Category: Friedman Friday

Enduring Legacy: Milton Friedman and Education

Milton Friedman’s contribution to 20th century economics is indisputable. But economics isn’t the only area where he had a vested interest. Friedman had a vision for transforming education through free market principles.

In a 1983 article for Newsweek, Friedman wrote,

Schools are now run by professional bureaucrats. Monopoly and uniformity have replaced competition and diversity… Control by producers has replaced control by consumers…

You cannot make a monopolistic supplier of a service pay much attention to its customers’ wants—especially when it does not get its funds directly from its customers.

He went on to describe the answer:

The only solution is to break the monopoly, introduce competition and give the customers alternatives.

Thus began the fight for school choice. The Friedman’s ideal model was a voucher system, where parents could choose the kind of education that would meet their child’s needs, and their tax dollars would follow that decision.

In another article for Newsweek, Friedman described the advantages a voucher system would provide:

This plan would harness the enormous potential of a free market to improve the quality of schooling and to broaden the range of alternatives open to our children—black and white, rich and poor, gifted and slow. As in other areas, we can all benefit by using the market: parents, students, taxpayers and teachers.

So much did Milton and Rose Friedman believe in the importance of school choice that in 1996 they started a foundation solely devoted to it:
“This foundation is the culmination of what has been one of our main interests for more than four decades: improvement in the quality of the education available to children of all income and social classes in this nation, whether that education is provided in government or private schools or at home. “

Originally called the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, it is now known as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Today the foundation is a leader in advancing a variety of educational options from voucher programs to tax credit scholarships to alternative education options. Their mission: “to advance Milton and Rose Friedman’s vision of school choice for all children.”

Using the Friedman Foundation website’s search function, you can find each state’s school choice options. Search for Washington, and here’s what comes up:  “Washington does not have a private school choice program. The state does not have a charter school law.” Not good news.

But it goes on to say, “Washington enables public virtual schooling. Open enrollment exists, both for intradistrict and interdistrict public school choice.” Public virtual schooling, combined with intradistrict and interdistrict school choice, is allowing students from all walks of life to access an alternative to the monopolistic traditional public school system. It also infuses competition into public schooling. Finally, it’s a starting point to whet the public’s appetite for more school choice options.

This week we honor Milton Friedman’s birthday. We do so not only today but all year round by carrying on his legacy of school choice for all. Learn more about online learning at the Freedom Foundation’s iLearn Project and find out if your district offers online options.

As Friedman said, “The best is yet to come as competition and the market work their wonders.”


Diana is the Senior Policy Analyst for Education Reform and director of the Freedom Foundation’s iLearn Project. A former middle school Humanities teacher, Diana taught on the south side of Seattle where she developed two primary text-based interdisciplinary humanities curricula.

Diana is a regular contributor to Living Liberty, the Freedom Foundation’s monthly publication. She blogs on and and has been published in a number of in-state and out-of-state newspapers. Diana has appeared as a guest on more than a dozen talk radio shows across the country.


[Reprinted from the Freedom Foundation blog.]

Happy 99th Birthday to the Late Great Milton Friedman!

Economist, Nobel Prize winner, author and vigorous defender of the free market, Milton Friedman, who passed away in late 2006, would have celebrated his 99th birthday this Sunday.

In his honor, the Reason Foundation has put together this short but great video to commemorate the life of a man whose ideas and ideals remain worth fighting for.

Also, check out this week’s edition of Radio Free Washington. American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks discusses the life of the late great Milton Friedman.


Eric Lohnes is an analyst for the Economic Policy Center. Prior to joining the Freedom Foundation, he worked as a tax and housing analyst for the Building Industry Association of Washington. His background also includes managing a small family business with his brothers and working as a legislative assistant in the Washington State Senate. Eric holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and English from Middle Tennessee State University.


[Reprinted from the Freedom Foundation blog.]

The Donahue-Friedman Interview (And Then There Was One)

Of all of Dr. Milton Friedman’s works, my favorite is not his efforts in economic theory, for which he won his Nobel Prize in Economics, nor any of the many other scholarly tomes he produced. It’s not even “Free To Choose”, his successful TV series and book that proved that economics could be a hit with American popular culture. My favorite work is, in fact, an hour-long recording of appearance on the Phil Donahue Show in 1979, available to the world on YouTube.

In this interview, Milton Friedman takes the opportunity to solidly present his case for a smaller government that spends less, regulates less, and interferes in the private sector less. He responds to the entire litany of liberal shibboleths posed by Phil Donahue and members of the audience, like greedy corporations, income inequality, and anarchy brought by unrestricted human activity. He answers each in turn in the same good-natured, grandfatherly manner, challenging the viewer to think it through for themselves.

The highlight of the show is his counter argument to the proposition that capitalism is based on greed. Is not greed just another word for self-interest, he asks?  And is there any citizen, any politician, any country that does not operate on a basis of its own self interest?  He correctly cites that history has shown that the only occasions that the common people have risen up from grinding poverty have been when the productivity and industry of individuals have been unleashed by allowing them to participate in the free enterprise capitalism.

At times Dr. Friedman appears eerily prescient. When Milton asserts that that the size of a company is neither inherently good or bad, Phil asks him if he would object to Sears buying out K-Mart. Dr. Friedman replies laughingly that the way things are going, it is more likely that K-mart will purchase Sears. They did, in 2004.  As Dr. Friedman points out the waste and inefficiency of government regulations that keeps the cost of oil and interstate trucking high, you realize that in just a couple years both of those industries would be deregulated, much to the benefit of the US economy. The clear, free-market principles he gives for his opposition to the bail-out of Chrysler are more applicable and carry even more weight when transported to the repeat in 2009, though sadly they were not followed in either event.

Phil Donahue, to his credit, is polite and respectful throughout the interview. He never attempts to talk over Dr. Friedman, never cuts him off or tries to filibuster.  It actually seems a bit strange and anachronistic, given the state of political dialogue we get from today’s talking heads on TV. Despite the polar opposition of their views, the entire hour is more of a conversation and discussion among friends than a debate. Although you realize that Phil will never abandon his liberal beliefs, you can’t help but sense, as Dr. Freidman swats down every argument with ease, a look of distress and doubt growing in Phil’s eyes. Phil Donahue’s audience, a mostly female group not generally assumed to be comprised of conservatives, applaud generously each time Dr. Friedman makes a particularly good point.  Therein lies what I believe is his greatest talent: the ability to communicate complicated economic principles in a non-technical manner clearly understandable by the layman, and to persuade the general public of the superiority of policies of limited government, free market capitalism and individual freedom.


Seeing Economic Truth Requires Shattering the Illusion of a Free Lunch

Looking back at the lessons Milton Friedman was teaching decades ago, it’s hard not to be amazed by how closely they mirror the disputes of today, and saddened that such self-evident truths must still be argued all over again today.

Warnings of the excessive growth of government, with too many regulations, too much taxation, too much spending, and too much debt seem to have gone unheeded. The benefits of policies like school vouchers, free trade, and the elimination of regulations and bailouts (that only serve to profit one company over another and increase costs to the consumer) have gone unrealized.

The blame for this lack of progress can be laid at the feet of politicians. But as Milton Friedman correctly observed, politicians are not angels, they operate under the same rules of self-interest we all do. Dr. Friedman believed that we cannot improve things by voting in “better” politicians, since they are only following the wishes of those who elect them. What is needed, through persuasion and education, is “better” voters who reward politicians for decisions made in the public good. Only when voters stop rewarding the politician that promises them a “free lunch”, benefits paid for by others, will you get wise long term decisions. The politicians won’t be getting any nobler; they will just be getting more noble instructions from the voters.

As the debate rages this week over increasing the debt limit, and the deadline approaches, we need to redouble our efforts to spread Dr. Milton Friedman’s message to America’s voters. We have spent decades electing politicians to hand out “free” benefits. Hardly a man, woman or child in America does not directly benefit from some federal program, or receive federal payments, paid for with federal debt that threatens to bankrupt our nation. What is needed is to reward the elected officials that cut government spending we cannot afford (even if it is a program that we benefit from) and punish those that think they can continue indefinitely to bribe us with our own dollars. Let the politicians know that November 2012 is coming.

Freedom (Not Mandates) Is Our Best Hope For a ‘Greener’ Future

I have a bumper sticker on my desk that reads “I’m an environmentalist, but NOT the anti-human, collectivist kind.” In Washington state, too many believe that to be one you must be the other. In fact, however, wherever we look, we see people working in a free market doing more for environmental sustainability than politicians and government programs. Unfortunately, much of our current environmental approach sees the only solution coming from collectivist approaches like public transit and sees humans, and especially human freedom, as the enemy.

As we celebrate his birthday, we can also celebrate Milton Friedman’s fundamental commitment to the reality that even as politicians tell us we cannot make progress on environmental stewardship without them, individuals in a free market system are already doing it.

Perhaps Milton Friedman’s greatest insight is recognizing the power of free and voluntary interactions between people to improve lives and find ways to be better stewards of resources. Those voluntary interactions exist whether we recognize them or not, even when politicians might wish to stifle them.

As Friedman notes in Capitalism and Freedom, even as McCarthyism sought to blacklist some for their views, the power of people’s desire to make quality films allowed one blacklisted writer to win an Academy Award using a nom de plume. Jim Crow laws in the south are another example of politicians using the power of government to limit voluntary interactions between people.

A similar pattern emerges with environmental policy. Politicians promise their schemes will yield benefits but when they fail, those same politicians push for more of the same – at the expense of individual liberty.

The City of Seattle claims success in meeting the Kyoto Protocol’s carbon reduction targets but quietly admits that “economic factors,” i.e. individual efforts to save energy, rather than government regulations created the reduction. Metro buys soy diesel to cut carbon emissions in its buses, only to dump it a year later when it turned out the cost was too high and it didn’t help the environment. And rather than allowing school districts to find the best way to cut energy costs, legislators required schools to meet a cookie cutter “green” building standard the legislature’s own auditor says costs more than it saves.

Perhaps the area where Milton Friedman would have most to say about the green movement is in the claim that “green” jobs will create prosperity. When visiting China, Friedman watched as laborers worked to build a dam with shovels and picks. He asked why they weren’t using modern equipment. When his Chinese hosts explained that this was a jobs program, Friedman responded “Then why aren’t they using spoons?” Green jobs work in a similar way.

Greens brag that it takes more labor to produce a kilowatt hour of green energy than traditional energy. This is like bragging that banning tractors would create more agricultural jobs. Workers would be poorer, prices would be higher, but politicians could claim they created more “jobs.”

Indeed, we could probably create an even greater number of green jobs by putting those workers on a treadmill to create “renewable” energy.

Despite a record of failed environmental policies, some see the solution as more government intervention, not less.

For example, in her book Green Gone Wrong, Heather Rogers laments the fact that there isn’t “social control of capital,” saying the failure of environmentalism to make a bigger impact is due to the lack of government power to make decisions for the planet. Ironically, she also laments the failure of the Indonesian government to protect mangrove swamps in that country, saying the political leaders side with big companies rather than indigenous peoples. Her philosophy comes down to something like “the government should be in control of key decisions, except when it shouldn’t.” Indeed, this is the only philosophy those who believe in government power can have. They can only make it up as they go, hoping the imposition of this regulation or law will work out better than the last and assuming the very people who often turn out to have their personal interests in mind, not the planet’s, will make good decisions.

People in a free market consistently do better than politicians because they can harness the creativity of millions of people, each looking to reduce the amount of energy and resources they use, rewarding those who come up with the best solutions.

This pro-human approach, respecting the voluntary choices of individuals and their relationships with each other, is not only more successful, it is more moral.

Each of us has an incentive to use as few resources as possible to attain the lifestyle we want to live. We don’t want to waste energy, food or resources because such waste is antithetical to the efficiency that is central to a free market approach.

It is why an economic mindset is so critical to offering the environmental amenities we in the Evergreen State love. Environmentalism is born of a concern about scarce resources. Economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources. What could be a better match?

It is why environmentalism should leave the government-heavy mindset of the 1970s behind, and honor the contributions Milton Friedman made not only to human freedom and prosperity, but to future environmental sustainability.

This year we celebrate not another year of the man, perhaps, but another year of the man’s ideas that make such a difference for people and the planet.


Guest contributor Todd Myers is Director of Washington Policy Center’s Center for the Environment. He is one of the nation’s leading experts on free-market environmental policy and is the author of Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism is Harming the Environment, Five Years of Environmental Policy: Are We Making a Difference; Promoting Personal Choice, Incentives and Investment to Cut Greenhouse Gases, and more.  Todd’s in-depth research on the failure of the state’s 2005 “green” building mandate continues to receive national attention.  Todd holds a Master’s degree from the University of Washington.


Economic freedom is an essential requisite for political freedom. By enabling people to cooperate with one another without coercion or central direction, it reduces the area over which political power is exercised. In addition, by dispersing power, the free market provides an offset to whatever concentration of political power may arise. The combination of economic and political power in the same hands is a sure recipe for tyranny.

-Milton Friedman, “Free to Choose.”

A number of years ago, when my curiosity in politics and economics had barely begun to percolate, my friend handed me an old copy of a book called, “Free to Choose.” It sat on the shelf for a while, my interest in these subjects still nominal. However, as my awareness about the dire reality of America’s predicament emerged, I found myself reaching for this brilliant and enduring masterpiece.

Fast-forward to 2011 and I find myself living in Milton Friedman’s worst-case scenario. Our country faces a crisis, but not just one of accounting. We face an existential crisis of philosophy, ideology, and vision. Friedman, and others like him, such as Thomas Sowell, understood very well where utopia-obsessed “progressive” ideology would take us. Friedman recognized that economic freedom builds defenses against political tyranny. He knew that, in order for the grand central planners to enforce their dreams, freedom of choice must necessarily disappear for rest of us. The natural result of this is the destruction of incentives that inspire free men and women to make their own dreams come true.

Milton Friedman probably would have approved of this video, in which zombies are used as a deft allegory for the out-of-control spending and debt that is currently consuming our nation. During the George W. Bush years, when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, Friedman spoke out about our debt’s dangerous trajectory and the overspending behind it. Imagine if he had lived to see the bloodletting that has occurred under the Democrat-controlled Congress and the Obama administration. I am sure he would have had some choice words for today’s Radical-in-Chief, and more importantly, some good advice about how to remedy our situation.

It is not often that we mere mortals are gifted with a genius like Milton Friedman. He was not only a fiercely intelligent economist, but also a deeply philosophical thinker who was able to connect the numbers and charts and graphs to eternal truths like individual freedom and liberty. For a young woman awash in the progressive inanity that masquerades as education, a student desperate for reasoned logic and philosophy, discovering the warm, bespectacled man in a modest brown suit was an electrifying moment.

I see my peers, after years of leftist indoctrination via something akin to perpetual osmosis, holding their liberty up – their freedom to choose – like some sort of primitive, sacrificial offering. They are cheerful lambs being led to the slaughter by their own self-righteous noses. Most of them have never read, watched or studied Freidman’s extensive body of work, and I worry who, if anyone, will electrify them with eternal truths and reason. And so, as a thirty-one year-old peering into the future – her own and America’s – I can’t help but feel a little anxious.

Will there be men like Milton Friedman in our future?


Guest contributor Keli Carender is a national support staff member for Tea Party Patriots as well as coordinating education and outreach for Sunshine Standard. She is currently working hard to enact the Health Care Compact in all fifty states, and is honored to be counted among the millions of citizens rising up to return power back to the people as a part of the tea party movement.

Friedman: Champion of Freedom Whose Legacy Must Be Carried On

Dr. Milton Friedman was one of the greatest champions of freedom in my lifetime and one of the greatest economists of all time.  On this day – what would have been his 99th birthday – we are inspired to preserve his memory and the wisdom of his free market philosophy.

Dr. Friedman’s philosophy can be summed up with his simple phrase: “There’s no free lunch.”  When it comes to politics, every dollar that is spent by government has to be paid for by someone else–either through taxes or borrowing or inflation.  Government cannot create wealth; it can only redistribute it.  And yet, far too often, redistributing wealth also destroys it. As Friedman pointed out, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results” and  “the government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem.”

Dr. Friedman’s 1962 treatise, Capitalism and Freedom, was a revelation for free-market  defenders – a rare jewel in the 1960s political culture that was madly in love with “Keynesianism” and “Big Government.”  His 1980 book, Free to Choose ­– the best-selling non-fiction book of that year – built on that work and helped pave the way for Reaganomics and the greatest boom in history.

In the 1980s and 90s, Dr. Friedman’s influence was remarkable.  In America and throughout the world, there was a consensus that low taxes, few regulations, balanced budgets, and sound money was the path to prosperity.  For some reason, we have strayed from that formula in recent years – and with disastrous consequences.  The time for a rediscovery of Milton Friedman has come.

Dr. Friedman once said, “Governments never learn. Only people learn.”  On this – Dr. Friedman’s 99th birthday – please spread the word about his ideas and his remarkable legacy.


Featured guest contributor Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers represents Washington’s 5th Congressional District and serves as vice chair of the House Republican Conference.


Happy Birthday Dr. Friedman

This year is being coined a “Season of Growth” for the dramatic gains that have been made in school choice. And, indeed, it has been, with school choice programs being enacted or expanded in more than a dozen states across the county. But as we celebrate those fruits and those who cultivated them, we also must recognize their original “Johnny Appleseed.”

Although Dr. Milton Friedman died almost five years ago, his impact on freedom – and specifically school choice – continues to be recognized by freedom-loving people both in the United States and around the world.

Today, Americans are gravely concerned about our country. They’re awaiting solutions to the debt crisis, rightfully worrying about inflation, and trying to improve public education’s performance and costs. In response, Dr. Friedman’s writings and ideas could not be more relevant. From Capitalism and Freedom to A Monetary History of the United States to Free to Choose, Dr. Friedman’s work contains many of the answers Americans are seeking today.

Dr. Friedman once said that “Governments never learn. Only people learn.” How true. If our country’s current crises show us anything, it’s that the American people are learners. They know what works and what doesn’t. That is precisely why they’re opposing an increase to the debt ceiling. It’s why businesses aren’t hiring over concerns of new government regulations. And it is exactly why Americans are standing up for school choice – because they’ve learned it works for them and their children.

But with Dr. Friedman gone, his ideas need new spokesmen – individuals who can eloquently and plainly explain the theories and benefits of free markets. On this July 29, Americans for Prosperity Foundation -Washington State will recommit to the search for and work to empower new “Johnny Appleseeds” who can instill in the hearts and minds of their friends, neighbors, and children the values of freedom and the fruits they can bear for us all.

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