Plumb Lines

January 24, 2010

Not that I’m defending Friedman

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 10:29 pm

Poulos writes:

“Who more than the tea partiers favors small businesses? The idea that the tea partiers long only to ’stop things’ is so juvenile and crude that it hardly merits comment. But Friedman uses that idea to contrast a vision of real productive growth driven by individuals taking charge of their own destinies, which — last time I checked — is precisely the positive agenda that all tea partiers, regardless of sect or faction, tend to promote. Only a pundit like Friedman, however, could blind himself to this actuality, intent as he is on realizing in American practice what his beloved Chinese government has made possible only in theory: the marriage of ancient Egyptian despotism with the modern dynamism of Hong Kong. Only the government, you see, has the extraordinary, unilateral power necessary to breed and launch a million innovators!”

Isn’t there some worry that Friedman might be right? That we’ve reached precisely that stage of history where innovation requires despotism? Hence all the articles about the future of Authoritarian Capitalism. In which case despotism would still be despotism and liberty still liberty, but Friedman, while wrong to prefer despotism, would be right in a technical way. And of course the friends of liberty would in that case face a much more diabolical foe than the Mustache of Understanding.


The folly of Friedmanesque thinking is in its privileging of economics over politics. It cannot conceive of liberty politically, as an end. It can only contemplate liberty economically, as a means.

This folly hardly seems unique to Friedman. Isn’t it shared by most thinkers about what we now call politics? Is this the same as the Front-Porch critique of the GWB “go shopping” moment or the persistent reference to American citizens as “consumers”?

David Schaengold


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