Doubting Capitalism


Credits: Phil Donahue, Milton Friedman

One of the nicest guys in the world, Phil Donahue decided to ask Milton Friedman a loaded question routinely brought out to paint conservatives as heartless. Milton was not a conservative. He was a capitalist and a historian and an economist in the classical sense before the financial industry had turned that into something else. Either way, Milton was having none of it.

Phil Donahue: When you see around the globe the mal-distribution of wealth...the desperate plight of millions of people in underdeveloped countries...uhhhh...when you see so few haves and so many have-nots...when you see the greed and the concentration of power...aren't you ever...don't you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism? And whether greed's a good idea to run on?

Milton Friedman: Well first of all tell me is there some society you know that doesn't run on greed? Do you think Russia doesn't run on greed? You think China doesn't run on greed? What is greed? Of course none of us are greedy [laughter] it's only the other fellow who's greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn't construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn't revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases where the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty that you're talking about...the only cases in recorded history are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worst's in exactly the kind of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear. That there is no alternative far discovered...of improving the lot of the ordinary people ...that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.

Phil Donahue: But it seems to reward...not much as ability to manipulate the system.

Milton Friedman: And what does reward virtue? Do you think the Communist Commissariat reward virtue? Do you think a Hitler rewards virtue? You think, excuse me, if you'll pardon me, do you think American Presidents reward virtue? Do they choose appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed or is it their political clout. Is it really true that political self interest is nobler somehow than economic self interest? You know I think you're taking a lot of things for granted. And just tell me where in the world do you find these angels...who are going to organize society for us? [laughter]

Phil Donahue: Well...

Milton Friedman: I don't even trust you to do that [laughter] let alone myself. [Applause]

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Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman

was a Nobel prize winning economist and free market capitalist known for his honest appeal.

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