Left and right misrepresent Milton Friedman, says book – 02/09/2024 – Market

Left and right misrepresent Milton Friedman, says book – 02/09/2024 – Market

“Milton Friedman says this: if you really want to help the poor, don’t create state-owned enterprises, public banks, transfer income through vast ministries to [fazer] getting money to the poor, no. Give the poor people the minimum income, the basic income. That’s exactly what we did. When the pandemic arrived, I remembered that.”

The statement, made in 2021, is from the Minister of Economy of the Bolsonaro government, Paulo Guedes, who was a student of Friedman during his doctorate at the University of Chicago.

Guedes was not the only figure in Latin American politics to make reference to the Nobel Prize for Economics in recent times.

Upon being elected president of Argentina, the ultra-liberal Javier Milei — who defends, for example, the defense of the extinction of the central bank and the adoption of the dollar as the national currency — also cited the American as a philosophical source for his ideas.

But who was Friedman? And what is the scope and nature of his legacy?

These are questions that historian Jennifer Burns, from Stanford University, seeks to answer in the book “Milton Friedman: The Last Conservative”, published at the end of last year.

The researcher’s thesis is simple: Friedman’s legacy has been misrepresented by both the left and the right over the years. Her objective with the work is, therefore, to shed light on the arguments and rescue them from the noise and misunderstandings of the more pedestrian public debate.

Despite being circumspect, Friedman gained notoriety for his own communication skills, dedicating himself to popularizing the same arguments he presented in classes on dry macroeconomics subjects packed with college students, in a regular column in Newsweek magazine, and on a TV show on PBS. , American public broadcaster.

At the same time as he was the pet economist of people like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, in addition to being one of those responsible for the implosion of the Keynesian consensus in favor of public spending, he also defended a minimum income program and the end of compulsory military enlistment.

Burns adopts a defensive and uncritical tone towards Friedman in at least two moments in his book.

Under the pretext of debating the economist’s ideas, not their moral merit, the author ends up minimizing their political implications and presumes good faith on his part even in indefensible historical circumstances.

One of these moments is when she mentions the intellectual’s opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Brown against the Board of Education, one of the milestones in the end of racial segregation in the United States educational system.

The other concerns the economist’s public position in the face of General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile. During the period, Friedman repeatedly chose to criticize not the authoritarian regime that had just staged a coup, but the government of Salvador Allende, which had been overthrown.

It is curious that Burns sees someone who supported an authoritarian regime and opposed the civil rights struggle as a source of moderation. For the historian, however, Friedman’s trajectory should influence moderate conservatives in opposing Trumpism.

The book idealizes a past in which there would be respectable conservatism, prior to Trumpist barbarism. But Friedman, as the author herself recalls, was close to Reagan, Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon — politicians who could only be classified as moderates compared to today’s radical populists.

Trumpism did not appear out of nowhere and should not be understood as an exotic element, but as the development of a phenomenon until recently confined to the margins.

Friedman lent his chair pomp to the conservative movement and legitimized it with intellectual dignity and some social prestige, first in the USA, then in Latin America and the world.

Taking into account the historical relationship of this movement with racial issues and authoritarian regimes, perhaps Burns’ classification would be more rigorous if the “conservative” in the subtitle was replaced by “reactionary”, after all.

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