Milton Friedman interviewed by e-rooster.gr

Q. Dr. Friedman, I wish to thank you for the great opportunity to present your views through our website. I would like to start by asking you how do you view the status of individual freedom worldwide today, compared to how it looked when you started your career.

A. The situation has improved greatly. When I started my career in the 1930s and then just after the war, intellectual opinion worldwide was dominated by collectivism. A large fraction of the world’s population lived in communist regimes, collectivist and
dictatorial. Even in the so-called West there was a strong sentiment in favour of collectivism. We came through World War II with a great deal of government intervention which gave government planning a good name although the results were hard to see.

As of today the situation is very different. Socialism has been discredited. The original dictionary definition of socialism is «government ownership and operation of the means of production.» No one any longer believes that that is an appropriate way to govern. There are only a few small places in the world where that is how government now runs. Today it is simply taken for granted that free private enterprise and free private markets are the way to achieve prosperity and wealth as well as to foster individual and personal freedom. Much of this change in opinion must be attributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. That demonstrated that central direction is not a way to run a prosperous and free society.

Q. What was in your opinion the contribution of free markets and property rights in this change?

wherever you have had a considerable degree of prosperity there has been a
very large element of free markets and private property

A. The contribution was not of free markets and property rights but of the absence of free markets and property rights. It was the absence of free markets and property rights that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was the absence of free markets and property rights that led to the desperate poverty of China and to the basic change in economic policy within China as well as more recently in India. What is also true is that wherever you have had a considerable degree of prosperity there has been a
very large element of free markets and private property.

Q. Why is individual freedom such an important factor for prosperity and democracy?

A. Fundamentally because nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own. Therefore a world in which the economy is organized through some people spending other people’s money is unlikely to be an economy which has any
degree of prosperity or much freedom.

Q. Do you see liberal ideas and policies advancing or retreating today?

A. Liberal ideas are clearly advancing today. If you look at the past thirty years, there have been efforts worldwide to promote liberal ideas and policies. The Atlas Foundation, for example, is an organization of free market think tanks around the world which has something like 150 or more free market think tanks linked to it. The
Fraser Institute has organized around the world cooperation with think tanks in connection with producing once a year a ranking of individual countries by their extent of free markets. On all sides there is intellectual and cultural activity directed at promoting human freedom. The effect of such action is retarded by the special interests which in many cases control the political systems in various countries, but they cannot last forever.

Q. After fighting against totalitarian systems and socialist/conservative welfare systems in the twentieth century, who do you recognize as the modern intellectual and political enemies of individual economic and political freedom? What are the new threats we are facing?

A. We are not facing any new threats; we are facing old threats, the same threats as before. They all derive from excessive governmental action. They all derive from some individuals within the community trying to take advantage of the concentrated power of the government to benefit themselves and provide themselves with special privileges and monopolies. Government intervention is the fundamental threat
to human freedom.

Q. Do you believe the environmental movement is trying to set us on a new “green road to serfdom”?

Experience has shown that the greater the role of free markets in a country, the greener in fact that country is

A. No, I do not. The environmental movement has many strands. There are some groups within the environmental movement who believe that environmental objectives can be and should be obtained by command and control, by central direction. That would lead to the result you fear. On the other hand, there are also large groups in the environmental movement who believe that markets are the most
effective and efficient way to achieve their objectives. Many of the measures they propose would expand rather than reduce human freedom.

Experience has shown that the greater the role of free markets in a country, the greener in fact that country is.

Q. In Europe, and in Greece in particular, there is a big discussion about a possible fusion between liberalism and social-democracy. Do you believe there could be a middle ground between the opposite fundamental principles and values of these ideologies?

Oil and water will not mix and neither will collectivism and freedom

A. I do not believe there can be a clear fusion. The liberal ideal rests on individual freedom and individual responsibility. The social democracy ideal rests on collective responsibility. Oil and water will not mix and neither will collectivism and freedom. That does not mean that a liberal society cannot tolerate, and indeed require patches of social democracy.

Q. Last year European Union failed to establish a common constitution. How do you see the economic and political future of European Union? Has it lived up to the expectations you had for it when it started?

A. When the European Union was started with the Treaty of Rome, the aim was to promote free trade among the members of the European Union. That task it has achieved quite well. There has been a large increase in the volume of trade among the nations composing the European Union. That increase in trade has contributed to the
well-being and prosperity of Europe without imposing any restrictions on human freedom. On the contrary, it has expanded it.

Since then there have been two major additions. The first is a bureaucratic administration in Brussels consisting of unelected, appointed individuals who have charge of various areas of the economy. The rule-making that comes from Brussels has in my opinion probably done more harm than good.

I know of no other case in which politically independent countries have adopted a paper money as their common standard

The other major addition is the European Monetary Union. I believe it was a mistake to adopt the euro. It is unique in monetary history. I know of no other case in which politically independent countries have adopted a paper money as their common standard. There are many cases in which different countries have used the same standard-the gold standard, the silver standard and the like-but in all of those cases the individual countries retained the right to depart from the standard or to remain with it, and the standard itself was not something created by human beings but a commodity existing in nature. In my opinion, the euro will become more of a source of disagreement among the members of the community than a source of agreement and will sooner or later break down.

As to the failure to adopt the proposed constitution, in my opinion that was a good thing. The constitution would have established a really centralized, non-democratic political body which would have had considerable power over the residents of the European Union, arbitrary power not subject to effective check and balance.

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