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.