I am about to attempt to relate The Beatles, Milton Friedman, and Ronald Reagan. It’s kinda like playing Twister, except the contortions are mental. Here goes…
Lennon’s 1965 song Help! was clearly a plea to government for more social programs and nannyism. Here are two verses:
“When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured,
Now I find I’ve changed my mind, I’ve opened up the doors.
And now my life has changed in oh so many ways,
My independence seems to vanish in the haze.
But every now and then I feel so insecure,
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before.”
OK, I know some folks say Lennon was really expressing his overwhelming stress during the height of Beatlemania, and was reaching out to his first wife Cynthia for emotional support. But to my political ears, Lennon’s “Help!” was actually a call for greater dependence on big government social programs.
By contrast, McCartney’s 1969 song Let It Be was obviously a rejection of the entitlement-dependent nanny state:
“And when the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be”
Yeah, I realize many people believe McCartney simply meant “’Don’t worry too much, it will turn out okay” which he envisioned his mother saying to him in a dream. But to me, “Let It Be” is clearly an endorsement of laissez-faire free market policies and minimal government intrusion.
So the question is: Who was right – Lennon or McCartney?
Milton Friedman (1912-2006) was arguably the most influential conservative/libertarian economist in the 20th century. If you’re like me (and I know I am), you can EASILY spend hours watching YouTube videos of Friedman’s countless fascinating television appearances.
(photo credit: Wikipedia)
Aiming to answer the question of whether big government intervention, on balance, makes our lives better or worse, Friedman and his wife Rose wrote an excellent book in 1980 entitled Free To Choose. From entitlements to enforced equality, public education, labor advocacy, consumer protection, and monetary policy, the Friedmans methodically show that the drawbacks of too much government intervention far outweigh the benefits. Since I love it when an author gets specific, but also extrapolates the details to paint a larger overall picture helping readers to recognize systemic patterns, this passage in Chapter 7 jumped out and grabbed me:
Page 201: “[Here is] the natural history of government intervention: A real or fancied evil leads to demands to do something about it. A political coalition forms consisting of sincere, high-minded reformers and equally sincere interested parties. The incompatible objectives of the members of the coalition (e.g., low prices to consumers and high prices to producers) are glossed over by fine rhetoric about “the public interest,” “fair competition,” and the like.
The coalition succeeds in getting Congress (or a state legislature) to pass a law. The preamble to the law pays lip service to the rhetoric and the body of the law grants power to government officials to “do something.” The high-minded reformers experience a glow of triumph and turn their attention to new causes.
The interested parties go to work to make sure that the power is used for their benefit. They generally succeed. Success breeds its problems, which are met by broadening the scope of intervention. Bureaucracy takes its toll so that even the initial special interests no longer benefit.
In the end the effects are precisely the opposite of the objectives of the reformers and generally do not even achieve the objectives of the special interests. Yet the activity is so firmly established and so many vested interests are connected with it that repeal of the initial legislation is nearly inconceivable. Instead, new government legislation is called for to cope with the problems produced by the earlier legislation and a new cycle begins.”
Each chapter in Free to Choose is an expansion of the ideas from an installment of a 1980 PBS television series also called Free To Choose. All of these shows are available online. A great portal to these video episodes, including 5 updated versions that Friedman produced a decade later, is this website: http://miltonfriedman.blogspot.com/
“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”
To conclude, I leave you with this hypothetical image of these four famous economic pundits appearing together on Meet The Press on some Sunday morning in the 1970s: