Capitalism and Freedom
Friedman begins by asserting man’s individuation, and declaring that the
perspective of the free man is to regard the country as a composition of
individuals. Government is thus merely a means for the use of free men (1-2).
As he argues: “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, yet by concentrating power in
political hands, it is also a threat to freedom,” (2). Two constitutional principles:
1) the use of the private sphere as a check on the public and 2) the diffusion of
power, with a preponderance of decisions made at the local level, are held to be
essential to the maintenance of freedom.
This is his basic position and the foundation of his thought: “By relying primarily
on voluntary cooperation and private enterprise, in both economic and other
activities, we can insure that the private sector is a check on the powers of the
governmental sector and an effective protection of freedom of speech, of religion,
and of thought,” (3).
Friedman posits that preserving freedom is the protective reason for the limiting
and decentralizing governmental power. The constructive reason is that society
and culture advance only outside of strong centralized powers.
Friedman engages in a constant cost-benefits analysis – he holds many
communities could be greatly benefited by government services and grants, but
that these improvements would come at the cost of the general stagnation and
degradation of society (4). The theme of the book is thus the role of competitive
capitalism, which secures economic freedom, as a means of achieving political
Friedman wants to reaffirm the classical model of liberalism, and abandon the
twentieth century conception that liberalism is tantamount to a welfare state (5).
He affirms that while we now call the nineteenth century liberal a conservative, he
was formerly understood as a radical (6).
Friedman’s first argument: “there is an intimate connection between economics
and politics, that only certain combinations of political and economic
arrangements are possible, and that in particular, a society which is socialist
cannot be democratic, in the sense of guaranteeing individual freedom,” (8).
Friedman holds that economic freedom is an end in itself, and also a necessary
(though insufficient) means to political freedom. Our economic freedom is an
integral component of what Friedman calls ‘total freedom,’ which is a category
that transcends mere political freedom. He believes political freedom, which is a
new phenomena in history, grew in step with the expansion of free markets and
cannot exist without those markets (although merely possessing free markets is
not a guarantee of political freedom).
You can see the direct adoption of Lockean ideas in statements like: “capitalism