Friday, November 24, 2006

Fried(man) from Poverty

I have been reading with interest the adulatory tributes (such as this one in today's Hongkong Standard) to the recently deceased economist Milton Friedman. Certainly Friedman is worthy of note for his technical contributions to his field, which won him the Nobel Prize.

However, a far more dubious part of Friedman's heritage is the ideological underpinning his free market obsessions provided for the worst excessses of the Thatcher/Reagan era (which still lingers today), when greed, previously regarded throughout human history as a sin, was instead elevated into a virtue. The road to the Enron scandal essentially originated from the Economics Department of the University of Chicago.

Also dubious was Friedman's frequent citation of Hong Kong as the chief exemplar of the success of the free market. Certainly no one who lives here can fail to acquire a healthy respect for the merits of entrepreneurism, but I strongly believe that the biggest single contribution to the prosperity Hong Kong enjoys today has been the government housing programme, which over the last half century has lifted millions of people out of insanitary and dangerous squatter huts into clean, safe and affordable public housing. Today a third of the population still lives in public housing; at one time it was more than one half.

Could private enterprise have achieved this without government intervention? I doubt it.

And incidentally, the claim in a number of the obituaries that Friedman coined the saying "there's no such thing as a free lunch" should not go unchallenged. Certainly Friedman popularised it, but there is another claimant to its origination: science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein. There is no clear evidence as to which of the two used the phrase first; maybe it predates both.

2 comments:

Pope Benny Hates you too said...

Wow, such a sensible blog, and then you go commenting on the ramblings of a filthy slut. What a guy!

Oh, and just to raise the bar, go fuck yourself.

Private Beach said...

So, not only do you yourself read these "ramblings" in Sash's blog, but you feel compelled to follow the link here to compliment me oh so politely on being sensible. Well, gee, thanks.

By the way, the act you suggest is physiologically impossible.