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Ramblings

Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.

Milton Friedman, 1912-2006: A Champion and Philosopher of Freedom

The death of Milton Friedman in November has been mourned around the world by all who value freedom. Few men and women in our time have had as much influence in advancing free societies as did the Nobel Laureate economist.

Dr. Friedman insisted that largely unimpeded private competition produced better results than government systems. "Try talking French with someone who studied it in public school," he once said, "then with a Berlitz graduate." In the area of education, he was an early advocate of vouchers which would provide freedom of choice to the poor, a freedom already possessed by the affluent.

One of his most famous arguments dealt with the causes of the Depression. It was promoted not by changes in tariff laws or by the stock market crash, he said, but by the Federal Reserve Board's decisions to shrink the money supply for fear of inflation in 1929 and again in 1936. Those choices choked the life out of the economy and exacerbated a bad situation, he stated in A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960 (1963), co-written with Anna J. Schwartz. The book is considered the definitive history of the nation's money supply.

It was Milton Friedman's belief that free enterprise was the only form of economic organization consistent with other freedoms. In his important book, Capitalism and Freedom, he points out that:

The kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely, competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables one to offset the other.

He declares that:

Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men. The fundamental threat to freedom is power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority. The preservation of freedom requires the elimination of such concentration of power to the fullest possible extent and the dispersal and distribution of whatever power cannot be eliminated-a system of checks and balances. By removing the organization of economic activity from the control of political authority, the market eliminates this source of coercive power. It enables economic strength to be a check to political power rather than a reinforcement.

Even those who disagreed with some of Friedman's ideas had great respect for him, and for his influence on America and the world. Former Harvard President and Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers recalls that:

From what I've heard, Milton Friedman's participation on a government commission on the volunteer military in the late 1960s was a kind of intellectual version of the play "Twelve Angry Men." Gradually, through force of persistent argument and marshaling of evidence, he brought his fellow commission members around to the previously unthinkable view that both our national security and our broader interest would be served by a volunteer military.

Beyond Milton Friedman the economist, writes Summers:

. . . there was Milton Friedman the public philosopher. Ask reformers in any one of the countries behind what we used to call the Iron Curtain where they learned to contemplate alternatives to Communism during the closed era before the Berlin Wall fell and they will often tell you about reading Milton Friedman and realizing how different their world would be. . . . Milton Friedman and I probably never voted the same way in any election. . . . I have my list of areas where I believe Mr. Friedman oversimplified or was simply wrong. Nonetheless, like many others, I feel that I have lost a hero-a man whose success demonstrates that great ideas convincingly advanced can change the lives of people around the world.

In an era when most of his fellow economists were advocating one or another form of government control of regulation of the economy, Friedman became an ardent crusader for capitalism and economic freedom. He did not advocate capitalism because of sympathy for the rich. Friedman himself was born in New York, the son of poor Jewish immigrants. His father died when Milton was 15, leaving his mother with very little money to pay for their son's education, which became a struggle. His advocacy of capitalism came because in a society based upon free enterprise all citizens-both the rich and the poor, and the majority, who were middle class-would prosper. More important, freedom could exist only when the state did not control the economic lives of its citizens.

Assessing Friedman's influence, The Economist declared that:

When Mr. Friedman was attacking the growth of the state and trumpeting freedom of choice 50 years ago, few listened; now many do. Ideas that once seemed daft-ending peacetime military conscription, deregulating industries from transport to banking, the negative income tax, school vouchers-have become either reality or part of mainstream political discourse. And his impact was probably greatest in places where non-economists might not spot it; largely thanks to him, governments no longer believe they can buy permanently lower unemployment at the price of a little more inflation. You could even be forgiven for thinking that the whole world had been remade in Mr. Friedman's image. Communism no longer rules half of Europe. Even in China and Vietnam capitalism has taken hold. Politicians of left and right speak of the power, and sometimes the virtues, of market forces. No wonder those forces are so often held to be untrammeled, unfettered, or merely triumphant form Seattle to Shanghai.

Still, there is much in current trends that disturbed Milton Friedman. The size of the state-particularly in our own country-has been growing, which can be seen in the ratio of government spending to GDP. Since 1989, the year Ronald Reagan, the president most in tune with Friedman's ideas, left office, and the Berlin Wall came down, the U.S. government has grown just as fast as its economy. The state's portion of GDP is forecast to be 36.6 percent in 2006, up from 36.1 percent seventeen years ago. The public sector has grown as well in Europe's three largest economies-Britain, France, and Germany. Governments, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, seem as convinced as ever that they know best how to spend their citizens' money.

"Judged by practice," wrote Friedman and his wife Rose in their memoirs published eight years ago, "we have been, despite some successes, mostly on the losing side. Judged by ideas we have been on the winning side."

This may have been too modest an appraisal. In Capitalism and Freedom, published in 1962, Friedman lists 14 activities then undertaken by the U.S. government, "that cannot . . . validly be justified" by the principles he sets forth. These include price supports for farming; tariffs and import quotas; rent control; minimum wages; "detailed regulation of industries," including banks; forcing retirees to buy annuities; military conscription in time of peace; national parks; and the ban on carrying mail for profit.

Although government still does a lot of this-and many, even those who call themselves conservative, disagree with some of Friedman's objections-it does much less than it did, and little goes unquestioned.

Because of his great skills as a communicator, Friedman's views reached far beyond his fellow economists. For eighteen years he wrote a column in Newsweek magazine. He and his wife Rose wrote a best-selling book Free to Choose, which led to a television series by the same name. During the past decade, the Friedmans dedicated themselves to advancing school choice. It was their view that failing schools produced failing students, depriving young people of the tools they would need to attain economic independence. Friedman first proposed school vouchers in 1955, but it wasn't until 1996 that he and Rose started their foundation to take advantage of the growing interest in school choice.

Giving economically deprived young people a choice of schools, Friedman believed, would offer them the best opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty. He pointed to a 1999 National Opinion Poll for the Joint Center of Political and Economic Studies in which 60 percent of minorities support vouchers and 87 percent of black parents ages 26 to 35 did so.

Columnist Cal Thomas reports that:

The Friedman Foundation's web site answers virtually every objection to school choice. First, it really is a choice. Universal vouchers would allow all parents to direct funds set aside by the government for education to the school they believe will best serve their child, whether the school is public or private, religious or secular. This separates the government operation of schools from the government financing of them. Only those who could demonstrate economic need would be eligible for the vouchers, except for parents whose children attend public schools identified as failing. In such circumstances all parents would be offered vouchers. . . . If school choice becomes the U.S. norm, it will be Milton Friedman's real legacy. Every poor child liberated from a failed government school will owe him a debt of gratitude.

Would school choice hurt public schools by depriving them of needed funds? No, says Friedman: "Public schools pay attention when school choice is on the table." He cites Florida as an example, noting that after a school choice program began:

. . . schools identified as failing are already publicizing their efforts to improve by hiring more teachers, increasing funds for after-school tutoring and lowering class sizes. One superintendent, Earl Lennard, even vowed to take a 5 percent pay cut if his county's schools received a failing grade.

In Friedman's view, competition works in free markets as well as in school choice. In Florida, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, public schools have received more state and federal aid for their public schools since voucher programs were set up.

Ben Stein, the writer and son of economist Herbert Stein, a long-time friend of Milton Friedman, writes that:

He was a friend and mentor and inspiration all my life. . . . When I was a Columbia undergrad in the early 1960s, Friedman taught there for a year and was a good friend to me. He even used applied statistics to save me from romantic desperation when I was worried about replacing a girlfriend. If there were only one right woman for every right man, he advised, they would never find each other. . . . Friedman, as much as anyone, stood athwart history and cried "Stop" as it seemed headed towards collectivism-only he did it with a masterly, genius-level grasp of mathematics, history, and statistics. He proved, inasmuch as it can be proved, that free markets would not impoverish the poor but enrich them, would not ride roughshod over the downtrodden but would empower them. . . . When I learned he had died, I was despondent, but I also realized you cannot kill Friedman's exaltation of human liberty-not with a gun, not with a tank, not with terrorism, not even with heart disease. His ideas and faith in the human spirit are as implanted in civilization as those of any benevolent economist and social revolutionary since his idol Adam Smith, whom he so worthily followed.

Milton Friedman's was a life fully lived and his influence for good will continue into the future as men and women around the world come to understand the intrinsic link between freedom of speech, religious freedom, the freedom to govern oneself-and economic freedom which, as Friedman often pointed out, is simply democracy applied to the marketplace.

Finally, the Millions Killed by Communist Regimes Will Be Memorialized in Washington

The groundbreaking ceremony for a memorial honoring the millions of people killed by Communist regimes was held in September near the U.S. Capitol. Elected officials and representatives of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, founded in 1994, took shovels in hand to officially begin the project, a joint effort by dozens of organizations and individuals.

"This is a historic day," said Lee Edwards, chairman of the nonprofit foundation that spearheaded the project. "The memorial will serve to remind all of us that never again must nations and peoples permit so evil a tyranny to terrorize the world."

Paula J. Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, said Communism "corroded the human experience in the 20th century."

Mrs. Dobriansky's father, Lev Dobriansky, a former ambassador to Bermuda, was instrumental in the push for the memorial. She said the groundbreaking essentially signifies the end of the Cold War. "The memorial built here will stand, after we no longer do." She said.

It will educate future generations about the misery caused by Communism, the massive resistance efforts and the fortitude of those who were victimized by it and ultimately overcame it.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who sponsored the legislation that authorized the memorial, said: "Today we proclaim that Communism is indeed dead, but we will never forget those who Communism murdered during its brief life on this planet."

The memorial is a replica of the "Goddess of Democracy" statue created by student activists in China's Tiananmen Square that was demolished by Communist tanks during the historic uprising in 1989. Modeled after the Statue of Liberty, a 10-foot bronze copy of the statute will now be erected in downtown Washington as a permanent tribute to the estimated 100 million people killed by various Communist regimes.

"There is no memorial to all the victims of Communism," said Lee Edwards, an historian and Heritage Foundation fellow.

We want to focus attention on the crimes of Communism and therefore educate people about why we fought and won the Cold War. We are still in a confrontation with Communist China. That's the reason we think we need to be here.

The dedication of the memorial is scheduled for June to coincide with the 20th anniversary of President Reagan's famed "tear down this wall" speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

For many years a large number of liberals, intellectuals, and journalists in the U.S. and other Western countries expressed sympathy for Communism and what they believed was a noble "experiment" taking place in the Soviet Union and other Marxist regimes. With the end of the Cold War, and Western access to Soviet archives, the truth about Communism has slowly come to be known to all.

In 1999, for example, The Black Book of Communism, an 846-page academic study that blames Communism for the deaths of between 85 million and 100 million people world-wide, became a best-seller. Billed as the first global balance sheet of Communism, the Black Book estimates that the ideology claimed 45 million to 72 million in China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, between 1.3 million to 2.3 million in Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea, 1.7 million in Africa, 1.5 million in Afghanistan, 1 million in Vietnam, 1 million in Eastern Europe, and 150,000 in Latin America.

Editorially, The Wall Street Journal notes that:

Through all those years, leftist intellectuals insisted on disassociating Communism from the crimes committed in its name. They did not want to sully Communism's utopian notion of egalitarianism, a concept quite different from the equal opportunity practiced by democratic nations. What the intellectuals failed to see was that egalitarianism was merely an advertising slogan for a political movement whose leaders would settle for nothing less than absolute power. Both Lenin and Mao regarded themselves as gods, entitled to hammer human nature into the mold of the New Socialist Man. But the subjects of their experiments saw themselves as individuals, and after a long and bloody history, Communist parties began to give up on this enterprise.

Historian Richard Pipes observes: "The language of Communism is better than Nazism, but the basic philosophy is the same."

For many years Communism in the U.S. and other Western countries was portrayed as simply a political philosophy and movement, unconnected with the Soviet Union. With the end of the Cold War, American researchers were able to carefully examine Soviet archives and found clear proof that the Communist Party of the U.S. did the bidding of Soviet spymasters before, during, and after World War II. Among their discoveries is a previously unknown network of American Communists, answering to Soviet officials, who were assigned to penetrate the Manhattan Project which built the atomic bomb. The researches also found documents supporting Whittaker Chambers, the government's key witness against Alger Hiss who was convicted of perjury in his denials of espionage activities.

When Hiss died in 1996, many prominent journalists and academics continued to view him in heroic terms. ABC anchorman Peter Jennings, for example, ended his effusive comments about Hiss by reporting that Boris Yeltsin had declared that nothing in KGB files branded Hiss a Soviet espionage agent. The Russian president, of course, never made such a statement. The man who did say that he found nothing about Hiss in his files was Gen. Dmitri Volkogonov, who later recanted and admitted that he had not inspected the files of Soviet military intelligence, the place Chambers said he and Hiss were employed. CNN also quoted Gen. Volkogonov as exonerating Hiss of any guilt at the conclusion of its report of Hiss' death.

President Clinton's national security adviser Anthony Lake said on "Meet the Press" that the evidence against Hiss was "not conclusive." On National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," listeners heard only that Hiss had been "accused" of spying for the Soviets and that a few years earlier his innocence had been vindicated by Gen. Volkogonov. An Associated Press story claimed that Volkogonov had described Hiss as "a victim of Cold War hysteria and the McCarthy Red-hunting era"-something Volkogonov never said.

In their book The Secret World of American Communism, published by the Yale University Press, Professor Harvey Klehr of Emory University and John Earl Haynes, a specialist with the Library of Congress, after reviewing thousands of files in Moscow, found that the documents confirmed much of Whittaker Chambers' account of Soviet espionage. Chambers, for example, had testified that J. Peters, a foreign Communist had headed the Communist underground that Chambers joined in the early 1930s, and that Peters had persuaded Alger Hiss, then a State Department official, to cooperate with Soviet intelligence. Because of Peters' key role in Chambers' story, write the authors:

. . . revisionist historians and defenders of Hiss have often denied that Peters was involved in any part of the underground or even that there was such a thing as a Communist underground.

Victor Navasky of The Nation, for one, denigrated the notion that Peters worked for the underground.

Journalist Ralph De Toledano, who wrote an early book on the Hiss case, states that:

All efforts at exposing Stalin's great network in the U.S. found those who attempted to expose it being denounced or smeared as "fascists" even after Soviet Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov-during the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact when Communist unions were striking U.S. defense plants-said blandly that "fascism is a matter of taste." When smear did not work, ridicule was substituted. The U.S. Communist party was financed by one of the most inhuman and murderous regimes in the world that was stoutly denied by professors and pundits, some on the payroll.

When the Klehr-Haynes volume appeared several years ago, The Washington Times editorially stated that:

These revelations are significant for two main reasons. In the first place, they tend to undermine the credibility of those who have always scoffed at any allegations of Communist espionage or subversion. The truth is that, long before these documents came to light, many scholars, intelligence officials, and ex-Communists themselves knew the truth and tried to tell it to a world that refused to listen and often vilified them for their efforts. Now those men emerge in history as heroes. In the second place, these revelations ought to tell us something about the nature of the Soviet government, the Communism that animated it, and the stooges, innocent and not so innocent, who believed in them for so long. . . . Today the Soviet Union is defunct and most of its stooges dead (not a few by the Soviets' own hand), but in the light of the documents discovered by Mr. Klehr and Mr. Haynes, the history of this century will need to be rewritten, and many of its villains and heroes will have to change roles.

Those who have scoffed at any allegations of Communist espionage or subversion, those who defended Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, and others during all of these years, have much to answer for. American Communism, Klehr and Haines make clear:

. . . was a conspiracy financed by a hostile foreign power that recruited members for clandestine work, developed an elaborate underground apparatus and used that apparatus to collaborate with espionage services of that power.

Roger Kimball of The New Criterion said that, "The short word for such activities is treason."

All too often during the Cold War, many American journalists missed the story of Communism's evil and brutality.

The forerunner of the American reporters who accepted Communists at their own word may be Walter Duranty, who served as the correspondent for The New York Times in Moscow in the 1930s.

In the midst of the enforced famine in the Ukraine in the 1930s, Duranty visited the region and denied that starvation and death was rampant. In November, 1932, Duranty reported that "there is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be." When the famine became widely known in the West, and reported in his own paper and by his own colleagues, playing down rather than denial became his method. Still denying famine, he spoke of "malnutrition," "food shortages," and "lower resistance."

In the Times of August 23, 1933, Duranty wrote: "Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda," and went on to declare:

The food shortage which has affected almost the whole population last year, and particularly the grain-producing provinces--that is, the Ukraine, the North Caucasus, the Lower Volga Region-has, however, caused heavy loss of life.

In his important book about Soviet collectivization and the terror-famine of the 1930s, The Harvest of Sorrow, Robert Conquest declares that Duranty's

. . . admission of two million extra deaths was made to appear regrettable, but not overwhelmingly important and not amounting to "famine." Moreover, he blamed it in part on the "flight of some peasants and the passive resistance of others." . . . Duranty blamed famine stories on emigres, encouraged by the rise of Hitler, and spoke of "the famine stories then current in Berlin, Riga, Vienna, and other places, where elements hostile to the Soviet Union were making an eleventh-hour attempt to avert American recognition by picturing the Soviet Union as a land of ruin and despair."

What Americans got was not the truth--but false reporting. Its influence was widespread. What Walter Duranty got was the highest honor in journalism--the Pulitzer Prize of 1932, complementing him for "dispassionate, interpretive reporting of the news from Russia." The citation declared that Duranty's dispatches--that the world now knows to have been false--were "marked by scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgment, and exceptional clarity."

Walter Duranty was only one of many correspondents and writers in the 1920s and 1930s who fed their readers in the West a steady diet of disinformation about the Soviet Union. Louis Fischer, who wrote for The Nation, was also reluctant to tell his readers about the flaws in Soviet society. He, too, glossed over the searing famine of 1932-33. He once referred to what we now know as the "Gulags" as "a vast industrial organization and a big educational institution." In 1936, he informed his readers that the new Stalin Constitution showed that the dictatorship was "voluntarily abdicating" in favor of democracy.

So dominant was this type of reporting that it was difficult for the truth about the Soviet Union to penetrate much of the American press. Reporters such as Eugene Lyons and Freda Utley, both of whom started out as Soviet sympathizers, lost their entre into those publications favored by the intelligentsia when they tried to tell the truth about what was happening in Russia. Eugene Lyons has pointed out that writers who tried to portray the Soviet Union realistically during the 1930s were turned away by editors "with platitudes about not wishing to 'attack Russia.' "

Now, of course, the truth about Communism and its mass murder and depravity is well known. It is fitting that a monument to its victims should be erected in view of the U.S. Capitol. Those such as Lee Edwards who have spent so many years working for such a memorial deserve our thanks. *

"Gratitude is the sign of noble souls." --Aesop

Read 1824 times Last modified on Friday, 23 October 2015 21:14
Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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