Opinion

The 25 Best Quotes from Legendary Economist Milton Friedman

Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman was one of the most influential economists to ever live. Friedman was brilliant, a champion of freedom, free trade, and free markets, and was still sharp into his nineties, which I can tell you definitively because I interviewed him back in September of 2003.

One of the reasons it’s important to put together the quotes of someone like Milton Friedman is that it takes us back to first principles. People need much more of that and much less of the blatant propaganda, socialist fairy tales, and “say whatever people want to hear” nonsense that passes for so much of politics these days.

Milton Friedman had the kind of old, real knowledge that far too few people are handing out these days. So, pay attention to these quotes and share them with your friends. The more people that are exposed to the wisdom of men like Milton Friedman, the better off we’ll be.

25) “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.”

24) “Because we live in a largely free society, we tend to forget how limited is the span of time and the part of the globe for which there has ever been anything like political freedom: the typical state of mankind is tyranny, servitude, and misery. The nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the Western world stand out as striking exceptions to the general trend of historical development. Political freedom in this instance clearly came along with the free market and the development of capitalist institutions. So also did political freedom in the golden age of Greece and in the early days of the Roman era.”

23) “The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.”

22) “Inflation is taxation without legislation.”

21) “When the United States was formed in 1776, it took 19 people on the farm to produce enough food for 20 people. So most of the people had to spend their time and efforts on growing food. Today, it’s down to 1% or 2% to produce that food. Now just consider the vast amount of supposed unemployment that was produced by that. But there wasn’t really any unemployment produced. What happened was that people who had formerly been tied up working in agriculture were freed by technological developments and improvements to do something else. That enabled us to have a better standard of living and a more extensive range of products.”

20) “Another source of “unfair competition” is said to be subsidies by foreign governments to their producers that enable them to sell in the United States below cost. Suppose a foreign government gives such subsidies, as no doubt some do. Who is hurt and who benefits? To pay for the subsidies the foreign government must tax its citizens. They are the ones who pay for the subsidies. US consumers benefit. They get cheap TV sets or automobiles or whatever that is subsidized. Should we complain about such a program of reverse foreign aid?”

19) “The majority does rule. But it is a rather special kind of majority. It consists of a coalition of special-interest minorities. The way to get elected to Congress is to collect groups of, say, 2 or 3 percent of your constituents, each of which is strongly interested in one special issue that hardly concerns the rest of your constituents. Each group will be willing to vote for you if you promise to back its issue regardless of what you do about other issues. Put together enough such groups and you will have a 51 percent majority. That is the kind of logrolling majority that rules the country.”

18) “Two major arguments are offered for introducing socialized medicine in the United States: first, that medical costs are beyond the means of most Americans; second that socialization will somehow reduce costs. The second can be dismissed out of hand — at least until someone can find some example of an activity that is conducted more economically by the government than private enterprise. As to the first, the people of the country must pay the costs one way or the other; the only question is whether they pay them directly on their own behalf, or indirectly through the mediation of government bureaucrats who will subtract a substantial slice for their own salaries and expenses.”

17) “There is nothing as permanent as a temporary government program.”

16) “I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible.”

15) “If all we want are jobs, we can create any number—for example, have people dig holes and then fill them up again, or perform other useless tasks. Work is sometimes its own reward. Mostly, however, it is the price we pay to get the things we want. Our real objective is not just jobs but productive jobs—jobs that will mean more goods and services to consume.”

14) “A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it … gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”

13) “Most economic fallacies derive from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another.”

12) “Economists may not know much. But we know one thing very well: how to produce surpluses and shortages. Do you want a surplus? Have the government legislate a minimum price that is above the price that would otherwise prevail. That is what we have done at one time or another to produce surpluses of wheat, of sugar, of butter, of many other commodities. Do you want a shortage? Have the government legislate a maximum price that is below the price that would otherwise prevail.”

11) “Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men. The fundamental threat to freedom is the power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority. The preservation of freedom requires the elimination of such concentration of power to the fullest possible extent and the dispersal and distribution of whatever power cannot be eliminated — a system of checks and balances.”

10) “There is all the difference in the world, however, between two kinds of assistance through government that seem superficially similar: first, 90 percent of us agreeing to impose taxes on ourselves in order to help the bottom 10 percent, and second, 80 percent voting to impose taxes on the top 10 percent to help the bottom 10 percent – William Graham Sumner’s famous example of B and C decided what D shall do for A. The first may be wise or unwise, an effective or ineffective way to help the disadvantaged – but it is consistent with belief in both equality of opportunity and liberty. The second seeks equality of outcome and is entirely antithetical to liberty.”

9) “The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem.”

8) “The great danger to the consumer is the monopoly — whether private or governmental. His most effective protection is free competition at home and free trade throughout the world. The consumer is protected from being exploited by one seller by the existence of another seller from whom he can buy and who is eager to sell to him. Alternative sources of supply protect the consumer far more effectively than all the Ralph Naders of the world.”

7) “The great virtue of a free-market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.”

6) “It is one thing to have free immigration to jobs. It is another thing to have free immigration to welfare. And you cannot have both. If you have a welfare state, if you have a state in which every resident is promised a certain minimal level of income, or a minimum level of subsistence, regardless of whether he works or not, produces it or not, then it really is an impossible thing.”

5) “When everybody owns something, nobody owns it, and nobody has a direct interest in maintaining or improving its condition. That is why buildings in the Soviet Union – like public housing in the United States – look decrepit within a year or two of their construction…”

4) “Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody uses somebody else’s resources as carefully as he uses his own. So, if you want efficiency and effectiveness, if you want knowledge to be properly utilized, you have to do it through the means of private property.”

3) “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand.”

2) “I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”

1) “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.”


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