Milton Friedman, the Austrian School, Chile and the delusions of ideology November 24, 2006Posted by WorldbyStorm in Libertarianism, Marxism.
Poor old Milton Friedman, barely shuffled off his mortal coil and already they’re out in packs to pull him off his philosophical perch.
I actually rather like Friedman, but I prefer Hayek, and my real favourite on that end of the political spectrum was the ever enthusiastic and entertaining Murray Rothbard. Read his thoughts on the US involvement in Vietnam and tell me again that he wasn’t a radical in any sense of the word…
Still, I can’t entirely blame Friedman or the Austrian School (well more precisely the Chicago School) for falling in part for Pinochet’s rather dubious charms. It’s the old problem with ideology. It tends to hoover up enthusiasm and credulity in equal measure. I’m sure they thought all their Christmases had come together when they got the call to fly south to the balmy climes of Chile and chat with the General’s more intelligent associates.
A country to play with. Real live working institutions to dismember and reconstitute. A state which appeared willing to try out radical experimentation…and all in the name of that most nebulous of concepts – economic freedom.
I’d have been excited, and darn it all I’m just a libertarian socialist (or is it a social democratic liberal – so difficult to tell these days).
That the Chicago School made much less of an impact in Chile than was hoped for, despite the current revisionism which seeks to portray the current reasonably strong economy as the result of all their hard work in the 1970s (a likely story if ever I heard one) is neither here nor there.
Their radical enthusiasms were of a piece with generation of leftists who also travelled to the America’s and found common cause with various revolutions there. In essence everyone likes to think their ideology will improve the world, or at least a part of it. And whether that means you’re picked up at one airport by a chauffeur driven car and taken to an economic research institute, well at the end of the day people tend to sleep fairly decently whatever the noises off…
I don’t want to get into a sterile argument comparing Castro or Pinochet, their respective worth, their impact, the differing ‘freedoms’ that they promoted. I don’t know if I know enough, or will ever know enough to make a real judgement about it one way or another. Perhaps if I were living in Havana today I’d be cursing the fact the President for Life is still in situ. Or perhaps Castro, for all the paternalism did his people ‘no small service’. And no doubt there are those in Santiago with similar thoughts…
But to my mind if one wants to see the real, the very real, dangers of ideology untrammeled by consideration of genuine human need we can do little better than consider how innately decent people such as Friedman (and I think also of Marx), who thought long and hard about the nature of freedom and the necessity for new ways of organising society, even if the conclusions are not much to my liking, could lend intellectual support – even at arms length and indirectly – to actions which would cast a long shadow over any reputation.