M Friedman Capitalism and Freedom

One of the leading insights I hope that students take home from their reading of Capitalism and Freedom is that M Friedman and A Bloom for all of their apparent differences come to much the same position respecting the risks that democratic institutions pose to the free market.

A Bloom comes to this position by way of his classical studies. Had political leaders (the Guardians) of Germany been more circumspect, they would have recognized that true wisdom cannot arise from history, but arises only from reason itself, and therefore would never have allowed the demos to overrun the polis. Not only do the events in mid-twentieth century Germany provide a modern illustration, for A Bloom, of a lesson Plato learned from the death of his mentor, Socrates, at the hands of Athens’ citizens, but these events also prefigure the rise in the 1960s of a popular movement that in similar manner would subject the mechanisms of the state to a politics built upon identity and passion (as opposed to universality and reason).

M Friedman comes to much the same point. When self-interested political leaders (not unlike Pericles) attempt to preserve their political power by giving in to political pressure exercised by marketplace “losers,” they undermine the very mechanisms of freedom itself. The surest insurance for freedom, therefore, is protection of the free marketplace from outside interference, whether that interference comes from business interests (in the form of monopoly) or public interests (in the form of government taxation and regulation).

In both instances, the demos, as embodied in political representatives, is cast as a threat to freedom.

Perhaps the question we need to raise is whether, on the one hand, M Friedman would object to A Bloom’s solution to this problem (de facto rule by self-selecting Guardians whose secret rule protects the possibility of successor Guardians to be identified, nurtured, and prepared for rule); and whether, on the other hand, A Bloom would object to M Friedman’s solution to this problem (limited and dispersed government empowered only to ensure that monopoly power is kept to a minimum and that no party to an economic transaction is forced or tricked into the transaction against their wishes, but N.B., not necessarily against their best interests).

My best guess is that M Friedman and A Bloom would find no fundamental disagreement with one another on these two interrelated solutions, clearing the way for what G Steinmetz has called “authoritarian post-Fordism.”