M Friedman on the Game of Democracy

Reading M Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, one might easily get the impression that Mr. Friedman is not a particularly big fan of government. Which is why I was pleased to find the following reassurance roughly half way into Chapter One:

The existence of a free market does not of course eliminate the need for government. On the contrary, government is essential . . . (p. 15).

But, earlier promises in the book notwithstanding, don’t expect to find anything here about republican values, democracy, or popular self-governance. That for which the “government is essential” is to serve “both as a forum for determining the ‘rules of the game’ and as an umpire to interpret and enforce the rules decided on” (p. 15). “Rules of the game”? “Umpire”?

Let us suppose for a moment, just for the sake of argument, that, in the instance of a republic, the government is exactly not the forum that determines the rules of the game; that the rules are decided in convention and then laid out in a Constitution (see “M Friedman, “Introduction”). Let us further suppose that these rules are felt by the conventioneers to be bound to republican values and theory. What rules are they then that this forum will determine? Perhaps they will determine a rule that subjects public things (res publicum) to private interests?

But, anyone who has read the Federalist Papers or James Madison’s notes on the Convention knows that the conventioneers feared no tyrant more than the tyranny imposed by private self-interest and party spirit, and that they were covetous of no spirit more than they were the spirit of concord and harmony; which, again, makes me wonder whether, perhaps, Mr. Friedman was confusing the U.S. Constitution with the Anti-Federalist Papers or perhaps F v Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.

But, even assuming that Mr. Friedman was not so confused, it strains credulity to believe, as Mr. Friedman appears to believe, that the U.S. Constitution and its Amendments can be understood as a game designed solely to ensure the freedom of the market place.

Indeed, if this is what Mr. Friedman and his followers believe, then among the many lessons we can take home from this belief is that our public institutions—particularly our schools—have done a wretched job teaching US History to our students, not least of all to Mr. Friedman himself, who appears to have been asleep during those lessons.