Often cited as the father of economic freedom and viewed as a champion of the flourishment of human spirit, Milton Friedman served as a major proponent and voice for free enterprise, lack of government controls, and free international trade as a means of guaranteeing maximized economic freedom and prosperity for the greatest populous of people. My vindication for this economic philosopher rests in my alignment with his free trade advocacy, as in today’s political environment, the costs and benefits of international barriers to trade are being discussed with newfound passions.
His resounding optimism and belief in mankind as a whole was illustrated fully in his works of economics and philosophy throughout his lifetime (1912-2006), in which he witnessed some of the most devastating time period of human history such as The Depression, both World Wars, the Nuclear Age, the Cold War, Vietnam, the rise and fall of communism, and the Crash of 1987.
Stemming from these staggering observations, among his largest hesitations for humanity and the development of prosperity rested in restrictions to free trade, as well as collectivism, exacerbated interest rates, and factious rivalry within a society. Many sentiments echo calls of James Madison in his own right, furthermore, the founding fathers’ fear degradation of democratic right is expanded by Friedman into the abolition capitalism and the loss of the Pareto optimality which it helps insure.
Milton’s advocacy for the consumer was a rarely heard viewpoint when he came to light, and his logical explanations for the mutual benefits of open international markets suggested that the demand for a mere pencil could have vastly helpful implications for societies throughout the globe, quoted below from the interview transcript:
Look at this lead pencil. There’s not a single person in the world who could make this pencil. Remarkable statement? Not at all. The wood from which it is made, for all I know, comes from a tree that was cut down in the state of Washington. To cut down that tree, it took a saw. To make the saw, it took steel. To make steel, it took iron ore. This black center—we call it lead but it’s really graphite, compressed graphite—I’m not sure where it comes from, but I think it comes from some mines in South America. This red top up here, this eraser, a bit of rubber, probably comes from Malaya, where the rubber tree isn’t even native! It was imported from South America by some businessmen with the help of the British government. This brass ferrule? [Self-effacing laughter.] I haven’t the slightest idea where it came from. Or the yellow paint! Or the paint that made the black lines. Or the glue that holds it together. Literally thousands of people co-operated to make this pencil.
Undoubtedly, his genius rested in his ability to explain overlooked concepts in naturally simplistic ways, coupled with his eloquent ability to illustrate the point in a method which refutes all denial. A proud supporter of Adam Smith, Friedman often cited him in support of his own personal dialogues, especially in saying that the interactions of millions of people across vast stretches of land can have access to wages and sustenance, without any direction to do so, due to the multiplicity of comparative advantages and various circumstances, which enunciate the value of free trade.
To present a more contemporary impact of Friedman’s thought, I’d like to refer to a video series which consists of a series of quotes from various decades, rebounded between President Trump and Milton Friedman. A highly contrasting view of trade is presented by the avid free trade supporter and the President.
Trump presents claims of Chinese corporations and trade tactics taking advantage of American companies. Following, Friedman debunks Trump’s claims that automobile manufacturers are suffering from the growth of manufacturing jobs in foreign lands, saying that a referendum of automobile manufacturers asking if would be willing to accept the necessary production price increase which follows the return of a few thousand jobs in the United States. He then has a well composed statement on the apparent “threat” of a Japanese trade deficit by referring to the Japanese possession of American Dollars as an incentive for US domestic investment, or currency exchange, which thereby increases the value of American assets of American currency.
The facts here which Milton is pointing out are that even if a trade deficit exists, the results of it trickle down and expand into other sectors of the domestic economy, causing further growth for the United States. Along with these dynamics, Milton argues that the cheaper, more readily available supply of consumption goods from the Japanese comparative advantage for manufacturing are not a hindrance to the wellbeing of American Citizens, but rather a bolstering mechanism for betterment of domestic life at home. In further opposition to the use of tariffs, Friedman quotes an author who predates himself by the name of Henry George on the topic of trade tariffs saying “in times of war, we blockade our enemies in order to prevent them from getting goods from us. In times of peace, we do to ourselves what we do to our enemies in times of war.”
The lacking flow of free trade in today’s world is not staggering, but nor is it free. I find Milton Friedman’s observations and advocating for the free flow of goods and services between various nations and peoples to be a normative goal for greater prosperity and diplomacy, as well as better quality of human life and diplomatic relations between international lands speak. His preeminent support and almost religious devotion to free trade and free enterprise bring heavy words into the political sphere, which seem to hold even greater weight in the debates of modern political theater.