Quotes Suitable for Framing: Milton Friedman

Monday, April 18, AD 2016


There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government. And that’s close to 40% of our national income.

Milton Friedman, 2004

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4 Responses to Quotes Suitable for Framing: Milton Friedman

  • Flat tax as solution?
    Close the purse strings so to speak.
    Printing money is crack to crack addicts.
    For politicians money is crack.
    How do we “break the cycle,” that has been enabling our addicts, and devaluing our spending dollar?
    Complete overhaul?

    Last night I was nauseated when my conservative brother and his wife were speaking Bernie Sanders!! What?
    I couldn’t believe it but then again looking at this doom and gloom of a RINO party my relative’s are simply throwing up their hands.

    I’ve got a few months to work on them.

    Does anyone else have a similar story?

  • My favorite Friedman quote. “You can have open borders. You can have the welfare state. But, you cannot have both.” Eventually, the system collapses. It’s happening in Europe.
    The Democrats and Vatican are essentially communists. The GOP establish is the same (it’s why they lose elections) as the Democrats on open borders.
    Conservatives should stop worrying and learn to love open borders. It is the fast lane to the wreck of the liberal nightmare. Only thing, you need to prepare for the zombie apocalypse.
    Them Federal Reserve Notes you carry around in your pocket aren’t money. Paper is not a store of value. They daily print billions of dollars of more paper. Until 1933 (FDR executive order) , each Federal Reserve Note had imprinted in big letters “Will Pay to the Bearer XX Dollars.” Now, it says, “This is Legal Tender for all Debts Public and Private.” What value do you place on the full faith and credit of the post-Constitution regime?
    Here is my favorite Voltaire quote. “Paper money eventually returns to its intrinsic value – zero.”

  • I’ve witnessed aquantice’s that have been hoarding ammo, toilet paper and Ramon noodles. I would shake my head.

    They might get the last laugh.

  • I can respect Friedman, but I’ve never been a fan of that quote. The truth is that a conscientious third party can spend someone else’s money carefully, and purchase things for others carefully. The problem is that care isn’t enough. You need to understand the needs of the person you’re buying for, and that’s impossible to do once you start violating subsidiarity.

    I’m making what might seem like a small distinction. But look at it from the perspective of the person you’re trying to persuade. Friedman is telling them that they don’t really care about others. People are going to take offense at that. People may well care more about how they spend money on the needy than how they spend money on themselves, because they know it’s important. But they’re not going to understand the situation of the needy. That’s something I can persuade someone of.

    People know that there are some who don’t make good decisions on their own. People know that they genuinely care what happens to those people. People will not be convinced that they don’t care. People can be convinced that a local project can address their needs better than a big project.

Klavan, Smith and Friedman On Crony Capitalism

Wednesday, November 28, AD 2012

Ah the next four years are going to be so enjoyable.  When it comes to crony capitalism Adam Smith said it well:

“The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order [that is, ‘those who live by profit’], ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”

Milton Friedman was eloquent on the subject of government supporting private enterprises:

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2 Responses to Klavan, Smith and Friedman On Crony Capitalism

  • This adminstration will serve as an example for generations to come of the havoc that can be wreaked on an economy through government folly.

    Just to point out the principal promoters of crony capitalism (Barack Obama, James Johnson, Franklin Raines, Jamie Gorelick, Steven Chu, and Timothy Geithner) include not one civil servant. The legal profession, academe, the PR biz, and that weird netherworld where everything seems to run on connections produced this crew.

  • Oh, cannot forget Barney Frank (who has not had a normal job since 1968) and his boi, Herb Moses.

5 Responses to Milton Friedman on the Loss of Freedom

  • “We are getting what the public at large is asking for.”

    1st Samuel chapter 8:

    1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his first-born son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice. 4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds which they have done to me, * from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, hearken to their voice; only, you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” 10 So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle* and your asses, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” 19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No! but we will have a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. 22 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Hearken to their voice, and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”

  • PS, I have had atheists tell me directly that they deliberately intend to marginalize religion into the closet. That is their stated goal and aim.

  • I am not able to listen to the video just now, but Paul’s excellent choice of scripture makes up for that.
    Thanks and well done, PMP.

  • Excellent clip. I had not heard the term “prison state” before, but it’s apt.
    I think some things have changed since this was filmed. Too many of our citizens now want an expanded government, not a smaller government. They know where we are headed, and they are quite happy to hasten our arrival. I would disagree that the fault lies with our political structures. The fault lies not in them, but in ourselves.

  • Tony is right, the fault lies with us. We allowed our constitution to be twisted and misinterpreted. Why did we let freedom OF religion become freedom FROM religion? When we allowed that to go unchallenged, we all bowed to the false god of secular humanism. We stood by, barely making a sound when they decided that pre meditated murder was a woman’s right. Don’t get me wrong, I believe a woman has the right to choose what happens to her body, but that choice must be made BEFORE another innocent body resides in hers.

    How many people voted in favor of this prison state in order to gain a shiny bobble or two? We have sold ourselves and our children into slavery, and the worst part is, many of us are too blind to see it. I cringe when I see not only my brothers and sisters, lead by our priest bow and worship the great Obama. It breaks my heart that many feel that compromising our beliefs for self gain in the welfare line is but a small price to pay. We need to get back to the literal word of our constitution, and start voting with our conscience, not with the hope of an easy way out of every situation we find ourselves in. If you are uninformed, or unable to search the truth for yourself, do not by the salesmans line, stay home and don’t vote.

The Debt Crisis in a Nutshell

Friday, September 16, AD 2011

Hattip to Bookworm Room.  We are heading to debt repudiation both nationally and internationally, although I am sure that some euphemism will be used.  What this does to the global economy is anyone’s guess, but I think at best we are looking at a prolonged recession\depression lasting at least a decade.  Long range however, I share the fundamental optimism expressed by Milton Friedman in the video below, if we are capable of understanding how we got into this mess and make the necessary changes to radically alter our course.

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15 Responses to The Debt Crisis in a Nutshell

  • Here are the policy choices:

    Raise tax receipts.
    Reduce expenditures.
    Accelerate GDP (private sector) growth.
    Inflation – the cruelest tax of all.

    Obama has been unable to achieve any of it based on his one successful government program: killing jobs.

  • Kenneth Rogoff has said that several years of moderate inflation (4-6%) would be therapeutic for our economy. Among the difficulties that the PIIGS economies face at this time are the technical impediments to devaluing their currencies.

  • T. Shaw- it doesn’t seem to be via directly killing off Evil jobs, or even spending mad amounts to help Saintly Jobs, but inflation sure seems to be hitting my family. I know they cheeze the inflation calculations these days by saying that food and energy doesn’t count, but it sure counts in our check book, since that’s most of the non-rent spending….

  • Agreed as to consumer inflation Foxfier. I can see it not only in what my wife has to spend for groceries, but also when looking at the rate of inflation through traditional analysis:


  • I know they cheeze the inflation calculations these days by saying that food and energy doesn’t count,

    No, they do not. They publish a figure commonly called ‘headline’ inflation which includes food and energy prices and ‘core inflation’ which excludes them. Food and energy prices are commonly volatile in both directions, which is what makes the core measure useful to know.

  • AD: A+ on the Euro!

    9/7/2011 Barron’s “Milton Friedman’s Euro Smackdown” by Gene Epstein – he was pessimistic about euro’s prospects. “Suppose things go badly, and Italy is in trouble.” An independent Italian money would address that with a reduction on the lira exchange rate, which would lower Italian prices and wages relative to other’s, and enhance Italian competitiveness.”

    With the Euro Italian prices/wages will need to fall – a more difficult action. “Such asymmetric shocks hitting different countries, said M. Friedman meant the euro had an uncertain future.”

    Case in point is the current sovereign debt crisis. With separate currencies devalued the troubled debt would trade at more (exchange rate changes) favorable prices. With the euro you lilely will see a “disorderly” restructuring of Greek debt by year-end which would trigger a renewed recession.

    Then, what about Spain and Italy? The dollar would seem undervalued, except for Obama . . .

  • Art-
    when the only stat that they talk about is the core inflation, it doesn’t much matter if they offer headline inflation and then say “but it’s not reliable.” (Interesting, though– Investopedia mentions that it’s normal to do a 12 month average of headline inflation to counter that exact point. Shocking how that stat isn’t in standard use, rather than the one that discounts such a huge chunk of actual expenses, isn’t it?)

  • when the only stat that they talk about is the core inflation

    That is not the ‘only stat’ they talk about. This is the most recent release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The core inflation numbers are not mentioned until the 3d paragraph. The comprehensive index is discussed in the 1st and 2d paragraph.


  • Art, it most assuredly is the only “inflation” stat you’ll hear about– even news stories that do mention the consumer price index will say ‘inflation’ when they’re talking about the core rate. The information is around to be found, if you know it exists, if you can understand it, and if you care enough to go looking.
    Same way you only hear about the jobs rate on the day it’s released and they don’t mention the adjustments– even the times when most of this month’s growth is from the prior month being adjusted down. (How many times did that happen?)

    There’s a reason that sites like that “shadow stats” place are popular.

  • Foxfier, it is not the fault of either the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the news media that you listen only selectively. (And you are no more correct about news reports than you are about the press releases of the BLS).

    The constituency for “shadow stats” is people who get a charge out of fancying that they are being lied to and are happy to be gulled by the character who runs it. The same sort were buying Birch Society literature four decades ago.

  • Art, your link has the word “inflation” on it once– down at the bottom, leading to a calculator. That you find the information and interpret it just supports my point. Five minutes of looking around would show you that it’s not exactly news that the media keeps using the core stat when they talk about inflation, rather than the 12 month average or the actual monthly stat, even adjusted.

    If you want to have a whizzing contest about how superior you are to the people who just listen to broadcast news, or read the local paper and take them at their word, and how incredibly superior you are to people who will search out sites that offer calculations you disagree with, go for it– you can do it without me. Hope you don’t stub your nose on a doorframe.

  • Five minutes of looking around would show you that it’s not exactly news that the media keeps using the core stat when they talk about inflation, rather than the 12 month average or the actual monthly stat, even adjusted.

    That is just nonsense.

    The precise term the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses is ‘Consumer Price Index’. ‘Inflation’ is a common shorthand.

    For the most part, I read the newspaper and see the same news you do. The media is not putting one over on you. The government sites quoted by the newspaper are just as accessible as this blog and not notably obscure in their presentations.

    Mr. Shadow Stats is an elderly management consultant who contends that he produces better statistics at his desk than the federal agencies who have large staffs to collect, analyze and publish statistics. Implicitly, he contends he produces better statistics than the Conference Board or the Institute of Supply Management. He is not serious.

    I am not interested in a whizzing contest with you or anyone else nor in who is superior to whom. You are propagating falsehoods to your own detriment and that of anyone who listens to you and you should stop doing that.

  • Oh, my!

    Almost everybody I know daily eats and heats (say December to April) their homes. Unadjusted stats 12 months ended 31 August 2011: all energy up 18%; gasoline up 32%; home heating oil up 35%. Food at home is up 8%; all food is up 4.8%. Source: All Urban Consumers (CPI-U): US city average.

    Apparently, the Fed believes that energy inflation magically slows the economy and so it doesn’t need to jump on it with its weapons of mass monetary destitution. This probably is the reason the Fed “hearts” exclusion of energy from analyses of consumer price increases (er, the inflation rate). Concomitantly, there seems to exist a high, inverse correlation between reduced economic inflation and increased mass malnourishment.

  • There are arguments to be made on both sides for including and excluding food and energy prices in determining the rate of inflation. On balance I think they should be included, the wide swings in such prices notwithstanding. As a result I always pay more attention to CPI than to core inflation. A good overview of where CPI stands currently:


  • The practice of using the two methods strikes me as not just reasonable but necessary if one is going to derive any meaningful intelligence about the state of the economy. Things like averaging for a year or adjusting for seasonality are important. It’s not an indication of shenanigans, but one of competency. I would be mocking the reports if those breakdowns didn’t exist.

Poor Misunderstood Marx!

Tuesday, March 29, AD 2011

Commonweal has an article by Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton in which he argues that Marx was right in his critique of captalism.  Go here to read it.  Go here to read a post about the article which appeared on the Commonweal blog.  ( I will confess to having a very slight  grudging respect for Mr. Eagleton ever since his memorable, and scorching,  review which may be read here, of Richard Dawkins’ inane The God Delusion.  The respect is very slight and very grudging indeed, since Mr. Eagleton also wrote a bitter diatribe against John Paul II, which may be read here, after the death of the pontiff.  He also views the Catholic Church, the Church he was raised in, as “one of the nastiest authoritarian outfits on the planet”, which is rich coming from a Marxist.)

The Marx set forth in the article by Mr. Eagleton is unrecognizable to me.  The Marx of history was not some sort of democratic eurosocialist.  He was a hard core advocate of terror.  The quotations from his works and letters on this point are legion.  Here is a typical statement he made in 1850 in an address to the Communist League:

“[The working class] must act in such a manner that the revolutionary excitement does not collapse immediately after the victory.  On the contrary, they must maintain it as long as possible.  Far from opposing so-called excesses, such as sacrificing to popular revenge of hated individuals or public buildings to which hateful memories are attached, such deeds must not only be tolerated, but their direction must be taken in hand, for examples’ sake.”

From the same address:

To be able forcefully and threateningly to oppose this party, whose betrayal of the workers will begin with the very first hour of victory, the workers must be armed and organized. The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition, and the revival of the old-style citizens’ militia, directed against the workers, must be opposed. Where the formation of this militia cannot be prevented, the workers must try to organize themselves independently as a proletarian guard, with elected leaders and with their own elected general staff; they must try to place themselves not under the orders of the state authority but of the revolutionary local councils set up by the workers. Where the workers are employed by the state, they must arm and organize themselves into special corps with elected leaders, or as a part of the proletarian guard. Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary. The destruction of the bourgeois democrats’ influence over the workers, and the enforcement of conditions which will compromise the rule of bourgeois democracy, which is for the moment inevitable, and make it as difficult as possible – these are the main points which the proletariat and therefore the League must keep in mind during and after the approaching uprising.

Nothing done by the Communist states that claimed Marx as their ideological father in regard to the suppression of adversaries and the use of mass terror to remain in power cannot find full warrant in the works of Marx.

Of course, Marx goes wrong at the very beginning in regard to his view of Man which is completely materialist.  In his A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx spelled out his view that religion was an illusion which deterred the revolutionary rage of the people:

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53 Responses to Poor Misunderstood Marx!

  • In addition, Marxism has been ineptly applied by run-of-the-mill megalomaniacs like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.

    Today, Glory-O!, we have geniuses like our messianic magic man Obama and Uncle Joe Biden doing it correctly.

    “All attempts to create Heaven on Earth have resulted in hell on Earth.” Camus

    Ah, hell on earth . . . OTOH they will make the evil rich miserable, too . . . Go for it!

  • Both Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Reinhardt Marx of Munich have suggested that Marx’s critique of alienation under capitalistic forms of economic production is largely correct, while of course maintaining that the Marxist solution, because atheistical and totalitarian in practice (if not necessarily in intent) is a non-starter. Likewise, Pope Benedict XVI quotes approvingly, though critically, the great Marxist philosopher Adorno in his excellent encyclical Spe Salvi; likewise, the phenomenology of labor in JPII’s Laborem Exercens is clearly influenced by some aspects of the early Marx’s thought.

  • Even Marx WJ could not manage the feat of being wrong all the time, although he did give it his worst efforts.

  • All powerful lies have to have at least a small amount of truth to them, otherwise no one would believe them. If there is a grain of “truth” to Marxism, it may be in its “critique of alienation under capitalistic forms of economic production.” Marx knew there was a problem and he did a fairly competent job of identifying what the problem was, but he was totally wrong about the solution.

  • Pope Benedict in Spe Salvi gave the best short analysis of Karl Marx that I have ever read:

    “After the bourgeois revolution of 1789, the time had come for a new, proletarian revolution: progress could not simply continue in small, linear steps. A revolutionary leap was needed. Karl Marx took up the rallying call, and applied his incisive language and intellect to the task of launching this major new and, as he thought, definitive step in history towards salvation—towards what Kant had described as the “Kingdom of God”. Once the truth of the hereafter had been rejected, it would then be a question of establishing the truth of the here and now. The critique of Heaven is transformed into the critique of earth, the critique of theology into the critique of politics. Progress towards the better, towards the definitively good world, no longer comes simply from science but from politics—from a scientifically conceived politics that recognizes the structure of history and society and thus points out the road towards revolution, towards all-encompassing change. With great precision, albeit with a certain onesided bias, Marx described the situation of his time, and with great analytical skill he spelled out the paths leading to revolution—and not only theoretically: by means of the Communist Party that came into being from the Communist Manifesto of 1848, he set it in motion. His promise, owing to the acuteness of his analysis and his clear indication of the means for radical change, was and still remains an endless source of fascination. Real revolution followed, in the most radical way in Russia.

    21. Together with the victory of the revolution, though, Marx’s fundamental error also became evident. He showed precisely how to overthrow the existing order, but he did not say how matters should proceed thereafter. He simply presumed that with the expropriation of the ruling class, with the fall of political power and the socialization of means of production, the new Jerusalem would be realized. Then, indeed, all contradictions would be resolved, man and the world would finally sort themselves out. Then everything would be able to proceed by itself along the right path, because everything would belong to everyone and all would desire the best for one another. Thus, having accomplished the revolution, Lenin must have realized that the writings of the master gave no indication as to how to proceed. True, Marx had spoken of the interim phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a necessity which in time would automatically become redundant. This “intermediate phase” we know all too well, and we also know how it then developed, not ushering in a perfect world, but leaving behind a trail of appalling destruction. Marx not only omitted to work out how this new world would be organized—which should, of course, have been unnecessary. His silence on this matter follows logically from his chosen approach. His error lay deeper. He forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and he forgot man’s freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.”


  • I guess “Marx” is philosophical and theological pathology.

    Attention all Keynesians!

    John Maynard Keynes quote: ” . . . socialism must always remain a portent to the historians of opinion – how a doctrine so illogical and so dull can have exercised so powerful and enduring an influence over the minds of men, and, through them, the events of history.” Keynes, “The End of Laissez-Faire.”

    Here is why there can be no “Gospel According to Saint Marx.”

    George Orwell, “Reflections on Gandhi”

    The Humanistic Ideal: “Man is the measure of all things and that our job is to make life worth living.”

    “But it is not necessary here to argue whether the other-worldly or the humanistic ideal is ‘higher.’ The point is that they are incompatible. One must choose between God and Man, and all ‘radicals’ and ‘progressives’ from the mildest liberal . . . have in effect chosen Man.”

    I think Keynes (RIP) and Orwell (RIP) “got” it.

  • Yes, note that, far from your assertion that Marx was simply a “poor philosopher,” Benedict describes him with the following phrases:

    “incisive language and intellect”; “With great precision, albeit with a certain onesided bias,Marx described the situation of his time, and with great analytical skill he spelled out the paths leading to revolution;”

    The Pope, rightly, goes on to note the “fundamental error” of Marx’s thought, but his criticism is so much the more persuasive because he has not fallen in for caricatures of Marx that you present as fact.

    By the way, the question whether Marx was, himself, a “materialist”–in the strongly philosophical sense of that word–is more difficult to answer than you might expect. But that’s another issue.

  • I believe that my description of Marx and the Pope’s analysis WJ are not in contradiction. Someone who gets the fundamental nature of Man wrong is a poor philosopher. As for caricatures of Marx WJ, in my post I let the man speak for himself, which I guess does reveal what a living caricature Marx tended to be.

  • “By the way, the question whether Marx was, himself, a “materialist”–in the strongly philosophical sense of that word–is more difficult to answer than you might expect.”

    How was Marx not a materialist in a “strong philisophical sense?”

  • I agree with this statement towards the end: “…as long as capitalism is still in business, Marxism must be as well.”

    That, I think, is the best argument against capitalism.

  • The only Marx worth remembering is Groucho. As for Karl, he sponged off Engels much of his life. After Marx wrote Das Kapital, his wife was so disgusted with his indolence, she remarked, “Karl, if you had only spent more time making capital instead of writing about it, we would have been better off.”

    As for capitalism and communism, the old joke applies:
    Capitalism is man’s exploitation of man; communism is the reverse.

  • Marx almost lost his meal ticket when Mary Burns, Engel’s mistress, died in 1863. Marx wrote Engels a letter which almost completely ignored her death. Engels wrote back stating that he had received quite a bit of sympathy over the death of his beloved from capitalists he knew, but none from Marx. Marx quickly wrote back and repaired the breach. Engels was one of the very few people in his life that Marx did not succeed in alienating. Marx knew a lot about alienation: he was a grand master at it!

  • “The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”

    G.K. Chesterton (1922)

    That observation is as valid today as it what then and before.

  • Well, Hume, Locke, Kant and Plato, from a Catholic anthropological standpoint, also “got the fundamental nature of Man wrong”, although their errors are, obviously, different from both Marx’s and from each other’s. Are they poor philosophers too? (I’m leaving aside the obvious riposte that getting the “fundamental nature of Man” *right* is not something attainable by probably any single philosopher.)

    On Marx and Materialism, see George L. Kline, “The Myth of Marx’s Materialism” in Philosophical Sovietology: The Pursuit of a Science

  • I stopped reading when Eagleton claimed that scarcity was the result of capitalism. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected better from a literary critic, but still.

    When I was in college I read the Manifesto and was of course repulsed by it. A friend suggested to me that Marx’s really valuable insights were in alienation, so I read some of his stuff on that but it didn’t make any sense to me either (IIRC, Marx’s views on alienation had a fairly strong anti-religious thread running through it, so I’m surprised that Pope Benedict would say that it is correct, but he is undoubtedly more familiar with the subject than I).

  • Yeesh, that article is a rather frightful piece of utopian wishful thinking masquerading as thought, but then, who can be surprised that Commonweal would be happy to print such a thing. It seems that Capitalism (whatever one takes that to be) is very much at fault for not making things even better than it has over the last 300 years — while Marxism bears no fault at all for how any polity based upon its principles has foundered.

    Incidentally, Don, have you run into Leszek Kolakowski’s delightful essay “My Correct Views on Everything“? It’s a twenty page bloodletting response to a windy 100 page “open letter” addressed to Kolakowski by British leftist intellectual Edward Thompson, explaining to Kolakowski the virtues of socialism which Kolakowski (having recently defected from communist Poland) may not realize. Hard not to love a piece which opens:

    In a review of the last issue of Socialist Register by Raymond Williams, I read that your letter is one of the best pieces of Left writings in the last decade, which implies directly that all or nearly all the rest was worse. He knows better and I take his word. I should be proud to having occasioned, to a certain degree, this text, even if I happen to be its target. And so, my first reaction is one of gratitude.

    And goes on from there.

  • “Are they poor philosophers too?”

    Hume: yes; Locke: no; Kant: probably yes, if anyone, including Kant, had the foggiest notion of what Kant was saying; Plato: no. He is saved by a Cave, although he has much to answer for in regard to his Republic.

  • Well, Hume, Locke, Kant and Plato, from a Catholic anthropological standpoint, also “got the fundamental nature of Man wrong”, although their errors are, obviously, different from both Marx’s and from each other’s. Are they poor philosophers too?

    Are you saying that there is no degree to wrongness but that it is a binary quality?

    I don’t think it would be a reach to say that Marx got things rather more than those, and in more key aspects — indeed, what Marx is accused of getting right is pretty trivial.

    As for the other four, they’re a highly varied bunch, and perhaps arguably arranged from most to least wrong. Still, each provides at least a few useful insights into the human predicament. Marx… Well, if someone got something useful out of him more power to them, but I don’t think there’s much there one couldn’t get elsewhere.

  • Marx was also a vicious racist. Nathaniel Weyl’s “Karl Marx, Racist” shows ol’ KM had incrediably racist feeling about Blacks, Jews, Slavs, and even Scandanavians. Racism, it’s not just for Nazi’s!

  • Don, reminds me of all those chicken-crossing-the-road jokes:

    Plato’s answer: “For the greater good.”
    Marx’s answer: “It was an historical inevitability.”
    Aristotle: “To actualize its potential.”
    Epicurus: “For fun.”
    Torquemada: “Give me ten minutes with the chicken and I’ll find out.”

  • Darwin,

    No, of course there are degrees; my point was merely to counter Donald’s too easy dismissal of Marx, which actually doesn’t allow a *substantive* or philosophically serious criticism of Marx to be voiced, because it has already constructed, and destroyed, a straw-man.

    Many things which Marx “got right” are also the sorts of things that Aristotle “got right,” especially involving the importance of practice for thinking seriously about ethics, and so on. But I don’t think that, from this premise, you can get to the conclusion “Well then you don’t need Marx,” precisely because Marx makes legible how *one* broadly Aristotelian approach to society and culture might look given modern economies. Not the *right* one, necessarily, but one which, if you are going finally to critique it, you need to understand.

  • I don’t expect to buy Philosophical Sovietology due to the price on-line. Unless you have a copy of the article, I will just go with the general philosophical consensus that Marx was a materialist.

    That being the case, Marx, more that Hume, Locke, Plato and Kant fundamentally failed as a philosopher.

    As to Marx’s critique of capitalism (of the Nineteenth Century) I will defer to others. As to his relevance to the situation today, I suspect the experience of the Twentieth Century answers that.

  • Phillip,

    You can get the article via Interlibrary Loan if that’s available in your community (some public libraries support this, others don’t; most colleges and some high schools do as well). I wouldn’t buy the book either!

    I’m not sure that I think that Marx “failed” as a philosopher “more” than Hume or Locke, but I’m also not sure I know what that means absent further specification. I agree that Kant and Plato are (rightly) considered “greater” philosophers than Marx.

    The question as to whether the existence of the Soviet Union, and the very great evils perpetrated by that regime (and other, like-minded regimes) constitutes sufficient reason to conclude that Marx is irrelevant today is a complex one. From both the writings of Benedict and Cardinal Reinhardt Marx, one gets the sense that the answer is, “it depends.” If you are looking for solutions, then, I agree, Marx is a non-starter; but if you are looking for analyses and trenchant (although somewhat one-sided) criticisms, I believe Marx still has much to offer.

  • Perhaps I mean failed in the sense of discerning the truth. Clearly all philosophers fall short of this to some degree. (Even Aristotle couldn’t discern a personal God.)

    But while Hume, Locke and Kant failed in their epistemology, the latter two at least accepted a transcendent even though they denied the ability to know it with any precision. As a result, they held a measure of the truth.

    Marx on the other hand, and I still hold this though we may see with the article, through his radical materialism, failed in a fundamental way to understand what is true and in turn what leads men to true happiness.

  • Don said above the P. Benedict has the best short summary of Marx in Spe Salvi and then quoted it. I’m going to quote part of that quote:

    “He forgot that man always remains man.”

    Now, find me a better anti-utopian one-liner. God bless the holy father.

  • “Don, reminds me of all those chicken-crossing-the-road jokes:”

    Good ones Joe. Here are a few more for Napoleonic lovers of fowl humor:

    Edmund Burke: “To escape from revolutionary France!”
    Robespierre: “The chicken will find that it is difficult to cross roads headless!”
    Napoleon: “Conscript that chicken!”
    Wellington: “The chicken was almost trampled! It was the nearest run thing you ever saw!”

  • “Incidentally, Don, have you run into Leszek Kolakowski’s delightful essay “My Correct Views on Everything“? It’s a twenty page bloodletting response to a windy 100 page “open letter” addressed to Kolakowski by British leftist intellectual Edward Thompson, explaining to Kolakowski the virtues of socialism which Kolakowski (having recently defected from communist Poland) may not realize. Hard not to love a piece which opens:”

    No I had not Darwin! Thank you for directing me to it. That was a howlingly funny read, and full of gems of wisdom such as this:

    “I found it regrettable to see in your Letter so many Leftist cliches which survive in speech and print owing to three devices: first, the refusal to analyse words-and the use of verbal hybrids purposely designed to confound the issues; second, the use of moral or sentimental standards in some cases and of political and historical standards in other similar cases; third, the refusal to accept historical facts as they are.”

    Little has changed in that regard over the past 37 years.

  • Don, one more chicken/road answer from Machiavelli:

    So that its subjects will view it with admiration,
    as a chicken which has the daring and courage to
    boldly cross the road, but also with fear, for whom
    among them has the strength to contend with such a
    paragon of avian virtue? In such a manner is the
    princely chicken’s dominion maintained.

  • Brilliant Joe, but now I can’t help myself. The chicken crosses the road into recent politics.

    Al Gore: I invented the road. (Pause) And the chicken.

    George Bush: The chicken crossed the road because it was kinder and gentler on the other side.

    Dick Cheney: After advanced interrogation techniques the chicken revealed that he crossed the road to alert the jihadists!

    John McCain: The chicken would have crossed the road except that it was still recovering from its ordeal as a POW in Vietnam.

    Sarah Palin: That chicken thought he was going to cross the road! Tune in to my next special and you’ll see how it can feed a family of six, with a little help from his friend Mr. Moose who also thought he was going to cross that road!

    Joe Biden: What road? What chicken?

    Barack Obama: The chicken, seizing upon the audacity of hope, crossed the road to receive the Nobel Peace Price for crossing that road of our hoped for change!

  • Don, worthy additions! Now you’ve got me going…

    Nietsche: Because if you gaze too long across the Road, the Road
    gazes also across you.

    Sartre: In order to act in good faith and be true to itself,
    the chicken found it necessary to cross the road.

    Darwin: It was the logical next step after coming down from the trees.

    bada bing

  • Pope Benedict: The chicken forgot that chicken always remains chicken, no matter what side of the road chicken is on.

  • The chickens have flown the Marxist coop on this thread!

  • John Donne: “It crosseth for thee.”

    OK, I’ll stop now. : )

  • The alienation that Marx desribes as the worker going through is largely the result of 19th century industrialisation, where through the division of labour, the workers found themselves increasingly deskilled and thus at the mercy of capitalists, who then no difficulty replacing them with women and children. The self-respect that most of us desire is to a considerable extent anchored in the value of the job we do. That the division of labour can lead to the dehumanising of workers, was easily grasped by the Luddites and the distributionists. One needn’t be a Marxist to understand it. The supremely assured F1 mechanic is not alienated from the result of his labour – he can see the car taking off at full speed – but an overeducated minion tending to a factory line machine, producing a small part of a small module of a car, certainly can be.

  • One of the great errors after the fall of the Evil Empire was not stigmatizing Marxism/Communism as was National Socialism after its defeat. Thus, the bizarre desire to resurrect it in varied forms now. The most bizarre, and vile, is the attempt to raise it again in the Church.

  • True Phillip. Imagine Commonweal giving space to someone claiming that fascism had its good points, contained great critiques of “plutocratic capitalism” and arguing that fascism should not be condemned out of hand because of Mussolini and Hitler. Unfortunately the old mantra “No enemies on the Left” is still in full force on the port side of the political spectrum apparently.

  • Phil, how is Marxism/Communism being ‘resurrected’? Other than its purest form (Cuba), it’s about as dead as Julius Caesar. Even the Chi-coms are committed capitalists these days. Marx, Lenin and their ilk have become mere footnotes in Planet Earth Incorporated. Terry Eagleton must have run out of material.

  • Joe,

    It is certainly being resurrected in Academia. The Eagleton link is one piece of “intellectual” resurrection. Not that that is much of a stretch given the Marxist bias of academia. That’s just the beginning.

  • Phillip,

    I don’t think it ever *died* in academia to begin with… the Marxists just quieted down some, but they’ve always insisted that the Soviets never *really* practiced Marxism.

  • Phil, granted, Academia is rife with Leftists, but their influence on the whole of society is limited.

    I don’t see millionaires like Sean Penn and Michael Moore, who rail against capitalism, surrendering their private jets and vacation homes or redistributing their wealth to the have-nots.

    Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

  • Chris,

    That is probably a better way to put it. But given the time since the fall of the Wall and the current political/social situation, I think they and more of their ilk are increasing their cries for change.

    As opposed to Rahm Emanuel, I think the efforts of those who are radical Marxists/socialists to exploit these crises will have more widespread effects.


    I don’t think the effect of Academia is so limited. I think they have been quite effective in indoctrinating a whole generation to their thinking. Not that a generation is Marxist in a doctrinaire sense, but certainly more inclined to favor this thinking. Particularly in the “soft, taste great, less filling” form presented by many. This includes some in the Church such as Eagleton.

    As for the Hollywood types, they are hypocrites. Few are actual Marxists but some would be more than happy to run a re-education program. Most just want to feel good for ripping off people for their bad movies.

  • One example of that “soft” indoctrination would be the Howard Zinn/Matt Damon “The People Speak.” A collaboration of Communism and Hollywood.

  • Phil, perhaps easy to underestimate the impact of the Lefties in the classroom, although one wonders how much “education” is being absorbed in light of grim stats such as this: 67% of eight-graders in Wisconsin can’t read proficiently.

    As for Eagleton, he lost all cred with his diatribe against John Paul II, arguably the greatest man of the 20th century and the most influential pope of the Church.

    Back to the well-worn but always instructive mention of the dumbing down of America. John Taylor Gatto in his excellent “Underground History of American Education” offers this nugget:

    In 1882, fifth graders read these authors in their Appleton School Reader: William Shakespeare, Henry Thoreau, George Washington, Sir Walter Scott, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Bunyan, Daniel Webster, Samuel Johnson, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others like them.

    In 1995, a student teacher of fifth graders in Minneapolis wrote to the local newspaper, “I was told children are not to be expected to spell the following words correctly: back, big, call, came, can, day, did, dog, down, get, good, have, he, home, if, in, is, it, like, little, man, morning, mother, my, night, off, out, over, people, play, ran, said, saw, she, some, soon, their, them, there, time, two, too, up, us, very, water, we, went, where, when, will, would, etc. Is this nuts?”

    Nowadays, Huck Finn has been sanitized and the dictionaries are filling up with new “words” such as ‘LOL’ and ‘OMG’ — further signs of the declining literacy rate in America.

    Knowledge, and its ultimate fruit, wisdom, suffer greatly.

  • Don’t deny education has been dumbed down in America.

    “67% of eight-graders in Wisconsin can’t read proficiently.”

    But they are probably up to date on the status of the Teachers’ Union.

  • “One example of that “soft” indoctrination would be the Howard Zinn/Matt Damon “The People Speak.” A collaboration of Communism and Hollywood.”

    The video at the beginning of the post is from Howard Zinn’s play Marx in Soho, which established beyond doubt that the late Mr. Zinn was as poor a playwright as he was a historian.

    A critique of Zinn the historian from the Left:


    A critique of Zinn the historian from the Right:


  • I don’t see millionaires like Sean Penn and Michael Moore, who rail against capitalism, surrendering their private jets and vacation homes or redistributing their wealth to the have-nots.

    I wouldn’t expect them to, nor any other Marxist. Marxists and even many non-Marxist leftists are all for what they deem dignity and justice for the poor or working masses – they just don’t want, nor expect to be, part of the working mass. They want to be thoughtful and privileged administrators of the masses. They’re really just arrogant elitists and would-be tyrants, but in their mind it is okay because they know better than the common man what is best for him.

    Unfortunately, we see too much of that mindset in our mainstream politics and even coming from some Catholics.

  • Marx was a poor philosopher, if philosophers are developers and discerners of philosophy. Marx had some merits as an observer. As for the rest, it’s taken me two days to get through this post, original article, and thread (Marxism is intellectually exhausting!) and it’ll take me a bit longer to get my thoughts together.

  • Forgive the long post, Don, but this, too, from Gatto’s book on discipline then and now, for which a link can be found at the end. (A great read, and free on-line for you history lovers).

    Rules of the Stokes County School November 10, 1848
    Wm. A. Chaffin, Master

    1. Boys & Girls Playing Together 4
    2. Quarreling 4
    3. Fighting 5
    4. Fighting at School 5
    5. Quarreling at School 3
    6. Gambling or Betting at School 4
    7. Playing at Cards at School 10
    8. Climbing for every foot over three feet up a tree 1
    9. Telling Lies 7
    10. Telling Tales Out of School 8
    11. Nick Naming Each Other 4
    12. Giving Each Other ILL Names 3
    13. Fighting Each Other in Time of Books 2
    14. Swearing at School 8
    15. Blackguarding Each Other 6
    16. For Misbehaving to Girls 10
    17. For Leaving School Without Leave of the Teacher 4
    18. Going Home With Each Other without Leave of Teacher 4
    19. For Drinking Spiritous Liquors at School 8
    20. Making Swings & Swinging on Them 7
    21. For Misbehaving when a Stranger is in the House 6
    22. For Wearing Long Finger Nails 2
    23. For not Making a Bow when a Stranger Comes in 3
    24. Misbehaving to Persons on the Road 4
    25. For not Making a Bow when you Meet a Person 4
    26. For Going to Girl’s Play Places 3
    27. For Going to Boy’s Play Places 4
    28. Coming to School with Dirty Face and Hands 2
    29. For Calling Each Other Liars 4
    30. For Playing Bandy 10
    31. For Bloting Your Copy Book 2
    32. For Not Making a bow when you go home 4
    33. For Not Making a bow when you come away 4
    34. Wrestling at School 4
    35. Scuffling at School 4
    36. For Weting each Other Washing at Play Time 2
    37. For Hollowing and Hooping Going Home 3
    38. For Delaying Time Going Home or Coming to School 3
    39. For Not Making a Bow when you come in or go out 2
    40. For Throwing anything harder than your trab ball 4
    41. For every word you miss in your lesson without excuse 1
    42. For Not saying yes Sir or no Sir or yes Marm, no Marm 2
    43. For Troubling Each Others Writing Affairs 2
    44. For Not Washing at Play Time when going to Books 4
    45. For Going and Playing about the Mill or Creek 6
    46. For Going about the barn or doing any mischief about 7

    “Whatever you might think of this in light of Dr. Spock or Piaget or the Yale Child Study folks, it must be apparent that civility was honored, and in all likelihood, no one ever played Bandy a second time! I’ve yet to meet a parent in public school who ever stopped to calculate the heavy, sometimes lifelong price their children pay for the privilege of being rude and ill-mannered at school. I haven’t met a public school parent yet who was properly suspicious of the state’s endless forgiveness of bad behavior for which the future will be merciless.”


  • Joe Green: Well, I really have to wonder how much Thoreau or Oliver Wendell Holmes the average 5th grader could absorb. Still, it’s far better to overreach when it comes to education than it is to dumb down.

    One of the most irritating notions of our time is the common conceit that we are brighter than benighted past generations because we’re not racist or sexist like they were and besides, those dumb slobs didn’t have computers or cell phones or cars. If you are historically illiterate, you never realize that you are as thoroughly a creature of your own time and place as anybody born in any previous era and that the Founding Fathers or great artists like Shakespeare were infinitely less parochial than most human beings, past, present or future. Nor do they grasp that future generations will probably regard our tolerance of abortion with the same disgust people today feel toward, say, antebellum slaveholders. It takes a particular sort of arrogance to know nothing of history and yet feel sure that your own generation somehow sits at the pinnacle of human existence – because hey, Lincoln might have known the Bible by heart, but dude, would he have known what to do with an ipad?

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7 Responses to Human Life and Risk

  • I remember watching “Free to Choose” on PBS in 1979 with my wife. Great television, and my first introduction to a still rather young-ish Tom Sowell.

  • Interesting video. The kids screws up the facts of the Ford Pinto case, which is hardly surprising. It’s true that Ford did a cost/benefit analysis of how much it would take to fix each car vs. the number of lives lost. What’s not as widely known is that they did this for the government. At that time the NHTSA had an informal rule that they would only adopt regulation that passed a certain cost/benefit formula, and the cost/benefit analysis was part of a letter sent to NHTSA opposing a particular regulation.

    Friedman’s point is valid either way, but it’s still worth noting.

  • I struggle with this. One the one hand I understand the need for a value b/c otherwise everything would grind to a halt as being to risky. On the other hand, I don’t know how you square this with the Church’s teachings of the sanctity of human life or even the fact that most people would value their own lives at infinite value (whether they have the resources to spend the utmost on protecting their lives is another question). It makes me think the calculus Friedman is presenting has only limited utility but I waffle on that.

  • Obviously, the value of a statistical life should never be used to justify immoral activity. I can’t justify murder by claiming that the victim was committing economic waste in excess of the value of a statistical life. But it has to be used to assess amoral more even morally good activities that carry risks.

  • most people would value their own lives at infinite value

    Most people do not value their own lives at infinite value. If they did, then no one would smoke or drink or eat fatty foods, or go swimming or drive in a car unless they absolutely had to. For that matter, if people placed an infinite value on their lives then no one would ever fight in a war, or work in a hospital, or have a child. You get the idea.

  • Good point BA and I think we can express it in another way. I wouldn’t necessarily argue with Michael’s words (“value their own lives at infinite value”) if term life wasn’t merely refering to the condition of being alive. If we were to use the term in the sense of the course of existance (to love, to work, take pleasure, experience activities, etc.) I would agree that people value their lives infinitely. So much so that they would (and do!) risk their corporal existence every day to live.

  • Ba:

    I’m not persuaded by that argument. It assumes that people are rationally understanding the risks of their activities and their own mortality. Most people don’t. I don’t eat McDonald’s thinking that I’ve taken a step closer to dying, nor do I consider the risks when I buckle up in the morning.

    I concede that people have sacrificed their lives, but when they do it is usually for the good of other human lives or if less noble for less tangible things (fame, glory, honor, etc.).