The Road to Selfdom

Free to Choose: A Personal Statement

by Milton Friedman, by Rose Friedman
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 338 pp., $9.95

Television is dramatic. It appeals to the emotions. It captures your attention. Yet, we remain of the opinion that the printed page is a more effective instrument for both education and persuasion. The authors of a book can explore issues deeply—without being limited by the ticking clock. The reader can stop and think, turn the pages back without being diverted by the emotional appeal of the scenes moving relentlessly across his television screen.

Anyone who is persuaded in one evening (or even ten one-hour evenings) is not really persuaded. He can be converted by the next person of opposite views with whom he spends an evening. The only person who can truly persuade you is yourself. You must turn the issues over in your mind at leisure, consider the many arguments, let them simmer, and after a long time turn your preferences into convictions.

With this appeal to reason, Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, perhaps the most famous conservative economist in the world, and his wife and collaborator Rose Friedman introduce the reader to their diagnosis of our present ills and their prescription for remedying them. (See box on page 4.) To judge by the rapid appearance of Free to Choose on the bestseller list, and by the attention given to the series of TV shows in which Milton Friedman repeats its message and defends himself doughtily against its critics, their statement seems assured of a vast success. It remains only to be seen if the appeal to reason works: if its hundreds of thousands of readers—perhaps the millions of readers who will eventually buy the paperback we can anticipate seeing in airports and drugstores—will become fortified in their convictions and adopt the Friedmans’ view as their own.

That depends very much, of course, on the strength of the convictions that will be engendered by the Friedmans’ arguments. Let us see, therefore, what the reader gets when he or she opens the book.

The first message is forceful and clear. It is a ringing endorsement of economic freedom and political liberty, and a warning about the dangers of continuing on our present course:

The experience of recent years—slowing growth and declining productivity—raises a doubt whether private ingenuity can continue to overcome the deadening effects of government control if we continue to grant ever more power to government, to authorize a “new class” of civil servants to spend ever larger fractions of our income supposedly on our behalf. Sooner or later—and perhaps sooner than many of us expect—an ever bigger government would destroy both the prosperity that we owe to the free market and the human freedom proclaimed so eloquently in the Declaration of Independence.

This message, frequently repeated throughout the book, accounts, I am sure, for its popular success. The Friedmans articulate what a large number of people are yearning to hear. It is hardly news that a vast frustration and irritation are to be found in democratic electorates everywhere, and that popular resentment …

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Letters

Free to Choose? November 20, 1980

Free to Choose? November 20, 1980