Why David Stockman’s website chose to republish this piece by Murray N. Rothbard, which is at least 40 years old, is unknown, but it’s a must read for anyone interested in economic theory and practice, particularly the Austrian and monetarist schools of economics. From Rothbard, at davidstockmanscontracorner.com:
Mention “free-market economics” to a member of the lay public and chances are that if he has heard the term at all, he identifies it completely with the name Milton Friedman. For several years, Professor Friedman has won continuing honors from the press and the profession alike, and a school of Friedmanites and “monetarists” has arisen in seeming challenge to the Keynesian orthodoxy.
However, instead of the common response of reverence and awe for “one of our own who has made it,” libertarians should greet the whole affair with deep suspicion: “If he’s so devoted a libertarian, how come he’s a favorite of the Establishment?” An advisor of Richard Nixon and a friend and associate of most Administration economists, Friedman has, in fact, made his mark in current policy, and indeed reciprocates as a sort of leading unofficial apologist for Nixonite policy.
In fact, in this as in other such cases, suspicion is precisely the right response for the libertarian, for Professor Friedman’s particular brand of “free-market economics” is hardly calculated to ruffle the feathers of the powers-that-be. Milton Friedman is the Establishment’s Court Libertarian, and it is high time that libertarians awaken to this fact of life.
THE CHICAGO SCHOOL
Friedmanism can be fully understood only in the context of its historical roots, and these roots are the so-called “Chicago School” of economics of the 1920s and 1930s. Friedman, a professor at the University of Chicago, is now the undisputed head of the modern, or second-generation, Chicago School, which has adherents throughout the profession, with major centers at Chicago, UCLA, and the University of Virginia.
The members of the original, or first-generation, Chicago School were considered “leftish” in their day, as indeed they were by any sort of genuine free-market criterion. And while Friedman has modified some of their approaches, he remains a Chicago man of the thirties.
The political program of the original Chicagoans is best revealed in the egregious work of a founder and major political mentor: Henry C. Simons’s A Positive Program for Laissez Faire. Simons’s political program was laisse-faire is only in an unconsciously satiric sense. It consisted of three key ideas:
(1) a drastic policy of trust-busting of all business firms and unions down to small blacksmith shop size, in order to arrive at “perfect” competition and what Simons conceived to be the “free market”;
(2) a vast scheme of compulsory egalitarianism, equalizing incomes through the income-tax structure; and
(3) a proto-Keynesian policy of stabilizing the price level through expansionary fiscal and monetary programs during a recession.
Extreme trust-busting, egalitarianism, and Keynesianism: the Chicago School contained within itself much of the New Deal program, and, hence, its status within the economics profession of the early 1930s as a leftish fringe. And while Friedman has modified and softened Simons’s hard-nosed stance, he is still, in essence, Simons redivivus; he only appears to be a free-marketeer because the remainder of the profession has shifted radically leftward and stateward in the meanwhile. And, in some ways, Friedman has added unfortunate statists elements that were not even present in the older Chicago School.
To continue reading: History Note: The Complete Demolition Of Milton Friedman’s Monetary Statism