The Problem With Libertarianism In One Dumb Milton Friedman Quote

Recently a Libertarian friend of mine posted on Facebook this gem of a quote:

If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.

I’ve come across this Milton Friedman quote several times before and it always brings a smile to my face because it sums up Libertarianism as a whole.

Milton Friedman was a prominent economist and Nobel laureate who made important contributions to monetary theory. But he was also doggedly committed to unfettered capitalism to the extent that he advocated allowing racial discrimination, which is the final logical conclusion of free market idealism. He’s basically the male Ayn Rand…but better at writing fiction.

So what’s wrong with this particular Milton Friedman quote. First of all, sand is actually kind of awful. Indeed, human civilization was founded in the Arabian and Saharan deserts for the sole purpose of removing sand from people’s lives. If anything government is about creating a shortage of sand and accomplished it with aplomb. So…thanks government! (Not to mention that desertification is one of the greatest environmental threats facing the globe — so maybe we could use some government sand removal)

I understand Friedman is arguing that the government is a poor resource manager. But why choose sand? There are other seemingly infinite resources that the government could hypothetically squander. And at least some of those would actually be useful to people. Like what about fresh water? Probably because the government IS in charge of most fresh water supplies and manages them brilliantly.

Friedman could have said, “If you put the government in charge of fire protection, in five years we’d be living in a constant inferno,” but that would have been stupid since we all know that public fire and police protection work in America.

So Milton Friedman leaves us with the perfect distillation of Libertarianism: a philosophy predicated on a straw argument undermined by minimal critical thinking.

 

15 comments for “The Problem With Libertarianism In One Dumb Milton Friedman Quote

  1. Allen
    November 20, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    I’m not a libertarian but I don’t think you’ve understood the quote. It’s deliberately ironic. Out of all the resources you could have a shortage of, sand would be one the least likeliest candidates in the Sahara Desert. The fact that the federal government could bring about a shortage of sand, however improbable and in spite of the fact that there’s a massive surplus of it illustrates Friedman’s view of the federal government.

    None of your other examples have this irony and thus don’t make for very memorable quotes.

    • November 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm

      Perhaps my point wasn’t clear. Friedman is obviously looking for something we have a huge surplus of and jokingly suggesting that the government would squander it. But in crafting the analogy he chose a specific product that the government doesn’t control when comparable products give lie to the analogy.

      I suggested “water” which is ridiculously plentiful on this planet (and if you build desalination plants it’s almost limitless) and he didn’t say, “if you put the government in charge of Lake Michigan there’d be a shortage of water.”

      My point is that Friedman’s jape reveals more than he wishes, because it makes you realize, “hey we have put the government in charge of Lake Michigan (and other bodies of water)…and that seems to be working out just fine.”

    • ANONYMOUS
      May 6, 2015 at 4:58 pm

      AUTHOR OF THE ARTICLE IS AN IDIOT OR PSYCHOPATH THAT IS PRETENDING TO BE IGNORANT, BY SECRETLY BEING A TROLL ! THE AUTHOR IS OBVIOUSLY EVIL, PLACING SLADER AGAINST @ LIBERTARIANS & ANARCHISTS R MORE LOGICAL THAN OTHERS R SIMPLETONS, WHO ARE PARASITES OR PREY OF PARASITES. PSYCHOPATHS WRITE LIKE FEMINISTS WITH GOOD GRAMMAR, BUT HAVE LITTLE TO NOTHING OF IMPORTANCE TO SAY = TRUE, IS WHY PROFESSORS PLACE MUCH EMPHASIS ON GRAMMAR + FOOTNOTES, SINCE NEITHER IS IMPORTANT EXCEPT2ANNOY U; BUT, BY THE TIME U FIGURE OUT OBVIOUS: IT’LL BE TOO LATE ! SORT OF LIKE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR MANUFACTURED TO HELP CREATE CENTRAL BANK FOR THE ROTHSCHILDS TO INCREASE THEIR POWER AND THEIR CENTRAL BANK AFTER FAKE WAR OF 1812, AFTER FAKE WAR OF AMERICAN REVOLUTION TO PUT the EARLY AMERICAN IN DEBT, SIMILAR 2WT STUDENTS FACE NOW: DEBT OR NO FULL TIME JOB NOR GOOD SALARY THAT PEOPLE R FORCED 2 MAKE WRONG DECISIONS BY EVIL PSYCHOPATHS

      • ANONYMOUS
        May 6, 2015 at 4:59 pm

        WHAT AUTHOR OF ARTICLE WROTE WS OBVIOUS SLANDER

        • December 25, 2015 at 7:10 am

          Dude, you’re claiming to be libertarian and talking about slander. What the heck?

  2. Allen
    November 28, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Yeah, you’ve made your point clearer now. The desertification thing wasn’t really necessary to mention since Friedman was deliberately looking for an overabundant commodity. But the quote is a straw man argument for sure. The most memorable quotes are rarely the most intellectual.

  3. Calis Sims
    June 30, 2013 at 1:18 am

    Their entire philosophy is a ‘straw argument!’

  4. Tazzle
    June 30, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    The argument against libertarianism was made in an article I read recently about why there is no such thing as a libertarian government in any country in the world. Even Somalia created a government recently after years of anarchy. It’s because libertarianism doesn’t work in the framework of anything but a discussion. The majority of people expect their countries to provide for their social welfare in some way. Libertarians are the exception, not the rule. I see old teabaggers holding up signs saying, “Keep Government Out of Medicare.” They rail at socialism and government while expecting it to cut them their Social Security checks and provide their healthcare. Libertarians wail that it shouldn’t be that way. But, it’s a losing battle. Many of the biggest government critics enjoy their social programs. Ron Paul decries government spending while bringing pork to his district in the form of grants for shrimp farming research, decorative trash cans and lighting, and building an addition to a Baptist community center. I know Paulbots that eschew going to private colleges to go to cheaper state ones that are funded with federal block grants and who get federal jobs or state jobs funded with block grants. Libertarianism as a form of government is a fantasy and will always be one. The most conservative areas of our country are conversely the ones most dependent on government.

  5. Anonymous
    July 24, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    To paraphrase Milton Friedman: If you put a free market idealist in the Oval Office, there would be no shortage of wars. (See “W” for details.)

  6. brando
    July 31, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Police works in america? Hm… that’s funny… I thought that crime was rampant in many areas, and while less rampant in the rest, still existant. Is this an example of something “working”? Guess its as good an example as you get when talking government….

  7. Matt Hooper
    April 1, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Only a damn jackass could interpret the great Milton Friedman in such a ridiculous manner. The government these loony lefties love so much does not exist without first taking from the Private Sector to build their beloved Hackatopia. Police & Fire are working out brilliantly ? At what cost ? Boston had 41 fires last year. Thousands and thousands of Fire Fighters sitting on their brains earning $150K / $200k a year not to mention future Pensions that would make any honest man blush. Cops guarding Construction sites for $175K a year. Friedman warned us of the Fed Govt when it was the size of a big dog. Now it’s larger than Godzilla. In 1978 Friedman gave the US a 30% chance of avoiding Socialism and complete collapse. The Debt was around $400 Billion. It’s now $17 Trillion. He must be spinning in his grave. You are not worthy to sharpen his pencils.

    • ANONYMOUS
      May 6, 2015 at 5:08 pm

      PSYCHOPATHS ARE IN CHARGE AT ALL LEVELS OF SOCIETY IN ALL COUNTRIES: SECRET PLOT AGAINST NORMAL PEOPLE ARE IN GREAT DANGER IF NORMAL PEOPLE DO NOT WAKE UP FROM THEIR DEEP SLEEP & SEE & UNDERSTAND OBVIOUS DANGERS = LETTING 1%TO11% OF EVIL LUNATICS RULE NORMAL PEOPLE, THAT WHEN ROBOTS WILL AI BE MADE WILL THINK HUMANS R EITHER HYPOCRITES OR COWARDS OR MENTALLY DEFECTIVE, THAT ONE SIDE BE PSYCHOPATHS, WHILE OTHER BE COWARDS THAT NEITHER SIDE IS OK THAT THE CORRECT WAY TO LIVE = MODERATION OR BALANCE BETWEEN TWO WRONG EXTREMES, SUCH AS NOT HIRING AN EMPLOYEE FOR SIMPLY HAVING SET OF REQUIREMENTS TO PASS JOB INTERVIEW, WHEN PERSON IS OBVIOUSLY INCOMPETENT, THAT NO POINT HIRING PERSON, BE OR WILL BE HIRED BY INCOMPETENT, WHILE COMPETENT WILL BE PAID LESS OR IGNORED OR NOT HIRED OR FORCED 2 TAKE DEBT TO PROVE NOT BEING INCOMPETENT, WHILE THE EVIL PSYCHOPATHS WILL STEAL $ FROM OTHERS TO PAY FOR DEBT REQUIRED TO PROVE COMPETENCE, ITS COST $ NOT PAID BY PSYCHOPATHS BUT BY $ STOLEN BY PSYCHOPATHS FROM YOU THAT THE SYSTEM WE LIVE IN WAS NOT MADE BY NORMALS, BUT THE SYSTEM WE LIVE IN WAS MADE BY PSYCHOPATHS = WHY PSYCHOPATHS R IN CHARGE AT ALL LEVELS OF SOCIETY @ IN ALL COUNTRIES: ANCIENT SECRET PLOT AGAINST YOU !!! NEED TO STOP IGNORING THE OBVIOUS, ELSE ANOTHER WAR WHERE NORMAL PEOPLE BE TRICKED TO KILL EACH OTHER, WHILE EVIL LUNATIC PSYCHOPATHS LAUGH AT YOU NORMALS, NEED TO STOP BEING COWARDS AND START ATTACKING EVIL, HAS BEEN ATTACK YOU OR NORMALS FOR THOUSANDS YEARS

      • ANONYMOUS
        May 6, 2015 at 5:10 pm

        EVIL OR PSYCHOPATHS OR LUNATICS HAS OR HAVE BEEN ATTACK YOU OR/AND NORMALS FOR THOUSANDS YEARS !

    • Mark Montague
      February 20, 2017 at 2:11 pm

      <>

      Not a problem: your hero Milt was hardly the sharpest pencil in the drawer, himself. He was slavishly devoted to a failed idealogoy in spite of the mountains of evidence that it didn’t work in the real world.

      In other words, he was clever but not wise. It’s important never to confuse the two.

      Ol’ Milt performed his greatest service to mankind on the day he died.

      Period.

      Look, I’ll try and explain this as simply as possible:

      Democracy is based on the idea of “one citizen, one vote”; capitalism, which values everything solely in terms of what it would fetch in some market, is based instead on the notion of “one dollar, one vote.”

      The two are in the long run incompatible. Capitalism’s end state is fascism, and no amount of polishing that turd is ever going to make it into a trophy. Trump is no more an historical aberration than, say, Hitler—another well-known demagogue who served capitalists as the public face behind which they could wield their power.

      Under a capitalist regime, any “person” (whether a real live human or a legal fiction known as a corporation) with the dollars to spare can purchase whatever regulation, policy, court ruling he, she or it desires. Yes, you might slow the process down by means of some reform or other—this is what FDR did in order to preserve capitalism, though most capitalists were too stupid to figure that out—but in the long run it will never work.

      FDR’s effort followed Wall Street’s creation and funding of the American Legion after WWI; there was already in place a legitimate veterans’ organization (the VFW), but the Legion was assembled of the whole cloth to serve as thugs and strikebreakers. In effect they were the US analogue to Hitler’s brownshirts. But don’t take my word for it: look up the American Legion and you’ll see that in their own leader famously announced that the American Legion was to US society what the Fascists were to Italian society.

      There are further analogies in effect. “Free market” economists serve the corporatist state in the same way eugenicists and social Darwinists served the Nazi state: by providing a short of pseudo-intellectual cover for their beastly programs. This is also why the banking industry constructed and still bankrolls the sham “Nobel” prize program for economists; the program is an attempt to legitimize free-market economic theories—again, in spite of all available evidence that they’re a con game.

      Hope this helps.

  8. ANONYMOUS
    May 6, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    PSYCHOPATHS BEEN WAGING WAR TO ATTACK NORMAL FOLKS FOR VERY LONG TIME @ SINCE ANCIENT TIMES AND RECENTLY

Leave a Reply