Many of us have joked at one time or another that “If only the world would listen to me, we’d all be so much better off”.
Of all the people who lived in the 20th Century, Milton Friedman was one of the few who could make such a claim in all seriousness. His death at age 94 is a blow to mankind; that his works and wisdom are so often ignored by policymakers and voters is a bigger one.
Others will write about his passing with more eloquence than I can muster. The NY Times obituary is, as usual, brilliantly done. There is also a beautiful tribute by Ralph Kinney Bennett that shows the character of the great man by giving an account of a casual tennis game played 20 or so years ago.
But one thing struck me as I read the obituary in the Times. There was a time in this country where Milton Friedman was considered, not as a genius, but as a crank. Not unlike those who deny NASA ever actually landed on the moon, or a holocaust denier. Why? Simply because he spoke boldly about the inevitable problems involved with Keynesian economics and ever-growing government regulation of free markets.
Then, when stagflation hit in the early 70′s, and everything Friedman had predicted came true, all of the sudden he wins the Nobel Prize for economics. Suddenly he was a visionary genius, where a few years before he was out of touch with the obvious and unquestioned consensus of economists everywhere.
Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but this rings ever so familiar to me, as I listen to scientists and politicians talk about the “unquestioned consensus” of the “scientific community” when it comes to the topic of climate change and its effects. Right thinking is rewarded with grants and appearances on Crossfire, wrong thinking is punished by loss of funding, ostracism and ridicule.
I don’t know enough about climatology to speak with any precision on the topic, but I know more than enough about politics and human nature to know when I’m being lied to. People who make their career out of solving crises will find a crisis if none presents itself. If you read and listen closely to what is being said and written in the popular media, you’ll find that the only consensus about global warming is that there has been some increase in average temperature, and that carbon dioxide emissions have risen drastically in the 20th century due to the industrialization of society. There is no consensus on whether the warming is primarily man-made, and whether it is significant to our long-term well being.
Yet, we’re being told the sky is falling, and it’s all our fault because we’d rather drive a car than take the bus. I see where this is going, and so do you.
The problem is two-fold. Either the whole thing is a big politically-motivated scam – merely an excuse to screw the common good and go nuts with the new taxes and regulations – or, it’s really a problem, and no one is going to be willing to take drastic action because we’re so clearly being manipulated and patronized by scientists and politicians that we’re not going to trust their word on the matter.
Pick your poison. Either way, when you hear that loud buzzing sound begin one of these days, just know it’s merely good Dr. Friedman, spinning in his grave.