Looking back at the lessons Milton Friedman was teaching decades ago, it’s hard not to be amazed by how closely they mirror the disputes of today, and saddened that such self-evident truths must still be argued all over again today.
Warnings of the excessive growth of government, with too many regulations, too much taxation, too much spending, and too much debt seem to have gone unheeded. The benefits of policies like school vouchers, free trade, and the elimination of regulations and bailouts (that only serve to profit one company over another and increase costs to the consumer) have gone unrealized.
The blame for this lack of progress can be laid at the feet of politicians. But as Milton Friedman correctly observed, politicians are not angels, they operate under the same rules of self-interest we all do. Dr. Friedman believed that we cannot improve things by voting in “better” politicians, since they are only following the wishes of those who elect them. What is needed, through persuasion and education, is “better” voters who reward politicians for decisions made in the public good. Only when voters stop rewarding the politician that promises them a “free lunch”, benefits paid for by others, will you get wise long term decisions. The politicians won’t be getting any nobler; they will just be getting more noble instructions from the voters.
As the debate rages this week over increasing the debt limit, and the deadline approaches, we need to redouble our efforts to spread Dr. Milton Friedman’s message to America’s voters. We have spent decades electing politicians to hand out “free” benefits. Hardly a man, woman or child in America does not directly benefit from some federal program, or receive federal payments, paid for with federal debt that threatens to bankrupt our nation. What is needed is to reward the elected officials that cut government spending we cannot afford (even if it is a program that we benefit from) and punish those that think they can continue indefinitely to bribe us with our own dollars. Let the politicians know that November 2012 is coming.