Milton Friedman on Freedom
Happy Fourth of July! In celebration of our country’s independence, we first and foremost recognize the men and women of America’s armed forces who sacrifice so much for our freedom. To them and their families, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice gives our utmost thanks.
As promoters of freedom—particularly in education—we wanted to provide some of our founder Milton Friedman’s own thoughts on liberty. Enjoy!
“Because we live in a largely free society, we tend to forget how limited is the span of time and the part of the globe for which there has ever been anything like political freedom: The typical state of mankind is tyranny, servitude, and misery. The 19th century and early 20th century in the Western world stand out as striking exceptions to the general trend of historical development. Political freedom in this instance clearly came along with the free market and the development of capitalist institutions.”
“Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom; it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp.”
“Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men. The fundamental threat to freedom is power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority. The preservation of freedom requires the elimination of such concentration of power to the fullest possible extent and the dispersal and distribution of whatever power cannot be eliminated — a system of checks and balances.”
“Those of us who believe in freedom must believe also in the freedom of individuals to make their own mistakes. If a man knowingly prefers to live for today, to use his resources for current enjoyment, deliberately choosing a penurious old age, by what right do we prevent him from doing so? We may argue with him, seek to persuade him that he is wrong, but are we entitled to use coercion to prevent him from doing what he chooses to do? Is there not always the possibility that he is right and that we are wrong? Humility is the distinguishing virtue of the believer in freedom; arrogance, of the paternalist.”
The freedoms Milton Friedman recognized, which we celebrate today, are so precious. That is why we will continue to protect them and, most important, expand them via school choice so that all American families have the freedom to choose in education.