Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Milton Friedman, fully John Milton Friedman

American Laissez-Faire Economist, Statistician, Academic and Author, Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences, Professor at University of Chicago

"The power to do good is also the power to do harm; those who control the power today may not tomorrow; and, more important, what one man regards as good, another may regard as harm."

"The construction of hypotheses is a creative act of inspiration, intuition, invention; its essence is the vision of something new in familiar material."

"What kind of society isn't structured on greed? The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm; capitalism is that kind of a system."

"Governments never learn. Only people learn. "

"History suggests that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom. Clearly it is not a sufficient condition."

"I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it's possible. The reason I am is because I believe the big problem is not taxes, the big problem is spending. The question is, "How do you hold down government spending?" Government spending now amounts to close to 40% of national income not counting indirect spending through regulation and the like. If you include that, you get up to roughly half. The real danger we face is that number will creep up and up and up. The only effective way I think to hold it down, is to hold down the amount of income the government has. The way to do that is to cut taxes."

"I'm in favor of legalizing drugs. According to my values system, if people want to kill themselves, they have every right to do so. Most of the harm that comes from drugs is because they are illegal. "

"A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself. "

"Is it really true that political self-interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest? "

"Most of the energy of political work is devoted to correcting the effects of mismanagement of government. "

"Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program. "

"One man's opportunism is another man's statesmanship. "

"So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear. That there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system."

"The black market was a way of getting around government controls. It was a way of enabling the free market to work. It was a way of opening up, enabling people. "

"The Great Depression, like most other periods of severe unemployment, was produced by government mismanagement rather than by any inherent instability of the private economy. "

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

"Inflation is taxation without legislation. "

"The role of government [in a free society]… is to do something that the market cannot do for itself, namely, to determine, arbitrate, and enforce the rules of the game. "

"The only way that has ever been discovered to have a lot of people cooperate together voluntarily is through the free market. And that's why it's so essential to preserving individual freedom. "

"The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm, capitalism is that kind of a system. "

"The world runs on individuals pursuing their self interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. "

"There's no such thing as a free lunch. "

"Universities exist to transmit knowledge and understanding of ideas and values to students not to provide entertainment for spectators or employment for athletes. "

"We have a system that increasingly taxes work and subsidizes nonwork."

"One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results."

"I think that nothing is so important for freedom as recognizing in the law each individual’s natural right to property, and giving individuals a sense that they own something that they’re responsible for, that they have control over, and that they can dispose of."

"When unions get higher wages for their members by restricting entry into an occupation, those higher wages are at the expense of other workers who find their opportunities reduced. When government pays its employees higher wages, those higher wages are at the expense of the taxpayer. But when workers get higher wages and better working conditions through the free market, when they get raises by firm competing with one another for the best workers, by workers competing with one another for the best jobs, those higher wages are at nobody's expense. They can only come from higher productivity, greater capital investment, more widely diffused skills. The whole pie is bigger - there's more for the worker, but there's also more for the employer, the investor, the consumer, and even the tax collector. "

"It is because it's prohibited. See, if you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That's literally true."

"In a much quoted passage in his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." It is a striking sign of the temper of our times that the controversy about this passage centered on its origin and not on its content. Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. The paternalistic "what your country can do for you" implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man's belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, "what you can do for your country" implies that government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary. To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshiped and served. He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive."

"Education spending will be most effective if it relies on parental choice & private initiative -- the building blocks of success throughout our society."

"Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government."

"The ICC [Interstate Commerce Commission] illustrates what might be called the natural history of government intervention. A real or fancied evil leads to demands to do something about it. A political coalition forms consisting of sincere, high-minded reformers and equally sincere interested parties. The incompatible objectives of the members of the coalition (e.g., low prices to consumers and high prices to producers) are glossed over by fine rhetoric about “the public interest,” “fair competition,” and the like. The coalition succeeds in getting Congress (or a state legislature) to pass a law. The preamble to the law pays lip service to the rhetoric and the body of the law grants power to government officials to “do something.” The high-minded reformers experience a glow of triumph and turn their attention to new causes. The interested parties go to work to make sure that the power is used for their benefit. They generally succeed. Success breeds its problems, which are met by broadening the scope of intervention. Bureaucracy takes its toll so that even the initial special interests no longer benefit. In the end the effects are precisely the opposite of the objectives of the reformers and generally do not even achieve the objectives of the special interests. Yet the activity is so firmly established and so many vested interests are connected with it that repeal of the initial legislation is nearly inconceivable. Instead, new government legislation is called for to cope with the problems produced by the earlier legislation and a new cycle begins."

"There is no place for government to prohibit consumers from buying products the effect of which will be to harm themselves."

"Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon in the sense that it is and can be produced only by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output. "

"As it has become politically less attractive to vote higher taxes to pay for higher spending, legislators have resorted to financing spending though inflation, a hidden tax that can be imposed without having been voted, taxation without representation."

"One man plus a correct opinion outvotes a majority."

"If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there'd be a shortage of sand."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"Economic freedom is a necessary but not sufficient condition for political freedom… Political freedom in turn is a necessary condition for the long-term maintenance of economic freedom."

"Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is necessary to preserve our freedom. It is an instrument through which we can exercise our political freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom."

"Fundamentally, there are only two ways of coordinating the economic activities of millions. One is central direction involving the use of coercion – the technique of the army and of the modern totalitarian state. The other is voluntary cooperation of individuals – the technique of the market place."

"Only government can take perfectly good paper, cover it with perfectly good ink and make the combination worthless."

"So the question is, do corporate executives, provided they stay within the law, have responsibilities in their business activities other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible? And my answer to that is, no they do not."

"Every friend of freedom must be as revolted as I am by the prospect of turning the United States into an armed camp, by the vision of jails filled with casual drug users and of an army of enforcers empowered to invade the liberty of citizens on slight evidence."

"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."

"The greatest advances of civilization, whether in architecture or painting, in science and literature, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralized government"

"The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem."

"Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself."