Friedman & Friedman

Punditokraternes absolutte favorit-pensionistpar, Milton & Rose Friedman, blev lørdag portrætteret i Wall Street Journal i et interessant, underholdende og på nogle punkter overraskende interview, "The Romance of Economics", skrevet af Tunku Varadarajan.  Her er nogle klip:

"[…] Milton Friedman is everyone's idea of an American oracle, an American sage. Sages, of course, have their oddities, and the interview last week–at Mr. Friedman's surprisingly petite office at the Hoover Institution, on the campus of Stanford University–got off to a surreal beginning. By his desk hangs a map of Belize–one of those stylized souvenirs made of cloth, embroidered to catch the eye. Why, I asked him, did he have a map of Belize on his wall? Mr. Friedman turned, looked at the object, and said: "I don't know. I really don't know." Not a good start to the interview, some might say …"

Jeg har selv for nogle år siden interviewet Friedman, og han må have fået det Belize-kort siden–eller også var jeg simpelthen for nervøs og "awe-struck" til at bemærke det.  Da jeg mødte ham, havde jeg iøvrigt på en varm juli dag dresset mig op i pæneste jakkesæt og Adam Smith slips.  Milton derimod var superafslappet i shorts og t-shirt, men han sagde da "Nice tie … I've got one like it myself …".  Nå, tilbage til WSJ-interviewet.


"… I made a reflexive apology for not being an economist myself. "You mean you're not a trained economist," was Mr. Friedman's comeback. "I have found, over a long time, that some people are natural economists. They don't take a course, but they understand–the principles seem obvious to them. Other people may have Ph.D.s in economics, but they're not economists. They don't think like an economist. Strange, but true." "

Det kan man jo kun nikke til.  Så hvem synes Friedman var "naturlige økonomer"?  Her kan nogle læsere nok få sig en overraskelse–især dem, der kun har deres viden om Keynesianisme vs. Monetarisme fra danske universiteters 1. dels undervisning:

""Was Keynes a "natural economist"?

"Oh, yes, sure! Keynes was a great economist. In every discipline, progress comes from people who make hypotheses, most of which turn out to be wrong, but all of which ultimately point to the right answer. Now Keynes, in 'The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,' set forth a hypothesis which was a beautiful one, and it really altered the shape of economics. But it turned out that it was a wrong hypothesis. That doesn't mean that he wasn't a great man!"

It cannot be said of too many economists that they "altered the shape of economics." Would Mr. Friedman say–modesty aside–that he was one of them? A long silence ensued–modesty, clearly, was hard to put aside–before he mumbled, as if squeezing words out of himself, "Er . . . very hard to say . . ." And then he was saved by the belle: The door opened, and in walked Rose, his wife, bringing a waft of panache into the drab office, her impact enhanced by a beautiful mink coat …

Mrs. Friedman settled herself in a chair, her eyes twinkling, and my questioning resumed. If they were to throw a small dinner party–indoors!–for Mr. Friedman's favorite economists (dead or alive), who'd be invited? Gone was his tonguetied-ness of a moment ago, as he reeled off this answer: "Dead or alive, it's clear that Adam Smith would be No. 1. Alfred Marshall would be No. 2. John Maynard Keynes would be No. 3. And George Stigler would be No. 4. George was one of our closest friends." (Here, Mrs. Friedman, also an economist of distinction, noted sorrowfully that "it's hard to believe that George is dead.")"

Og så nogle af de mere uortodokse spørgsmål:

"Had it helped their marriage–now in its 68th year–that they are both economists? Rose (nodding affirmatively): "Uh-unh. But I don't argue with him . . . very much." Milton (guffawing): Don't believe her! She does her share of arguing . . ." Rose (interrupting): ". . . and I'm not competitive, so I haven't tried to compete with you." Milton (uxoriously): "She's been very helpful in all of my work. There's nothing I've written that she hasn't gone over first."

The spark between the Friedmans is clear, and rather touching. So I'm tempted to ask whether there is a romantic side to economics, in the way there is to history, or to philosophy. "Is there a romantic side to economics?" Mr. Friedman repeats after me, sounding incredulous, and then chuckling. "No, I don't think so. There's a romantic side to economics in the same way there's a romantic side to physics. Fundamentally, economics is a science, like physics, like chemistry. . . . It's a science about how human beings organize their cooperative activities. … In that sense, it's not particularly romantic."


Og så til de kontroversielle spørgsmål, såsom indvandring, hvor Friedman har et noget mere "pragmatisk" syn på regulering af dette område end mange andre liberale og et mindre indvandrerfjendsk syn end mange konservative:

"Is immigration, I asked–especially illegal immigration–good for the economy, or bad? "It's neither one nor the other," Mr. Friedman replied. "But it's good for freedom. In principle, you ought to have completely open immigration. But with the welfare state it's really not possible to do that. . . . She's an immigrant," he added, pointing to his wife. "She came in just before World War I." (Rose–smiling gently: "I was two years old.") "If there were no welfare state," he continued, "you could have open immigration, because everybody would be responsible for himself." Was he suggesting that one can't have immigration reform without welfare reform? "No, you can have immigration reform, but you can't have open immigration without largely the elimination of welfare.

"At the moment I oppose unlimited immigration. I think much of the opposition to immigration is of that kind–because it's a fundamental tenet of the American view that immigration is good, that there would be no United States if there had not been immigration. Of course, there are many things that are easier now for immigrants than there used to be. . . ."

Did he mean there was much less pressure to integrate now than there used to be? Milton: "I'm not sure that's true . . ." Rose (speaking simultaneously): "That's the unfortunate thing . . ." Milton: "But I don't think it's true . . ." Rose: "Oh, I think it is! That's one of the problems, when immigrants come across and want to remain Mexican." Milton: "Oh, but they came in the past and wanted to be Italian, and be Jewish&#160
;. . ." Rose: "No they didn't. The ones that did went back."

Og så til Bush, Republikanerne og Irak-krigen, hvor der for en sjælden gangs skyld er uenighed mellem de kendte ægtefæller (hvoraf det er alment kendt, at det faktisk er Rose Friedman, der som regel er den mere liberale, og at hun og broderen, Aaron Director, i sin tid fik nogle af den unge Miltons mindre liberale ideer ud af hovedet på ham).

"Mr. Friedman explains "the story of the postwar period" in the U.S. "In 1945-46, intellectual opinion was almost entirely collectivist. But practice was free market. Government was spending something like 20%-25% of national income. But the ideas of people were all for more government. And so from 1945 to 1980 you had a period of galloping socialism. Government started expanding and expanding and expanding." Mr. Friedman stopped, as if deciding whether to use the word "expanding" a fourth time, before continuing: "And government spending went from 20% to 40% of national income.

But what was happening in the economy was producing a reverse movement in opinion. Now people could see, as government started to regulate more, the bad effects of government involvement. And intellectual opinion began to move away from socialism toward capitalism. That, in my view, was why Ronald Reagan was able to get elected in 1980." I noted, here, that Mr. Friedman, too, had some role to play in this shift in opinion. He was, characteristically, reluctant to take any credit. "I think we have a tendency to attribute much too much importance to our own words. People saw what was happening. They wouldn't have read my Newsweek columns and books if the facts on the ground hadn't been the way they were." (Rose: "Oh, don't be so modest!")

Does it disappoint Mr. Friedman that the Bush administration hasn't been able to roll back spending? "Yes," he said. "But let's go back a moment. During the 1990s, you had the combination that is best for holding down spending. A Democrat in the White House and Republicans controlling Congress. That's what produced the surpluses at the end of the Clinton era, and during the whole of that era there was a trend for spending to come down. Then the Republicans come in, and they've been in the desert, and so you have a burst of spending in the first Bush term. And he refuses to veto anything, so he doesn't exercise any real influence on cutting down spending. In 2008, you may very well get a Democratic president"–(Rose, interjecting: "God forbid!")–"and if you can keep a Republican House and Senate, you'll get back to a combination that will reduce spending."

Mr. Friedman here shifted focus. "What's really killed the Republican Party isn't spending, it's Iraq. As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression." Mrs. Friedman–listening to her husband with an ear cocked–was now muttering darkly.

Milton: "Huh? What?" Rose: "This was not aggression!" Milton (exasperatedly): "It was aggression. Of course it was!" Rose: "You count it as aggression if it's against the people, not against the monster who's ruling them. We don't agree. This is the first thing to come along in our lives, of the deep things, that we don't agree on. We have disagreed on little things, obviously–such as, I don't want to go out to dinner, he wants to go out–but big issues, this is the first one!" Milton: "But, having said that, once we went in to Iraq, it seems to me very important that we make a success of it." Rose: "And we will!"

Mrs. Friedman, you will note, had the last word."

5 thoughts on “Friedman & Friedman

  1. Jakob

    Den gode Milton Friedman, tror dog at jeg personligt oftere vil være enig mere enig med Rose Friedman.I disse dage, hvor DR2 sender anti-kapitalisme-dokumentaren ‘The Corporation’ (på dansk, De Multinationale), kunne man ønske en situation, hvor Miltons TV-dokumentar ‘Free to Choose’ blev sendt i stedet – eller i det mindste som modvægt. (Milton optræder faktisk kortvarigt i ‘The Corporation’, men dokumentarens budskab er dog nærmere Michael Moore’ og Noam Chomskys.Faldt over dette interview med Milton, som jeg ikke havde set før. Det kan man jo så lune sig på i sommervarmen, det er sort/hvid, men stadig bevingede ord!

  2. Jakob

    Se, det viser jo blot, at jeg ikke læser Punditokraterne tit nok.Måske var det noget at omtale Miltons glimrende TV-serie “Free to choose”, som man kan se i fuld længde på Google video: er både de 10 originale PBS afsnit fra 1980 og de fem opdaterede PBS afsnit fra 1990.Serien kunne jeg godt have set brugt i undervisningen på CBS eller måske på handelsskolen (ja, vel egentlig i alle undervisningsmæssige sammenhænge). Serien halter lidt pga. alderen, men den sunde fornuft og pædagogiske eksempler løfter serien højt.MVH Jakob


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