A plea for more anthropology of ideology

by on November 29, 2007 at 10:36 am in Education | Permalink

I've been pondering Daniel Davies's attempted takedown of Milton Friedman, or for that matter Jon Chait's book on supply side economics, and so I slip beneath the fold...

What strikes me is that these writers, and also their counterparts on the Right, see so little need to adduce anthropological evidence to characterize other people’s views.  When it concerns the Laffer Curve, or global warming, or the correct measure of civilian deaths in Iraq, the concern is for the highest standards of evidence.  Yet the question of what other people "really believe" also can be treated in more or less sophisticated form, most of all with the tools of anthropology.  Web quotations are relevant, but there is no substitute for getting out there and speaking to those people, for a start.

I’d like to propose a new research convention.  Anytime a writer or blogger talks about what The Right or The Left (or some subset thereof) really wants or means, I’d like them to list their personal anthropological experience with the subjects under consideration.  Davies presents Friedman as a shill for the Republican Party; I’d like to know how many (public or non-public) conversations he has had with Friedman about the topic of the Republican Party.  I’ve been present for a few, and while I’m open to feedback from Davies, my guess reading his post is that he hasn’t been there for any.  Yet he writes with a tone of certitude: "it’s clearly not intellectual honesty that makes American liberals act pretend that Milton Friedman wasn’t a party line Republican hack." 

Is it really true that "The ideological core of Chicago-style libertarianism has two planks. 1. Vote Republican.  2. That’s it."?  And Davies’s own quotation of Milton Friedman does not support his core claims; he simply asks us to believe that Friedman is lying.  I would ask Davies to apply the same standards of argumentation and evidence that he does to the Lancet study of Iraq or the many other topics he has written excellent blog posts about.

How many supply-siders has Chait talked to?  It might be a lot, but again I’d like to know.  Has he met with the people who write The Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page?  How many of them?  How many leading Republican donors and strategists does he know?  Did they really chat with him, or were they in controlled "interview mode"?  How motivated are they by supply-side doctrine?  What did those say who weren’t so motivated?

How many intelligent pro-life Republicans do you know?  How many southern racist Republicans do you know?  Have they confided in you?  Do they trust you?  Do you really think you know what they believe?

I don’t mean to suggest that such anthropological research will always yield sanitizing answers.  Nor do I believe that the Left is worse in ignoring the anthropology of ideology than is the Right. 

It is sad that anthropological research has such a low status among so many smart people.  It is fashionable to open up data sets for replication.  So let’s do the same for research into ideology or even just proclamations about the ideology of others, especially those you disagree with.  Tell us how much field work you did, who you did it with, how much they trusted you, and what you wish you could have done but didn’t.  That is easy enough in the on-line world. 

josh November 29, 2007 at 10:58 am

My god! If Milton Friedman was able to argue that simply, persuasively, and logically about things he believed false; then he is a far greater genius than any of us could have imagined.

CT November 29, 2007 at 11:07 am

Yes. In the case of Milton Friedman, simply reading his two most famous popular works or watching one of the numerous interviews on YouTube should be enough to challenge the Republican hack theory of the man. It seems kind of obvious that if you’re going to write a book bashing a very highly respected economist, you should want to collect evidence of his hackery. If you don’t, aren’t you yourself committing a hack?

Ryan November 29, 2007 at 11:25 am

I agree with Rich Berger. After reading Daniel Davies’ post, I will purposefully avoid everything else he has written or will write. Anyone whose thoughts are warped enough to churn out a post as poorly considered and poorly argued as his cannot be taken seriously. It may take a lot of writing to garner a high level of intellectual respect, but it can only take one post to lose it. He lost it.

perianwyr November 29, 2007 at 11:30 am

It feels more like he trolled the everliving christ out of some people.

washerdreyer November 29, 2007 at 11:36 am

Rich – Because he’s smart and consistently entertaining.

CT – I think you’re confusing Davies (who wrote a blog post about a famous economist) and Chait (who wrote a book about supply-side ideology).

Justin November 29, 2007 at 11:44 am

An interesting idea, Tyler, but isn’t there the very real chance that we end up promoting anecdotes and gut feelings over the things that people actually say to the public? After all, the primary way that people in political circles matter is by either voting a specific way, when they have the power, or influencing the public. All of that is more or less open to view without anthropological evidence. (None of this is meant to comment on your disapprobation for the Daniel Davies post, just the general proposal).

Micheal Blowhard November 29, 2007 at 11:49 am

Great posting.

Wasn’t/isn’t Krugman guilty of this kind of thing all the time too? I remember how his wrap-up about Milton Friedman included some references to Friedman’s supposed “intellectual dishonesty.” Woulda been nice if he’d raised his points (whatever they were) to Friedman’s face when the guy was still around to respond to him.

So maybe sometimes cowardice plays a role in the way people carry on like this?

Ben November 29, 2007 at 12:06 pm

I think Jonathan’s comment hits the nail on the head. It seems that TC’s suggestion is the kind of “Why not just ask the dolphins?” approach to human behaviour that economists (and most of all Milton Friedman himself) are rightly suspicious of.

josh November 29, 2007 at 12:11 pm

“Tyler might have taken the trouble to find out whether I was partly joking, or writing polemically, or whether I meant that post to be taken as 100% representative of my final, considered view of Milton Friedman.”

How the hell do you want it to be taken? As 73% representative?

“They’re always hacks, Brad. Always. Yes even Milton Friedman.”

“I wouldn’t mind, but it’s clearly not intellectual honesty that makes American liberals act pretend that Milton Friedman wasn’t a party line Republican hack (which he was;”

Oh I get it. Your partly joking. That’s partly hilarious. By the way, this comment should only be taken as 34.6% of my representitive beliefs.

Jeff H. November 29, 2007 at 12:14 pm

Strange that we’ve settled on this equilibrium considering it would seem to make arguments far more convincing if we followed Tyler’s suggestion.

I find myself naturally wanting to defend Southern Christian conservatives when I hear them criticized–not because I necessarily agree with them, but because I grew up with them and know them well enough to appreciate the nuances in their views, so the evidently ill-informed caricatures bother me. At the same time, this personal (or anthropological) knowledge would allow me to make far more rigorous and persuasive arguments against them if I so chose.

Good post.

josh November 29, 2007 at 12:29 pm

“If you can find anything in that post where I even speculate about what Milton Friedman believed in his heart of hearts, I will edit it.”

“when Milton Friedman was put in a situation where saying what he thought would be electorally damaging to the Republican Party, it was the Republicans which won, repeatedly..”

That was easy. You provided it one sentence below.

Sebastian Holsclaw November 29, 2007 at 12:39 pm

“a dozen some attempted take-downs of d^2s post, and noone has really bothered to respond to his point.”

Wasn’t his point that Friedman is always a hack?

josh November 29, 2007 at 12:44 pm

Unless you’re psychic, there are two ways you could know what he thought:

a) he said it.
b) you’re speculating

If he didn’t say it, you’re speculating about what he believed in his heart of hearts, aren’t you?

What are people supposed to do with the knowledge that your post is not 100% representative of your views? We don’t even know you.

Brad DeLong November 29, 2007 at 12:48 pm
dsquared November 29, 2007 at 12:54 pm

I’d also note that being a hack isn’t the worst thing in the world – it just means that you’re a bit of a hack. Paul Sweezy was a terrible hack for consistently changing what he said when the CPUSA party line changed in response to Moscow, but he was nevertheless a good economist and (I am told) a nice bloke. It’s bad to be a hack, but it’s just one personal failing that can certainly be offset by other qualities.

Rich Berger November 29, 2007 at 1:00 pm

So yoyo-

What was his point? Friedman didn’t denounce the Patriot Act or the Iraq War? Republican shill, QED! Friedman signed letter praising Bush fiscal policy – apparently not true – letter specifically opposed Kerry proposals. No QED there.

Double-D’s stuff is minor league. If you want to admire professional duplicity, check out Paul Krugman’s piece on Friedman from the NY Review of Books – at least he makes a few claims that can be tested.

Bernard Yomtov November 29, 2007 at 1:05 pm

[Friedman], like all of us, was/is forced to vote for the percieved best option, or lesser of two evils if you prefer. I’m not willing to condemn Friedman, or anyone else for that matter, for supporting one party over another.

It’s not a question of voting for one party over another because one prefers its policies, overall. It’s a question of endorsing specific policies one knows to be unwise because that will help the party you prefer.

This is all the worse when someone of Friedman’s stature does it because in so doing he passes up an opportunity to steer policy in a sounder direction.

DanC November 29, 2007 at 1:11 pm

I do remember hearing Milton speak. He didn’t like political labels and if pushed would say that his views were more Libertarian. Milton did not have a political party agenda, he had a vision of how the world should work. (Or please explain his relationship with Senator Paul Douglas). He would also tell all who would listen that he was not pro business or pro any group – he was in favor of competition and the benefits that flow from that competition. He was not interested in helping political parties beyond supporting people who shared his vision. Above everything Milton was about keeping control in the hands of the individual, we should be Free to Choose without excessive control from government or business.

Stuart Buck November 29, 2007 at 1:17 pm

Conservatives could say that the quest of liberal thought throughout the ages has been the search for a higher moral justification for envy. That sort of hyper-reductionism, however, would be unfair.

Luis Enrique November 29, 2007 at 1:19 pm

And doesn’t he really say in that interview that he’s not going to talk about the Patriot Act specifically (consistent with avoiding an uncomfortable issue where his views diverge from the Party Line), but that in general the war will involve a small curtailment of freedoms, but the sooner it’s finished the better.

In the post Brad started off by criticizing, the writer seemed to imply that the Patriot Act was the sort of idea the Chicago boys had in the wings, waiting for a crisis to usher in.

I fail to see how you conclude Friedman was “actually for” the Patriot Act (but you may yet provide more evidence).

yoyo November 29, 2007 at 1:32 pm

well D^2 is here now, so you could ask him. But most of the posts, especially the first bunch, are of the hero-worshiping sort, that inner moral qualities matter. My reading of the original post is that public acts are what matter in evaluating public figures, and those indicate there are a large number of right wing intellectuals who only pretend to dialogue in good-faith. Consider Cowen’s “anthropological” way of looking at people’s views. The main thrust of that is to give right-wing opinionaters the continual benefit of the doubt; but in political debate such openess is foolish.

josh November 29, 2007 at 1:46 pm


Do you have a link to the letter. I found this:


signed by Friedman, denouncing Kerry’s proposed economic agenda, but it doesn’t mention Bush. Is there another letter?

j November 29, 2007 at 1:48 pm

Actually, Tyler’s post runs contrary to what economists generally argue, that you shouldn’t base your judgements on someone based on what they say but on how they behave. What happened to the notion of cheap talk? Its costless for libertarians (or any group) to stay they are distinct from Republicans. But when push comes to shove, if they end up donating their money to the Republican party every time I consider that a data point and draw inferences accordingly. Indeed, the entire field of economics passes judgements on people by writing down their utility functions (ascribing motives) and drawing inferences based on revealed preferences, not based on what people say.

And if we really are going to make this about Milton Friedman, he was famous for saying a model is only worth anything if it has predictive power. Chait’s and Krugman’s political views had a hell of a lot more predictive power than their critics’.

Luis Enrique November 29, 2007 at 1:52 pm


yes – it’s consistent with him being a party hack, and privately against the Patriot Act. But if I read it correctly, that interview was cited by D2 as evidence he was for it.

‘course, I may be missing something.

Charlie November 29, 2007 at 2:04 pm

“He did, in fact, sign the 2004 economists’ letter in support of the Bush fiscal policy.”

“Yes, I used method a). Friedman did (as Brad DeLong correctly noted) say regularly and publicly that Bush’s fiscal policy was a disaster, in 2002 for example. Then in 2004, he signed a letter endorsing it”

“It wasn’t just a general endorsement of the Republican Party here. It was a specific statement that the Bush fiscal policy was good for America and would help shrink the size of the tax burden.”

We all try to redefine arguments in ways beneficial to us, but the letter isn’t a support of the Bush fiscal policy, it is just an endictment of Kerry’s, “We, the undersigned, strongly oppose key aspects of the economic agenda that John Kerry has offered in his bid for the U.S. presidency.” And it goes on like that, there is no mention of Bush in the letter.

So your argument is Friedman attacked Bush’s fiscal policy and then supported it. But your evidence is Friedman attacked Bush’s fiscal policy and then attacked Kerry’s fiscal policy. So it seems you have not shown what you were attempting to show.

“Similarly, a statement that the Patriot Act was a relatively small and probably temporary imposition on civil liberties. These were definite, false statements that were inconsistent with what he said in other times and places.”

DA: In a time of war, how do we maintain our freedom?

MF: We don’t. We invariably reduce our freedom. But that doesn’t mean it’s a permanent reduction. As long as we really keep in mind what we’re doing, that we keep it temporary, we need not destroy our freedom.

Cavuto: “Are you concerned that some of the measures we’re taking now to fight the war, like the Patriot Act, may be more than just temporary?”

Friedman: “It’s not clear. The Patriot Act is a very complicated issue, and I’m not going to get involved in that. But I think that on the whole, this war is small enough relative to our economy that it is not going to be a serious impediment to our freedom. But the sooner we can get rid of it and out of it, the better.”

Again the evidence falls short of the claim. Claim: MF says Patriot Act is probably temporary, when it obviously isn’t. Evidence: MF says Patriot Act should be kept temporary. The other claim is a bit more interesting, Claim: The Patriot Act was a relatively small imposition on civil liberties. Evidence: MF says this war is small relative to the economy and not serious impediment to our freedom. I will let you all evaluate the last claim and evidence, if you are willing to let war substitute for Patriot Act and freedom substitute for civil liberties, in which case, the claim first part of the claim is true. The second part of the claim revolved around MF not believing at the time the war was a small infringement of liberty. That is clearly not shown by DD (though could be true).

MF could be a hack, but you certainly didn’t show it. And the fact that you had to pretend evidence supported your argument when it obviously doesn’t makes your argument appear weak.

John Pertz November 29, 2007 at 2:11 pm

The thing I always noticed about Friedman is that he was very much into big ideas, trends, and concepts. While most assuredly a dogmatic libertarian, Friedman rarely delved into the nitty gritty of politics. His work as an economist did not center around tarnishing the careers of others or tearing into who they “were” as a person. No, Friedman, though political, was very much an intellectual who had little concern for the banal political back and forth that so greatly concerns the right and left in this country. If I were to judge the lives of Friedman and Davies by their scholarship, I would easily conclude that Friedman was the far greater human being. Naomi Klien and Davies should do a better job of arguing against the ideas and policies that Friedman promoted, instead of playing children in the sand box.

mickslam November 29, 2007 at 2:19 pm

“Bush-Cheney ’04 today announced 368 of the nation’s leading economists from 44 states have signed an economic statement denouncing John Kerry’s economic proposals. The group boasts six Nobel laureates, including recent winner and Professor of Economics at Arizona State University Edward C. Prescott, as well as six former chairs of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. America ‘s economists recognize that President Bush’s pro-growth policies and across-the-board tax relief are the right policies for sustained growth – and they are urging voters not to turn back with John Kerry’s tax and spend agenda.

Glenn Hubbard, Dean of the Columbia University Business School and former Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, said: “Ideas and response to events are the tests of economic leadership. President Bush’s focus on raising long-term growth using well-timed tax cuts, opening markets, and seeking to limit regulatory and litigation costs has furthered the global economic expansion. The administration’s leadership in the War on Terror, the management of terrorism risk, and restoring investor confidence also limited potentially damaging downturns of confidence. Senator Kerry’s recipe of limiting job creation by raising tax rates on entrepreneurs and our most successful global companies, while radically expanding the size and scope of government will limit future economic growth and lead to increasingly grim fiscal choices.”

And Milton didn’t know this was propaganda and would be viewed as implicit endorsment of the policies of the Bush administration? It strains any reasonable interpretation of his actions, especially knowing that Milton was consciously and explicitly a public intellectual – that he even wrote the classic “Capitalism and Freedom” is a demonstration of his awareness of the responsibilities of public intellectuals.

I don’t underestimate his or my intelligence like others here do with “its only against John Kerrys plans, not for Bush economic policy” He knew what he was doing. I know what he was doing.

Sorry Tyler, this “observation” was a tool to get people to slag on libruls.

Rich Berger November 29, 2007 at 2:24 pm


No, you are embarassing yourself. E.g, you stated “He did, in fact, sign the 2004 economists’ letter in support of the Bush fiscal policy.” Then, you do a rowback by citing the press release instead. I doubt he authored the press release, too.

But on a lighter note, there were over 50 replies to this post in less than 2 hours. Tyler, anytime things get slow, quote DD.

dsquared November 29, 2007 at 3:04 pm

[Did Friedman sign or even ever see the press release before it came out? ]


Can anyone help me with a crossword clue?

“Signs partisan statements without reading them” (4). I’ve got H blank C blank.

josh November 29, 2007 at 3:08 pm

“Signs partisan statements without reading them”

The press release, D2, not the actual letter. He did not sign the press release.

Diversity November 29, 2007 at 3:20 pm

Milton Friedman was a human who thought, wrote and spoke a lot. Therefore he was not fully consistent. Whether, as I suspect, he was less incosistent than most of us is a proper matter for detailed scholarly analysis. What I am sure of is that disagreeing with him is highly fruitful.

I regard Milton Friedman as one of those theorists who successfully changed practical men’s way of thinking. He regarded those who made some attempt, however confused, to follow through his ideas as worth his support in principle. At the same time, he usually was advising them how to do a better job of putting his ideas into practice. That again is a proposition calling for detailed scholarly analysis (just as his ideas are worth very serious analysis and criticism).

Detailed scholarly analysis is the nearest you can get to good anthropology when the subject of study is no longer available for dialogue.

The idea that Milton Friedman was any sort of hack is a proposition calling for a belly laugh.

Barkley Rosser November 29, 2007 at 3:25 pm

I never met Milton Friedman, nor did I ever hear him speak. I also have not followed closely
exactly which petitions he signed or exactly which politicians he supported and when. It does
seem that most of the time he tended to support Republicans over Democrats, when he made a Public
Choice (so to speak,:-)), but I also know that he turned down numerous invitations from various
presidents (all Republicans, I think) to actually hold any government positions, at least partly
because he wanted to be Free To Choose to criticize them and their policies when he felt like it,
which I believe he sometimes did.

I have heard it from people in the University of Chicago Economics Department, or formerly from it,
that at a personal level Friedman was always perfectly friendly, civil, and open-minded to one and
all, irrespective of their ideologies or political or economic views or arguments. This was a sharp
contrast with certain other people in that department, with one frequently mentioned in this regard
in a more negative way being Stigler.

Also, many of his libertarian views, including even those in economics, were not ones supported by
Republicans particularly. I remember well one of my former professors who lectured in a class on
Friedman’s criticism of AMA-supported licensing of doctors. One of the students in the class, whose
dad was some bigwig with the AMA, went to the governing board of the university to demand that this
professor be fired for advocating “communist ideas.”

Finally, to Bruce Charlton: I know former libertarians who have gone left, at least for awhile…

mt57 November 29, 2007 at 3:27 pm

The proposed reserch convention makes a lot of sense — unless you are trying to sell a general audience book. I think a lot of what lies behind the recent substandard work of Chait, Krugman and Naomi Klein etc. is that simply they are trying to sell books. The likely audience for their books is people who have a certain point of view. They buy the book to reinforce that view. If you can’t deliver that, because you’ve learned by conscientiously adhering to intellectually honest methods, that the view is overstated and inaccurate, you won’t make it worthwhile to publish and market the book. “Disaster Capitalism: A Mixed Verdict” or “The Uncertainties of a Liberal” aren’t going to fly off the shelf. It’s no different and actually even worse on the right — Bill O’Reilly books, Anne Coulter books, Clinton hatchet jobs, etc.

Thomas November 29, 2007 at 3:54 pm

This is just sad. DD, have your silly fight with Brad, but there’s no reason to trash Friedman in the process.

As for the bit on the letter, I take it you now retract the claim that “It was a specific statement that the Bush fiscal policy was good for America and would help shrink the size of the tax burden.” Because that’s clearly not supported by the text of the letter. Not even the worst sort of hack would keep up with that line. Let’s see how bad you have it.

Ryan November 29, 2007 at 4:19 pm

DD, I really hope your site does not have any readers, except those looking for a good bit of satire.

Twisting facts and warping them to fit your ideological bent is one the greatest forms of intellectual dishonesty.

Sebastian Holsclaw November 29, 2007 at 4:32 pm

“Before anyone gets any further with this “it wasn’t supporting Bush, it was just attacking Kerry” nonsense (as if attacking Kerry in a two-horse race against Bush wasn’t supporting Bush!), perhaps they’d care to read the press release accompanying the statement, which clarified the matter by saying “America ‘s economists recognize that President Bush’s pro-growth policies and across-the-board tax relief are the right policies for sustained growth”. Or for that matter, the article “What Every American Wants” in 2003. You’re embarrassing yourselves.”

This is interesting. I distinctly remember you complaining that the press release surrounding the Lancet report on Iraqi ‘excess deaths’ should not be taken as evidence for the substantive views of the report. Do I need to bother to look that up, or would you care to distinguish the point?

As a general point, press releases are not the same as the underlying substantive document, and someone who signs off on a substantive document rarely has anything to do with the press release (they are generally written after the substantive document).

Charlie November 29, 2007 at 4:41 pm

This is actually getting quite funny, watch what DD does on this one:

“[Because that’s clearly not supported by the text of the letter.]

It clearly is. “America’s economists recognize that President Bush’s pro-growth policies and across-the-board tax relief are the right policies for sustained growth – and they are urging voters not to turn back with John Kerry’s tax and spend agenda.” The only response to this appears to be to accuse Glenn Hubbard of monstrously exploiting Milton Friedman’s signature to falsely claim his endorsement; if Hubbard did perform this act of perfidy, none of the signatories ever complained.”

It seems obvious to anyone reading this that DD is showing that Hubbard says the quote “American economists…blah, blah,” but in fact, that quote is from “Bush-Cheney communications” the author of the press statement. The statement goes on to quote Hubbard who says, “Ideas and response to events are the tests of economic leadership. President Bush’s focus on raising long-term growth using well-timed tax cuts, opening markets, and seeking to limit regulatory and litigation costs has furthered the global economic expansion. The administration’s leadership in the War on Terror, the management of terrorism risk, and restoring investor confidence also limited potentially damaging downturns of confidence.”

So we have Hubbard stating something he believes (presumably) that has nothing to do MF. We have “Bush-Cheney” saying something about “America’s economists support Bush’s pro-growth policies and across the board tax cut” which is actually a statement MF would probably agree with, but that many economists wouldn’t agree with. So of all the economists that should stand up and disagree with being generalized this way, MF probably wouldn’t be one.

But how did DD imply MF was supporting something he obviously didn’t agree with. Well, to do that we have to change “pro-growth policies and across the board tax cuts” to fiscal policy. Fiscal policy includes spending. It’s funny that even the B-C people aren’t willing to say, “economists support Bush’s fiscal policy.”

This is a serious pattern of abuse and misuse of evidence. I actually think a person could put together a reasonable case that MF was a hack. But rather than not ably make that case, DD greatly undermines his own credibility by consistently misusing evidence.

A Tykhyy November 29, 2007 at 4:49 pm

[Given that DD cites one example that supposedly supports his thesis, how many counterexamples do we need to supply to undermine his argument? One, two, three, or how many?]

*If* there is even one established example, no amount of counterexamples will suffice. This is analogous to Soviet dissidents — give in to the system once and you lose credibility in the dissident circles. Even though most dissidents understand that you must take care of your family etc. and respect your choice, you would likely become “un-handshakeable”.

Sesh November 29, 2007 at 4:53 pm

But, doesn’t actual data (numbers) betray ‘revealed preference’s of people without need for any anthropological observations?

May be it won’t help that much when analyzing opinions about someone’s opinion of someone else’s ideas!

Holy S November 29, 2007 at 5:03 pm

D2, why do you keep implying that Friedman threw his support behind the campaign press release? Evidence?

And as for your charge that Friedman never publicly contradicted Republican Party orthodoxy, you mean like his stance on the war on drugs? Nixon’s economic policies? Selected elements of Reagan’s protectionism?


politicalfootball November 29, 2007 at 5:18 pm

The measure of whether or not someone is a “Republican shill” is whether or not he shills for Republicans – a thing that is done, by its very definition, in public. It is a common belief in Republican circles these days that believing the right thing in private makes up for publicly doing the wrong thing. Frankly, I don’t care what Colin Powell, for instance, says at cocktail parties, it’s what he said when he was influencing policy that matters. (And, of course, unlike the Republicans, I don’t much care what Bill Clinton did in private, except to the extent that it influenced his public behavior.)

happyjuggler0 November 29, 2007 at 5:27 pm

spent his ninetieth birthday party at the White House telling George Bush that his fiscal policy was a disaster.

It was and is a disaster, at least if you believe smaller government is better than bigger government. Reason being that he is/was spending way too much, and in fact increasing the wedge so that spending is “scheduled” to increase even more in the future.

Also the original tax cuts in 2001 were Keynesian in nature, which as Friedman points out in his article are something he generally thinks is a stupid way to go about things.

This is not at all inconsistent with either the petition or the tax article.

By the way fiscal policy is about both taxing and spending, just in case anyone is confused. This is not mere semantics, and goes to the heart of the issue, at least as far as Milton Friedman is concerned, and is something Friedman has long written and talked about. It is the spending that is the problem, not the taxing nor the borrowing.

dsquared November 29, 2007 at 5:29 pm

[And as for your charge that Friedman never publicly contradicted Republican Party orthodoxy, you mean like his stance on the war on drugs? Nixon’s economic policies? Selected elements of Reagan’s protectionism?]

Nixon in particular is a wonderful example of my point. Friedman regarded him as “the most socialist President that the USA ever had” and disagreed with him on nearly every point of economic policy. But nevertheless continued to serve on his Council of Economic Advisers, never spoke out against him in campaigns, never resigned, in general continued to support the Republican cause.

8 November 29, 2007 at 5:43 pm

Democrats: much higher spending, higher taxes
Republicans: higher spending, lower taxes

Friedman: “and this is why I say second, my general policy is to be in favor of a tax cut at any time, for any reason, for any excuse. To be in favor of a tax cut, not primarily because it will stimulate initiative and inventiveness but in order to keep down government spending.”

Government can go into debt, but only so far. Eventually it has to raise taxes or hold down spending. Which party is more likely to hold down spending? As bad as Republicans have been, understand that most, if not all of Bush’s spending bills were opposed by Democrats because they didn’t spend enough!

Friedman chose the lesser of two evils.

As for the PATRIOT Act, if anyone thinks President Gore or President Kerry would have acted substantially differently, I have a bridge to sell you. Friedman was pretty clear: you lose your freedom if you fail to fight the enemy and you’ll lose freedom when the government fights the enemy. You can always repeal the government after the war, but if the enemy wins you’re out of luck. Again, the lesser of two evils.

8 November 29, 2007 at 5:48 pm

It is a common belief in Republican circles these days that believing the right thing in private makes up for publicly doing the wrong thing.

This is the source of anger between conservatives and Republicans, liberals and Democrats.

politicalfootball November 29, 2007 at 5:54 pm

But upon reflection, Bob, I have to add are you kidding me? I do, of course, have extensive personal experience with Republicans. If you feel this is an unfair characterization of “the Republicans” from your personal anthropological experience, I’d be curious to hear about it.

Mostly, though, I think you and Cowen are using “personal anthropological experience” as a dodge to mask your unwillingness to confront actual public statements.

Barkley Rosser November 29, 2007 at 5:58 pm


Ooooooops!!! You should have carefully read my post above.

Repeat: Milton Friedman never accepted any invitation from any Republican president to serve
in any official governmental capacity. That includes Nixon’s CEA. He never resigned from it,
because he was never on it.

Bob Montgomery November 29, 2007 at 6:01 pm

For this purpose, you may assume that I have none. For the reasons I describe, I disavow the need to have any.

I’m not really sure what to make of this – “I don’t need to actually interact with those people because they’re all bastards.” Umm, how do you know that what you describe is true since you have no interactions with them?

What strikes me is that these writers, and also their counterparts on the Right, see so little need to adduce anthropological evidence to characterize other people’s views.

John Emerson November 29, 2007 at 6:11 pm

If someone thinks of George W. Bush as a lesser evil, not only in 2000 and 2004 but even today, isn’t that evidence? It would seem especially incumbent on people who supported Bush in the past to oppose him publicly now, at least f they want to clear their good names. (I’m not talking about Friedman specifically, obviously, but the more general question.)

Someone who opposes Bush also has some serious choices to make next fall, because most of the Republican candidates (except Ron Paul) look like Bush-squared.

Bob Montgomery November 29, 2007 at 6:15 pm

Mostly, though, I think you and Cowen are using “personal anthropological experience” as a dodge to mask your unwillingness to confront actual public statements.

I think Tyler makes a good point that when making blanket statements about groups’ thoughts/desires/hopes (like your statement about all Republicans) you should back it up with something. “the Republicans” are millions of people across the US and to badmouth them all because their leader(s) behave badly is dishonest and a poor argument.

Anyway, Tyler makes a good point but he, for some reason, attached to his good point a poor example; Davies’ attack on Friedman, which is not mostly a statement about a group’s thoughts, but rather a statement about a particular man’s thoughts, which can be mostly surmised from his writings.

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