Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bambi Meets Godzilla, II

Thanks to Ross Bebee for this classic clip from Milton Freedman on wealth, poverty, and economics. It looks to be a Phil Donahue Show from the 1980s.

8 comments:

Sarah Geis said...

What a beautiful thing to hear! The defense of Capitalism as the best of all flawed options is now rarely articulated in public and is frequently assaulted. Such rational discussion on the topic is extremely refreshing. (Though Donahue did seem to be a bit perturbed)

Paul said...

Sorry Milton and Phil, but virtue is its own reward; it does not require a reward from anything else. Virtue is a final state, not an intermediary one. Capitalism can be viewed as a virtue or a mean between two extremes, but that does not entail that capitalism, or anything for that matter, "rewards" virtue. That's like saying that virtue rewards virtue. The presuppositional logic of Phil and Milton are flawed.

Doug Groothuis said...

Paul:

I think Milton is simply arguing that generally power is better placed in the hands of freely interacting economic agents than in the coercive power of the state. Economics may or may not reward virtue.

Steve Schuler said...

Friedman:
"...Is there some society that you know that doesn't run on greed?...The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interest."(followed by brief comments rationally supporting the benefits of free market economies)

Donahue:
"But it seems to reward not virtue as much as an individuals ability to manipulate the system."

Friedman:
"And what does reward virtue? Do you think the communist commissar rewards virtue? Do you think a Hitler rewards virtue? Do you think, excuse me, if you'll pardon me, do you think American presidents reward virtue? Do they choose their appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed or on the basis of 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. Just tell me where in the world do you find these angels who are going to organize society for us? I don't even trust you to do that."

It would be a mistake to give too much significance to 2 minutes and 34 seconds of dialog between Friedman and Donahue. It would be interesting to see this conversation in it's entirety, and in fact is the kind of conversation I wish were more prevalent in the media. If the air time consumed by polemic diatribes against the enemy were supplanted by intelligent dialog I think we all would be the better for it. Unforunately it seems there is a very limited market for this sort of thing. Just imagine the possiblities if the (excuse me) moronic rants of the Rush Limbaughs, Michael Moores, and Howard Sterns of the airways were supplanted by informative and provocative discussion. Just an expression of my "Hippie Dream", I suppose.? I guess it's impossible to sell what people aren't willing to buy, the reason for the failure of Air America? I guess it's just a matter of time until those Hollywood Democrats figure out how to package their product in a marketable form. Or maybe not...

The thing that bothers me about Friedman is not that I think he is wrong, but that I am afraid that he is right. Not disputing that currently the world is largely governed and driven by people pursuing selfish interest but that it might be "as good as it gets." He challenges Donahue on his pollyannish notion that there might be some system other than capitalism that would value virtue over power, but seems also to dismiss virtue as having value. I hope, but don't know, that he is wrong. I imagined Jesus in dialog with Donahue in this exchange speaking Friedman's words. It certainly creates an image of Jesus' message inconsistent with the image I have formed.

That you have chosen to call this blog entry "Bambi Meets Godzilla, II" indicates to me that you see this exchange as "Righteous Conservative destroys Naive Liberal in Gruesome Smackdown". Is this the sort of thing that you believe Jesus celebrates?

Tim said...

The interview is from 1979.

I was struck by many interesting things packed into just a few minutes in this clip. One of the most striking is how Friedman, presented with a wildly loaded introductory question, spent no time flailing but went straight to the heart of the faulty presupposition built into Donahue's question. Besides being right, Friedman demonstrated a superb ability to think on his feet in what could have been a very difficult rhetorical situation. Donahue never got the initiative back; indeed, by the end of the segment, the studio audience is chuckling as Friedman makes telling points with humor and good grace.

Steve Schuler said...

"I imagined Jesus in dialog with Donahue in this exchange speaking Friedman's words. It certainly creates an image of Jesus' message inconsistent with the image I have formed."

As I have reconsidered what Friedman was saying and my own reaction as expressed above, I have been moved to a different perspective. Actually what Friedman said pertaining to the reality that no system rewards virtue is quite consistent with my understanding of Jesus' message. I am not sure what value Friedman would give virtue, what role he thinks it does, or should have, in society and our economic lives. Perhaps we are too concerned with identifying and promoting political and economic systems that encourage the development of virtue, that "reward virtue", when, in fact, no such system exist or is possible. If it is possible for humankind to realize "virtue" it seems that is something that each individual must come to alone. One by one is goodness realized, and so a society is constructed. I have far to go.

Ray said...

Dr. Groothuis,

What do you make of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism? I know many Christians who have read - and recommended - her works but I can't bring myself to invest much time in someone who was so militant in her atheism. Even though she was a staunch free marketer, her me-first selfishness is off putting. I guess what I'm asking is is she worth reading?

Ray said...

Dr. Groothuis,

What do you make of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism? I know many Christians who have read - and recommended - her works but I can't bring myself to invest much time in someone who was so militant in her atheism. Even though she was a staunch free marketer, her me-first selfishness is off putting. I guess what I'm asking is is she worth reading?