I recently heard an inspirational talk about the late, great Milton Friedman. This year he would have been 100 years old. On a scale of 1-10, he was an 8.2 in my opinion on the appropriate role of government in our lives. Pretty darn good for an academic. He was a great communicator with a kind face and was, according to numerous reports a lively, but civil and kind debater. One of his claims to fame was the television series, “Free To Choose.” These are great videos, the brilliance of which was making economics understandable to the layman. The great libertarian economist Dr. Walter Block knew Dr. Friedman and remembered him fondly, particularly his brave stance against the war on drugs, our modern day Prohibition. His views on monetary theory are where he departed from the “great ones,” including Hayek and Mises. If Friedman scores an 8.2, Hayek scores at 8.7, with Mises and Rothbard at the 10 level…in my opinion.
I think it is fair to say that as Hayek aged, he saw the wisdom in Mises’ recalcitrance, his utter refusal to compromise. Referred to as an “inflexible thinker,” amongst other monikers, his unpopular and seemingly offensive views have largely been vindicated. Hayek said as much. While Friedman saw a role for government in the “management of money” and its supply, Hayek saw the mischief possible with this responsibility resting in the hands of the “state.” Mises went further. Much further. Check out any of his very readable works. My favorites are his masterpiece, “Human Action” and “The Anticapitalistic Mentality.”
Less libertarian economists talked then as they do now about the best use of tax dollars. You know how they say it. Government needs to be more efficient, we need more bang for our buck, we need more fraud control…that sort of thing. There are two flaws with this way of thinking the Austrian economists would point out. First, who could possibly know what the best use of resources is? What individual is so brilliant that they know what should be purchased with other people’s money? Hayek was with Mises on this point, as his famous “fatal conceit,” points out. Second, rather than discuss how the loot could be best distributed amongst the thieving beneficiaries, Mises objected to the act of violence necessary to secure the loot in the first place. He spoke like this. Very tough. Uncompromising. I love clarity like this in this crazy world.
How does this relate to health care? As various proposals for streamlining government raise their heads, keep Mises in mind. Reforming Medicare? The former Texas Senator Phil Gramm (although no Austrian economist) said “reforming Medicare was like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Austrians object to its existence at all, a failed example of socialism in medicine. Hans Sennholz, an apostle of Mises wrote this article about Medicare in December of 2000. Obamacare? Don’t make me laugh.
Ludwig von Mises was a truly original and radical thinker, whose unpopular views (views which isolated him and repelled the fame and fortune bestowed on others) are vindicated more and more every day. His ultimate legacy to the freedom movement will I believe be equal to Friedman’s and then some. To learn more about this man and his work, check out http://mises.org/.
G. Keith Smith, M.D.