

So my recommendation is simple: at $2.99, if you have a Kindle (or a device with a Kindle app), it’s hard to pass it up. You’re almost assured to get your money’s worth from the book. Even further, if you know someone in high school or college that may not have received good schooling in economics (which is, unfortunately, most of them), and who isn’t exactly about to tackle The Wealth of Nations, find a way to get them a copy of Slackernomics. Dale’s writing style will keep them interested.

All in all, it’s a book that lives up to its title, and goes well beyond.

Peter Schiff to OWS: “I Am the 1% Let’s Talk”

Here’s a very fascinating video taken at New York’s Zuccotti Park where Peter Schiff has a dialogue with some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Schiff brought a sign that read “I Am the 1% Let’s Talk,” and talk they did.

One of the things that occurred to me watching this was how little true discussion is going on between the OWS movement and their critics. Notice how some of the protesters say things like “you rich people” or “you Republicans” etc. Just as its unfair for these protesters to lump everyone into these groups is a mistake, I think it’s also a mistake to assume that all of these protesters are clueless and don’t have some legitimate grievances.

Kudos to Peter Schiff for going out among the protesters and having this much needed conversation. There seems to be some common ground concerning these grievances; the real differences are what the solutions should be.

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