Happy 100th birthday, Milton Friedman!


Today would’ve been Milton Friedman’s 100th birthday (he died in 2006). Donald J. Boudreaux pens a note of appreciation:

In a scene from the opening episode of his successful 10-part 1980 PBS series “Free to Choose,” Friedman held in his hand an ordinary pencil. Looking into the camera, and speaking without a script, he explained that a pencil – so seemingly simple – requires for its production the knowledge and labors of millions of people from around the world.

Some workers cut down the trees; other workers make the chainsaws used to cut down the trees; yet other workers make the steel used to manufacture the chainsaws; and yet other workers specialize in mining the iron ore used to make the steel. Still other workers mine the graphite to make the “lead” for the pencil, while many others work in factories to make the yellow paint that commonly adorns pencils, while still other workers perform the many tasks required to produce the rubber for each pencil’s eraser.

Just to list the number of different, highly specialized jobs that must be performed to produce a commonplace pencil would take volumes. Few of these workers know each other, and none of them knows how to do any more than one or two of the countless jobs that must be done if we are to be well-supplied with pencils.

Friedman explained how free-market prices, along with the lure of profit and the fear of loss, guide entrepreneurs, firms, and workers from across the globe to produce just the right amounts of wood, graphite, paint, erasers, and the many other parts of pencils.

No government commissars are involved. There’s no central plan for the production of pencils. Yet we have high-quality pencils in abundance and for sale at low prices. What’s true for pencils, of course, is true also for more complex items such as automobiles, electric lighting, MRI machines, and on and on – that is, for nearly every good commonly found in modern industrial society.

No one equaled Friedman’s skill at explaining how free markets succeed at coordinating the activities of legions of individuals to produce the goods and services that we today take for granted. Likewise, no one equaled his skill at explaining how government regulators are typically oblivious to the complexity of the coordination achieved by markets. Being oblivious, regulators’ interventions too often obstruct this market coordination.

Note that Friedman would heartily agree with President Obama that no one prospers in today’s economy exclusively through his or her own individual efforts. Where Friedman would disagree – and disagree strongly – is with Obama’s suggestion that the main source of help that each of us gets from others is government. While government might supply some necessary pieces, such as highways and law courts, the vast bulk of what society supplies for each person’s sustenance and success comes not from government but from the ongoing private efforts of millions of individuals acting in free markets.

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Romney’s Comments on Palestinian Economy Stir Controversy


Time magazine reports:

“I recognize power of culture,” Romney said, hailing Israel’s strides in its 64 years as a nation. He allowed that a person would “have a hard time suggesting natural resources and land account for it all.”

Start with the numbers, which were more than a bit off: The World Bank puts Israel’s gross domestic product at closer to $31,000 per capita, while residents of the West Bank and Gaza struggle to get by on just $1,500. The bigger problem, however, is the parallel: Mexico is not occupied by the United States, nor Ecuador by Chile. But since 1967, Israel has controlled the economy of the Palestinian territories, restricting movement of people and goods in and out of the territories, collecting excise taxes — and withholding them from the Palestinian Authority to punish its leaders when they are perceived as being out of line. The disadvantages of Israel’s situation — the high cost of living, partly because it imports so much from so far away — are passed on to Palestinians, but few of the advantages are.

It’s on the combustible question of “culture,” however, that Romney is playing with fire. And not only because it attributes unflattering characteristics to the Palestinians. The fact is, when Palestinians are not living under occupation, they tend to write business success stories. In neighboring Jordan, Palestinians utterly dominate the economy, so much so that their success as onetime refugees has fueled resentment among so-called East Bank Jordanians. In El Salvador, Palestinian businessmen and -women amount to an oligarchy, so thoroughly do they hold the Establishment in their hands. The Palestinian community there and in other Latin American nations, including Brazil, has been in place for nearly a century, having fled during World War I to avoid becoming cannon fodder for the Ottoman Empire as it threw in its lot with the Kaiser. The Palestinians have done very well for themselves.

“Palestinians have the highest productivity in the Arab world,” economist Omar Shaban of the Gaza think tank Palthink boasted in an interview last year.  He didn’t have the figures at his fingertips to prove it, but he at least seemed to know what he was talking about.

I agree that Palestinians are entrepreneurial people. I also agree that the occupation harms the Palestinian economy. But I still think Romney has a point.

For one thing, the per capita GDP of Israel is nearly 6 times as great as the per capital GDP of Jordan, which isn’t occupied. In turn, the per capita GDP of Jordan is roughly twice that of the West Bank. Using Jordan as a control group (where, according to Time, “Palestinians utterly dominate the economy”), Israel still outperforms Palestinians in Jordan.

For another thing, the UN Human Development Reports on the Arab world point to, ahem, cultural factors such as:

  • “the freedom deficit, women’s empowerment, and the knowledge deficit” (2002)
  • “many constraints, including governance, hamper the acquisition, diffusion and production of knowledge in Arab societies” (2003)
  • “the deficit of freedom and good governance” (2004)
  • the failure to realize “the full potential of Arab women” (2005)
  • “the widespread absence of human security in Arab countries” (including the occupation, of course) (2009)
  • “the current reality in the Arab region is dominated by long-standing state structures which have inhibited the empowerment of Arab individuals and communities” (2012)

These factors play a role in the Palestinian territories, just as they play a role in the entire Arab world.

So, yes, Palestinians are right to critique Mitt Romney for focusing solely on cultural differences between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. But Mitt Romney is right that cultural values and institutions also explain at least some of the difference between the two. How much of a difference is a legitimate topic for discussion.

Democrats Move to Include Gay Marriage in Party Platform


FromThe New York Times:

Democrats moved to make same-sex marriage a part of their party platform, placing language that would declare a right for gay men and lesbians to marry on track for approval by the party’s leadership.

Party officials met over the weekend in Minneapolis and approved the first step in the platform-amending process. In two weeks, the entire platform committee will vote on the matter at a meeting scheduled in Detroit. Then, if approved as expected, it would move on to convention delegates in Charlotte, N.C., for final approval in September.

According to Democrats who were briefed on the vote in Minneapolis, there was no objection when the issue came up. Though the language that was voted on still could be revised, party officials do not anticipate any major obstacles going forward.

The platform language approved over the weekend also included a condemnation of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages.

The Democratic Party’s move comes more than two months after President Obama personally backed the rights of same-sex couples to wed, making the action decidedly less controversial than it could have been had the party been in conflict with its leader.

Gay rights supporters praised the vote. “Like Americans from all walks of life, the Democratic Party has recognized that committed and loving gay and lesbian couples deserve the right to have their relationships respected as equal under the law,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “I believe that one day very soon the platforms of both major parties will include similar language on this issue.

The sun sets on freedom of speech in Britain


Over at The Corner, Charles C. W. Cooke writes:

The sun has risen in the East, which means that someone in Britain has probably been arrested for writing something silly on Twitter…

Precisely why should that matter? This is not a “nuanced” case. It is not “difficult” or “tricky” or “thorny” or “complicated” or any of those words that the chin-stroking members of the British chattering classes like to use in faux-thoughtful overtures on BBC Radio 4, just before oh-so-predictably arguing for a government-imposed British speech code that happens exactly to proscribe what they personally find “offensive.” This is miles and miles and miles from the border of controversy: It is a slam-dunk violation of the unalienable speech rights of a free citizen of a putatively free country, even — no, especially — a free citizen who might well just be a nasty piece of work and might say things that a majority finds reprehensible.Britain is now a country in which you can be arrested for writing racist tweets, for criticizing your local government on the Internet, for telling a policeman that his horse is “gay,” for shouting offensive things on a bus, for issuing leaflets condemning homosexuality, for evangelizing for Christianity on the street, for issuing leaflets evangelizing for atheism in an airport, and so on and so forth. And the press, as ever, is silent.

The laws that enable the police force to arrest and prosecute those who write mean-spirited, racist, or ugly things should be immediately repealed and the signed bills publicly burned at a ceremony expressly dedicated to restoring awareness of principles that Britain spread throughout the world but seems now incapable of defending at home. And rather than maintaining their silence, British conservatives and libertarians should be leading the charge; for they should realize that, without restoring this foundational liberty to its rightful place on the escutcheon, the others that have been progressively undermined alongside it are likely to remain cowering in the shadows of exile for a long time to come. Surely Timothy Garton-Ash and I cannot be the only two Brits to hold this view?

My own opinion? The Golden Rule applies two ways here: (1) If you want others to speak nicely about you, speak nicely about them. Had the tweeter followed the Golden Rule, he never would’ve posted the offending tweet in the first place. (2) If you want the freedom to speak your mind, you must grant others the freedom to speak their minds too. This, it seems to me, applies against government restrictions on speech. Those currently in power like to restrict the speech of people with whom they disagree. They won’t find those restrictions so beneficial, however, when applied against them by the regime that succeeds them.

International Religious Freedom Report for 2011


From the Executive Summary:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

To think, believe, or doubt. To speak or pray; to gather or stand apart. Such are the movements of the mind and heart, infinitives that take us beyond the finite. Freedom of religion, like all freedoms of thought and expression, are inherent. Our beliefs help define who we are and serve as a foundation for what we contribute to our societies. However, as the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report documents, too many people live under governments that abuse or restrict freedom of religion. People awaken, work, suffer, celebrate, raise children, and mourn unable to follow the dictates of their faith or conscience. Yet, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, governments have committed to respect freedom of religion. As President Barack Obama said, they ought to “bear witness and speak out” when violations of religious freedom occur.

With these reports, we bear witness and speak out. We speak against authoritarian governments that repressed forms of expression, including religious freedom. Governments restricted religious freedom in a variety of ways, including registration laws that favored state-sanctioned groups, blasphemy laws, and treatment of religious groups as security threats. The report focuses special attention on key trends such as the impact of political and demographic transitions on religious minorities, who tended to suffer the most in 2011; the effects of conflict on religious freedom; and the rising tide of anti-Semitism. Impacted groups, to name just a few, included Baha’is and Sufis in Iran; Christians in Egypt; Ahmadis in Indonesia and Pakistan; Muslims in a range of countries, including in Europe; Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, and Uighur Muslims in China; and Jews in many parts of the world.

Interestingly, the State Department took no note of Catholic complaints that the so-called contraceptive mandate violates their religious liberty.

Do conservative policies offer the greatest hope and opportunity to those who are most marginalized?


Over at Commentary, Peter Wehner writes:

As the election nears — it is now less than 100 days away — the issue of poverty in America will hopefully play a somewhat more central role. It’s perfectly appropriate for candidates of both parties, and at all levels, to focus on the plight of the middle class. But while the effects of the Great Recession, combined with the worst recovery on record, have taken their toll on every strata in American society, it is the poor who suffer disproportionately. (I understand that the definition of poor is subjective and that what qualifies as poor in America qualifies as extravagant wealth in, say, parts of Africa.)

When he was the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, William Bennett — in pointing out that illegal drugs inflicted more harm on the underclass than any other group — used an earthquake that shook California in 1989 to make this point. Few people knew that the earthquake that hit the Bay area was more powerful than the one that hit Mexico City a few years earlier. Why? Because the casualties were much higher and the overall damage was much worse in Mexico City. The reason, Bennett said, is that when the earth shakes, the devastation often depends less on the magnitude of the quake than on the stability of the structure on which you stand.

As a general matter, the wealthy have more stable structures than the middle class, and the middle class have more stable structures than the poor. I’m not arguing that the poor ought to occupy all or even most of the attention of the political class. But those in the shadows of society should become an object of all of our attention.

A decent society, including its political leadership, should be judged in part on how well we treat the weak and the disadvantaged. That isn’t the only criterion that should be used, but it ought to matter. And so as the election draws near, the American people should judge those running for public office based in some measure on who has the best plan to assist the poor in terms of their material well-being and in helping equip them to lead lives of independence, achievement, and dignity. I’m one of those who believe that conservative policies – in economics, education, welfare, crime, and heath care, as well as in strengthening civil society and our mediating institutions — offer the greatest hope and opportunity to those who are most marginalized.

Here’s the thing, though: conservatives have to make that case. No one else will.

Even if you disagree with Wehner on the benefits of conservative policies, surely it’s a good thing when a conservative affirms that “A decent society, including its political leadership, should be judged in part on how well we treat the weak and the disadvantaged.”

Wood speaks out on Chick-fil-A controversy


From AG News:

Dr. George O. Wood heard Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel loud and clear when he said that, “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values.”

The General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God now has a rapid-fire series of questions for Emanuel and any other mayor who may be tempted to follow in his footsteps.

“Are you saying that the Catholics are also unwelcome in Chicago because they don’t have Chicago values? That evangelicals aren’t welcome? That Muslims aren’t welcome? That Orthodox Jewish people are not welcome?

“That other persons who have religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman don’t have Chicago values and therefore they are excluded from your community? Do you intend to discriminate against persons of faith? Do you intend to marginalize them? Are you becoming, in your view, intolerant of persons of religious faith?

Wood believes these are all important questions for the public square. As he sees it, the push to characterize anyone who has convictions about personal marriage as bigoted is itself bigotry on display.

I agree with my dad on this one, and I want to push the critique in two different directions: (1) The anti-Chick-fil-A sentiment is hypocritically opportunistic. Rahm Emanuel is basically criticizing anyone who holds the same position his boss held until about two months ago. (2) Coming as it does from a government official, the sentiment cannot help but chill free speech.

Of course, in the name of free speech, same-sex marriage advocates have every right to employ boycotts and other legal means to protest the private comments of Chick-fil-A’s owners. Just imagine the hue and cry, however, if a Republican alderman or mayor threatened the use of regulatory means to shut down those protests.

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