A Young Idealist Inquires on The Role of Government in a Free Society
Credits: Standford Student, Milton Friedman
When talking about a governments role in a free society you mention some of the market failures and I think you may have just passed over one that is of utmost importance and that is of poverty. And in prefacing my question I'd like to refer to what president Kennedy said. He said that if a free society cannot help the many who are poor it cannot save the few who are rich. And to say that we are a government of the people and when there's a large sector of the people who are hurting, perhaps it is the responsibility of this government of the people to help out.Milton Friedman:
The problem...ya.Student (Holding up finger politely):
My question is regarding...how free are the poor, how free are the unemployed and how free are those people who are disadvantaged. And so in reference to that, what is governments role?Milton Friedman:
First of all...I'm glad to see one vote for the poor. First of all the government doesn't have any responsibility. People have responsibility. This building doesn't have responsibility. You and I have responsibility. People have responsibility.
Second of all, the question is how can we as people exercise our responsibility to our fellow man most effectively. That's the problem. So far as poverty is concerned, there has never in history been a more effective machine for eliminating poverty than the free enterprise system and the free market.
The period in which you had the greatest improvement in the lot of ordinary men was the period of the 19th and early 20th century. Those of us in this room are the heirs of that. We benefited from the way in which our parents and grandparents were able to come here and by virtue of the freedom that was offered to them, made a better life for them and us.
Next if you look at the real problems of poverty and denial of freedom of people in this country, almost every single one of them is the result of bad government action and would be eliminated if you eliminated the bad government failures.
Let me be precise and specific. Why do we have so high an unemployment rate among black teenagers? It's a disgrace and a scandal. First of all we give them lousy schooling through governmental schools which make them unqualified to hold decent jobs. Second of all we require employers to discriminate against them by not hiring them unless their productivity is enough to justify a minimum wage.
The minimum wage law is the most anti-negro law on the books. Thirdly we've constructed a government welfare scheme which has been a machine for creating the poor.
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