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Monday, August 12, 2013

Paul Krugman: Milton Friedman, Unperson

Why has Milton Friedman "essentially disappeared from right-wing discourse":

Milton Friedman, Unperson, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...What ever happened to Friedman’s role as a free-market icon? The answer to that question says a lot about what has happened to modern conservatism.
For Friedman, who used to be the ultimate avatar of conservative economics, has essentially disappeared from right-wing discourse. ...
How did that happen? Friedman, it turns out, was too nuanced and realist a figure for the modern right, which doesn’t do nuance and rejects reality, which has a well-known liberal bias.
One way to think about Friedman is that he was the man who tried to save free-market ideology from itself, by offering an answer to the obvious question: “If free markets are so great, how come we have depressions?”
Until he came along, the answer of most conservative economists was basically that depressions served a necessary function and should simply be endured. Hayek, for example...
Friedman, however, gave a different answer. He was willing to give a little ground, and admit that government action was indeed necessary to prevent depressions. But the required government action, he insisted, was of a very narrow kind: all you needed was an appropriately active Federal Reserve... — with no need for new government programs — if only it had acted to save failing banks and pumped enough reserves into the banking system to prevent a sharp decline in the money supply.
This was, as I said, a move toward realism (although it looks wrong in the light of recent experience). But realism has no place in today’s Republican Party: both Mr. Paul and Mr. Ryan have furiously attacked Ben Bernanke for responding to the 2008 financial crisis by doing exactly what Friedman said the Fed should have done in the 1930s...
Now, I don’t want to put Friedman on a pedestal. In fact, I’d argue that the experience of the past 15 years, first in Japan and now across the Western world, shows that Keynes was right and Friedman was wrong about the ability of unaided monetary policy to fight depressions. The truth is that we need a more activist government than Friedman was willing to countenance.
The point, however, is that modern conservatism has moved so far to the right that it no longer has room for even small concessions to reality. Friedman tried to save free-market conservatism from itself — but the ideologues who now dominate the G.O.P. are beyond saving.

    Posted by on Monday, August 12, 2013 at 12:24 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (114)


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