HAVING A SCHOOL of economics as a father is probably very difficult. As the son of the famous iconoclast economist Milton Friedman, David Friedman most likely faces great obstacles in establishing a distinct and separate reputation. Especially since he has chosen to write on the same subjects. But for David this will not be much of a problem. He writes with more than enough radicalism to build an independent reputation and make his father turn red (if that's possible).
David Friedman is not a left-wing radical and he could hardly be called a right-wing radical, if such a thing exists. Rather he is a radical at a right angle to the entire political spectrum. A guide to a radical capitalism is how Friedman describes his book. Friedman is not advocating state capitalism with business and government exchanging favors in the same bed. Nor does he favor welfare state mixed capitalism or the conservative capitalism of his father. Rather he proposes the capitalism of a consistently free, radical libertarian society.
Friedman is clearly writing for college students and the young. He constantly addresses the New Left and points out many of its faults. A major shortcoming of the student left, he notes, is that they seem unable to understand how a free society without authoritative regulation or control could possibly work. As Friedman writes, "They have not grasped, emotionally or intellectually, the concept of non-coercive cooperation, of a society that lets everyone get what he wants." The purpose of Friedman's book is to describe such a free society and how it would work.
Private property is the machinery of freedom. That is the thesis of Friedman's book. He begins by describing private property institutions, why they are necessary, and how they work. He centers this framework around a basic libertarian ideal--each person should be free to run and control his own life. How Friedman applies these ideas to specific problems shows why he is definitely radical, but defies left-right labels.
LIKE ALL GOOD libertarians, Friedman takes stands which are considered left wing on some issues and right wing on others. He writes, "A libertarian society would have no laws against drugs, gambling, or pornography--and no compulsory seat belts on cars. We also reject the idea that people have an enforceable claim on others for anything more than being left alone. A libertarian society would have no welfare, no social security system."
An example of one of Friedman's left-wing stands is the chapter entitled "Is William F. Buckley a contagious disease?" In it he refutes brilliantly Buckley's attempt to justify jailing narcotics users. Buckley argues that narcotics addiction is a contagious disease because most addicts acquire the habit by associating with other addicts. It is the government's responsibility, therefore, to incarcerate these addicts just as it would quarantine small pox carriers during a plague. But Friedman argues that this is an invalid parallel. Someone who catches a contagious disease is an unwilling victim. Someone who takes up dope after associating with users has done so because has has seen their lifestyle and chosen to accept it. He may have done so because he is psychologically weak or misinformed, but that same possibility exists, as Friedman points out, for subscribing to National Review. Is William F. Buckley a contagious disease?
Friedman also takes a hard line against industrial polluters. Libertarians see polluters in the same category as muggers and rapists. A person who pollutes the air another breathes is just as forceful and violent as a mugger who breaks another man's leg. Friedman maintains solid support of all civil liberties and solid opposition to all victimless crime laws. He is against the draft, military intervention, aid to Saigon, and the very existence of the CIA.
On the other hand, Friedman and the libertarian movement takes several stands that are considered right wing. Libertarians support a laissez-faire free market and oppose government interference with all property rights. They favor replacing social security with a system of private old-age insurance. Another libertarian goal is the development of a private free market education system. As the first step, Friedman advocates a voucher plan of school financing. The government returns in the form of a voucher the portion of each person's taxes it would have spent on education. The individual would then be free to use the voucher to help purchase
Some of the most interesting work libertarians have done is in trying to find alternative ways to provide "public goods" that have traditionally been supplied by government. Libertarians want to make these goods into private ones that can be supplied on the market like every other commodity. Friedman advocates, for example, a system of free market roads and streets. He also outlines a plan for privately supplied court systems. There is a great debate among libertarians over whether government is needed to provide some public goods or whether government is completely obsolete and all services can be provided better on the market.
FRIEDMAN DOES not speak for all libertarians; the movement is too diverse for that. His book is an addition to the growing shelf of works that seek to outline a future consistently libertarian society. USC philosophy professor John Hospers, Ayn Rand, and Murray Rothbard are others who have written similar books. Many have hailed Rothbard's scholarly "For a New Liberty" as the libertarian manifesto and he has become the leading theoretician of the movement.
These and many other writers have their differences on exactly what the perfect libertarian goal is. But the differences are small compared to the great body of general agreement. The belief in the sanctity of individual liberty, in natural rights and non-aggression are common to all libertarians. Their basic political axiom is that no man, including representatives of governments, may initiate the use of force against the person or property of another. This is centered around a crucial libertarian tenet that each person should have complete control or ownership over his own life. Every man is free to enter into any voluntary contract or agreement that he believes will benefit his life.
Although libertarians take stands on both ends of the political spectrum, they are flawlessly consistent. They uphold their beliefs on every issue on both moral and practical grounds. As a libertarian, Friedman constantly tries to point out the inconsistencies of the left and right. He asks how can the leftist oppose war, the draft, and anti-abortion laws on the grounds of individual liberty and an abhorrence of violence, while at the same time ignoring property rights in supporting the violence of government economic control and heavy taxation? And how can the rightist support property rights and the free market on grounds of individual liberty and voluntarism while at the same time favoring the compulsion of war, the draft, and victimless crime laws?
Friedman's book is interesting because it uses novel arguments on a different level than the strongly challenging theories of Rand and the carefully consistent, scholarly analysis of Rothbard. Friedman explains his ideas in an entertaining style of writing meant to attract the college student. The major shortcomings of the book are Friedman's failure to make explicit the philosophic and moral base of his ideas as other libertarians have done so meticulously. Nor does Friedman answer the traditional questions about monopoly and poverty in a laissez-faire economy as completely as Rothbard does in his economic treatises.
BUT FRIEDMAN'S book is an easy to read introduction to the ideas of the libertarian movement and anyone willing to think in new directions will find it challenging.