friedman-government-problem-1993.pdf - Friedman Milton Why...

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1 Friedman, Milton. Why Government is the Problem .* Essays in Public Policy, no. 39. Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press, 1993. When a preacher gives a sermon, he usually has a text. Generally, the text expresses a thought that he agrees with and is going to expound. I have been trying to find the word for an anti-text because I have a text for this essay that I am persuaded is wholly wrong. The text comes from the September October 1991 issue of Freedom Review , about as inappropriate a place as possible. It is the statement, “Reagan’s fatuous doctrine that government is the problem.” 1 That’s my text— or my anti-text for this essay. The text leaves me two tasks: one easy, one difficult. The first task is to demonstrate that government is the problem; that’s the ea sy task. The hard task is to understand why government is the problem. Why is it that able, public-spirited people produce such different results according to whether they operate in the political or the economic market? Why is it that if a random sample of the people who read this essay and are not at present in Washington were to replace those who are in Washington, our policies would very likely not be improved? That is the real puzzle for me. As to the easy task, let me just first count the ways to plagiarize words from a love poem in which government is the problem. Let’s list our major social problems and ask where they come from. Showing That Government Is the Problem Education One major social problem is clearly the deterioration of our educational system. Next to the military, education is the largest socialist industry in the United States. Total government spending on schooling I call it schooling rather than education because not all schooling is education and vice versa comes close to total government spending on defense, if, with the so-called peace dividend, it is not already greater. The amount spent per pupil in the past thirty years has tripled in real terms after allowing for inflation. Although input has tripled, output has been going down. Schools have been deteriorating. That problem is unquestionably produced by government. Lawlessness and Crime If there is any function of government that all but the most extreme anarchist libertarians will agree is appropriate, it is to protect individuals in society from being coerced by other individuals, to keep you from being hit over the head by a random or nonrandom stranger. Is there anybody who will say we are performing that function well? Far from it. Why not? In part because there are so many laws to break; and the more laws there are to break, the harder it is to prevent them from being broken, not only because law enforcement means are inadequate but, even more, because a larger and larger fraction of the laws fail to command the allegiance of the people. You can rigidly enforce only those laws that most people believe to be good laws, that is, laws that proscribe actions that they would avoid even in the absence

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