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Near the end of the first chapter Friedman thinks about political behavior in a capitalist country compared to a socialist country. When employment opportunities are based on the government, this has a chilling effect on free speech. First, is a government going to allow its workers to advocate for causes that involve a radical change to the political and economic system? History suggests no.

But, Friedman continues, let’s imagine that there is a government that will tolerate radical, even revolutionary, speech. For this type of speech to spread, financers are necessary. In a capitalist system, there will surely be some wealthy individuals who sympathize with the radical views being espoused. Friedman is equally confident that there will be some wealthy individuals in a socialist system. The difference, he thinks, is that in a socialist system, the chances are great that the wealthy will work for the upper echelon of the government. Will they be willing to support causes that challenge the status quo? Maybe. Will the government allow top officials to support “subversive” activities? This appears less plausible.

(This previous paragraph made me think about this election cycle and the role of Super PACs. The Republican primaries appeared to be more competitive, as a result of this infusion of “outside” dollars. How could that be a bad for democracy?)

Maybe, you might counter, a small amount of money could be raised from many. But, he explains, throughout history radical movements have not worked this way. Just getting to the point where many will support a radical cause is costly. If the cause were popular, fine. Typically, radical causes are funded by a few and, only then, gradually gain support.

In a capitalist society, the radicals don’t even need to persuade potential patrons that their ideas are sound. They simply need to convince them that they can make money supporting their radical, even futile, cause. By purchasing paper or using your printing press, radicals are making the business owner money regardless of how successful their efforts are. A book publisher who only publishes books he agrees with is going to lose a lot of business.

Inequality, a natural consequence of little government involvement in managing the economy, does create a check on political power. The more a society uses the tools of government to reduce inequality, the less this check exists. Less inequality and less dissent! Be wary of a society that does not have many mechanisms for dissent.

Once an idea can be disseminated to the masses, it can spread. All of a sudden, small amounts of money can be collected from many individual supporters. The chances of this happening in a socialist system are less easy, virtually impossible, to conjure. After all, you not only have to get funding. You also have to convince many other parts of the government to provide its goods and services to help spread the message.

It is dangerous to support a system that removes this check on government. Is there any way that a socialist system could address this problem? (allowing all citizens to possess weapons? ) Friedman has some fun with the idea of a “bureau for subsidizing subversive propaganda.” How would this bureau determine which subversive groups to support? Surely, if money were being given away, the number of people willing to line up, in the name of radicalism, would be great. If being a radical is profitable, you will surely get a lot of radicals.

It is a good thing, Friedman thinks, that support of unpopular causes has some costs associated with it. A society that made advocacy of radical activities too easy would likely be unstable. At the same time, the means to do so need to remain as a check on government.
Friedman states that supporters of socialism who also claim to be supporters of freedom have not adequately addressed the points he makes in this chapter. Are there “institutional arrangements” in a socialist system that promote freedom, including the freedom to advocate radical ideas?

The experience of Winston Churchill, who was prohibited from speaking on British radio in the 1930s, is discussed (literally prohibited?). Since the government controlled the airwaves, he could be silenced. (this makes me think about the role of the internet today).

Friedman discusses the experience of those who were blacklisted by Hollywood for supposed communist sympathies. He refers to the “Hollywood blacklist” as an “unfree act” since it used collusion to prevent people from earning a living because they may have supported unpopular ideas. The blacklist did not work. Why? Because it became too costly to maintain it…..(more to come)
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