Blogs > Liberty and Power > MY VERY FIRST BLOG

Jan 20, 2004 12:43 pm


I'm Mark and I'm your guest blogger this week. Thank you, David, for your kind invitation to blog at Liberty & Power. I'm looking forward to the week ahead.

For those who don't know me, I've been a libertarian for well over thirty years. I was born in Windsor and grew up in Egham, a small town southwest of London and very near Runnymede, where King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215. I have resided in the U.S. for twenty of the past twenty-five years. For many years I taught economics in schools, colleges and universities in Britain, Ireland and California. More recently I was a program officer at the Institute for Humane Studies, where I organized and directed student seminars, evaluated fellowship applications and mentored students. Now I work primarily in the private sector with high-school students. Since my childhood I have enthusiastically collected books and have even found time to read some of them.

It's been a while since I last looked at Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom (1962). Yesterday afternoon I had occasion to return to this book and was immediately reminded of how much better it is than Free to Choose (1980). Much better because, whatever Friedman's inconsistencies from the perspective of hard-core libertarianism (and I suggest he has fewer than F. A. Hayek), it remains a succinct statement of the case for individual liberty and the free market. Indeed, I heard Friedman once say that he thought it was the better book because it was shorter.

Chapter VII on Capitalism and Discrimination is in many respects an excellent treatment of the topic. He concludes (pp.117-18) with a discussion of whether the state should enforce segregation or integration in public schools (and thus addresses the more general question of what real liberals should want the government to do if it already exists). If forced to choose, he states that he would opt for enforced integration. He then makes the case for vouchers that would permit parents to select a segregated school for their child if this were their choice. I got to speculating whether Friedman would be prepared to make this argument (about vouchers) today. I wasn't surprised to find that the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation at doesn't address this issue. And I haven't come across anyone currently campaigning for school vouchers who has endorsed Friedman's 1962 statement. But I'd like to think Friedman would not repudiate his original position if asked. He might say that it isn't so much of an issue now as it was in 1962. That's probably true but I guess it's more of an issue than some defenders of vouchers would have us believe.

Chapter VIII on Monopoly and the Social Responsibility of Business and Labor is also well worth reading. (So for that matter is the entire book, whatever criticisms libertarians would make of his advocacy of government intervention in money, school finance, etc.) This chapter got me thinking about how self-identified libertarian, classical liberal and conservative organizations inside and outside the Beltway tap corporate sponsors for contributions. Friedman writes (p.133):

Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible. This is a fundamentally subversive doctrine.

Later he writes (p.135):

One topic in the area of social responsibility that I feel duty-bound to touch on, because it affects my own personal interests, has been the claim that business should contribute to the support of charitable activities and especially to universities. Such giving by corporations is an inappropriate use of corporate funds in a free-enterprise society.

He concludes (p.136):

[T]he direction in which policy is now moving, of permitting corporations to make contributions for charitable purposes and allowing deductions for income tax, is a step in the direction of creating a true divorce between ownership and control and of undermining the basic nature and character of our society. It is a step away from an individualistic society and toward the corporate state.

I suppose Friedman might temper his strictures against corporate donations to charities and universities -- and, by extension, public policy institutes, advocacy groups and PACs and political candidatures -- in the case of private corporations where the owners unanimously agree on the donations. That said, I don't see that contributing to policy institutes, pressure groups and political campaigns is profit-maximizing behavior in a way that making other sorts of contribution is not. And certainly both donors and beneficiaries strenuously deny the fact. There now arises an interesting question. I'm not aware that avowedly free-market institutes refrain from soliciting funds from public or private corporations where charitable contributions are decided by majority vote of the board of directors. The question, dear readers, is should they? And what about charitable foundations, where a board of trustees may fail to implement deceased donors' wishes?

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Oscar Chamberlain - 1/21/2004

Friedman's suggestion that corporations have no social responsibilities could be reasonable--if corporations were not accorded rights similar to those of an individual.

Well, actually, it is only reasonable when you posit that there is only individual good. But we're social animals; we've been so since our ancestors chased game together. Corporate contributions are, in their own odd way, an acknowledgement that a wider community (or communities) exist.

Beside corporations are not libertarian. And libertarian institutes need money. It's a reasonable exchange, if not quite ideologically sound.