Sunday, January 16, 2011

Milton Friedman Pares Down Feds on Uncommon Knowledge

I recently enjoyed a taped interview of a discussion held on the talk show Uncommon Knowledge. Host Peter Robinson had been interviewing Milton Friedman. In the end Mr. Robinson presented the late Mr. Friedman with a list of the fourteen (now fifteen) cabinet level positions which the executive branch currently has, and asked him which did he think were necessary and a good idea for our nation. The list included:

The Department of Defense
The Department of Education
The Department of Commerce
The Department of the Treasury
The State Department
The Department of Justice
The Department of the Interior
The Department of Agriculture
The Department of Labor
The Department of Health and Human Services
The Department of Housing and Urban Development
The Department of Transportation
The Department of Energy
The Department of Veteran Affairs
The Department of Homeland Security

How many cabinet positions did Mr. Friedman select as being worth keeping, and how many did he say should be done away with? Take a guess, then find out here.


  1. I swear, in some pictures (including that one), Friedman looked very like my father.

  2. Finally sat down and watched the Uncommon Knowledge piece with Friedman -- and enjoyed it so much!

    My guesses on who he'd banish and who he's spare were pretty close. I had not thought of the need for governmental intervention in public health (contagion) issues. On the other hand, I don't know how a strictly free-market approach would provide the safety net I truly believe a society should have for those who simply cannot "do" for themselves. I fear this is an area where the natural selfishness of "let someone else do it" could mean not only misery for the have-nots, but deterioration of the character of the society. Do you suppose the churches and charities wold do a better job of taking care of the widows-and-orphans/blind-and-lame than they did before the gov't took it on?

    Speaking of those who cannot do for themselves, how could education (my main interest being in keeping the options open for kids too young to be motivated to pursue schooling on their own) be managed without government control of the facilities and process? Legislated standards that schools must meet, and the students and/or their parents selecting schools based on "options" and affordability? Standards of learning that the parents are required to ensure their children meet (sort of like home-schoolers have to do)? (One of the problems being that if a product is legally required, but there are few sources available in a given area, (so, little or no competition to drive value), you're stuck with a monopoly with its (not to sound too cynical) generally poor value.)

    Ack! I'm thinking too much. But I did like the piece, and the following piece with Thomas Sowell was also great! (I'll have to go back later for the king of Liechtenstein's views on the role of the state...)

  3. Cathy, I am so glad you enjoyed the peice. Yes, I really miss that guy. Great comment by the way, and I will try to answer when I get a chance. One question might be does the natural selfishness increase or decrease when there is a governmental agency that one can pass off such responsibilities upon? It is doubtful they improve one's selfish tendencies, if we are to take Charles Dicken's word upon it. What was it that Scrooge said? "I pay taxes to support the prisons and poor houses, let them go there".

    I'll add a little more later. Thanks for commenting!

  4. A safety net for those that cannot help themselves is something I think society should provide, but this should be limited. I would prefer to allow charities to do as much as possible.   Certainly churches and charities do a better job of taking care of orphans and widows and the blind than the government does, because for one thing the government isn't paying for it, you and I are.  Secondly, you and I must also fund the people running the program for the government.  And unlike charities that are thankful for your giving and let you know that you have contributed to the well being of your fellow man, the government has yet to send me a card of thanks regarding all the charitable giving that I have been coerced into participating in.  If anything it is the opposite, a governmental presumption to take my hard earned income to spend as they see fit, and to object is to be accused of being greedy, all the while the average governmental worker is making more than my fellow countrymen are, and are the beneficiaries of excellent job security, health benefits and a retirement program that will pay as much as they earn in their most senior year.  Hmm.  It all points to a very inefficient method of supporting the needy, with no gratification to the giver and no thankfulness on the part of the recipient for what little they will get from what has been taken.

    If ever there was an argument for privatizing governmental control it would be with the education system, which is often used to ends other than the education of our children.  Time and again private institutions have succeeded where public schools fail.  What is the response by the government?  Does it recognize achievement and reward such schools with voucher programs that would allow cash strapped parents to choose the best schools for their children?  No.  President Obama himself cancelled such a program in Washington DC.  Thomas Sowell and Walter E. Williams have both written at length about this issue, as they are so frustrated and disgusted with what they see as a criminal injustice to black children in America.  Less government will allow parents to be more involved in choosing what is best for their children, rather than what is best politically and for the teachers union.

  5. Educational standards are set by the State Governments...same with curriculum and everything else. You'd be hard pressed to to find a role that the Federal bureaucracy does play, and the need to keep funding it. It does provide a home and a paycheck ('til death with pensions) for the unfortunate among us with useless there is that.