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What …? If …? How …?

(“Private” reflections for Miltonites*)

What does one do when captured by a phrase? The phrase, “Our minds tell us, and history confirms …” comes from page 2 of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. He uses it to protest excessive government, and he is probably (mostly) right, BUT somehow, he seems entirely unconscious of the “private” side of what “Our minds tell us, and history confirms ….” With each of his critiques of the public sector, a private sector parallel rears its substantial, unacknowledged head. Consider:

If we must keep government “from becoming a [public] Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect,”1 what of private Frankensteins? What of private sector employment contracts that limit speech, that require work on Holy Days, that deny freedom of association, that create master/servant relationships, that subsume “common traditions” and loyalties to employer demands, that command and control and centralize in pursuit of efficiency and profit; etc., etc.?

If “[o]ur minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power,”1 why should we blindly, passively trust the self-regulating free-market that inexorably concentrates both wealth and power?

If two broad Constitutional principles have preserved our freedom despite repeated “violations in practice,”2 might not the same principles to preserve freedom apply to the private sector and its violations: namely, limiting the size of market players and dispersing their power (but not their responsibility)?

How can we “insure that the private sector is a check on the powers of the governmental sector3 when private sector money pursues and buys power and influence for self-interested agendas and curtails with impunity many of the fundamental freedoms as noted above?

If “[t]he preservation of freedom is the protective reason for limiting and decentralizing governmental power,”3 what about protecting freedom by limiting and decentralizing private economic power?

If “[t]he great advances of civilization … have never come from centralized government … or … in response to governmental directives4 are those advances attributable to competitive capitalism or in spite of competitive capitalism? Were any of Friedman’s named achievers4 motivated by competition, efficiency, and profit, or were they impassioned by gifts, inspirations, and altruism?

If “[g]overnment can never duplicate the variety and diversity of individual action,4 can competitive, corporate capitalism do so? Are not uniformity, standardization, conformity, stagnation, and mediocrity4also characteristic of most oversized “competitive” corporations? Where does most innovation come from—born from the head of a Zeus-corp or born in some obscure garage by real individuals?

If “freedom [is] the ultimate goal and the individual [is] the ultimate entity in society,”5 why is competitive capitalism chiefly built on the collective model with command and control centralized in top-down dictatorships of master/servant relationships? And does the legal-fiction that calls a corporate collective, an “individual with individual rights” really convince us that competitive capitalism based on such a fiction is the defending champion of freedom and individualism?

If “[a]ny system [i.e., Federal Reserve System] which gives so much power and so much discretion to a few men that mistakes—excusable or not—can have such far-reaching effects is a bad system … because it gives a few men such power without any effective check by the body politic,” what about the private and financial sector’s deregulation passion begun in the 1980s that “disperse[d] responsibility yet [gave] a few men great power,” without effective check?6

If the U.S. government’s “abrogation of the gold clauses [in the 1930s] was a measure destructive of the basic principles of free enterprise” by declaring contracts “invalid for the benefit of one of the parties!” what of private sector corporate restructuring which does the same?7

How are we going to get beyond entrenched fallacious theories, one-eyed analyses, justifications, and myths and manias of the “free-market” until we honestly consider what “our minds tell us, and history confirms …” about BOTH the public and private (corporate dominated) sectors? If collectivism is really masquerading in capitalistic, individualist clothing, do we have a free-market or just the pretence of one?

*All page references below refer to Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (Fortieth Anniversary Edition) The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, © 1962, 1982, 2002
1. p. 2
2. pp. 2-3
3. p. 3
4. pp. 3-4
5. p. 5
6. p. 50
7. p. 60