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A Conversation with Milton Friedman

 
 

 

 

___________________________________________

A Conversation with

MILTON FRIEDMAN

[Introduction/commentary in preparation]

For additional information regarding Milton Friedman click on the following two links (these links will take you to a different website):

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Doc #

pdf
DATE
SENDER
SUBJECT
05-10-04

Gordon

[My Initial Letter— Hoover Meeting follow-up] -- Issue raised: Developing a preference for individual freedom.

2
06-01-04
Milton

[His Initial Response Letter—Agree to talk] -- "Glad to meet": "An interesting and important topic."

3
06-07-04
Gordon

[Letter—Setting a meeting date] -- Topics to include: “Linking individualism and the free market”

4
06-17-04

Milton

Appointment -- He is "good for an hour meeting ."
5
5
06-22-04

[A one-hour meeting was held on June 22, 2004 ]

06-26-04
Gordon

With Appreciation -- Request to verify the substance of the conversation and open it to public debate.

07-11-04
Gordon

Conversation Summary—June 22 -- Defining individualism; Free will or determinism; As for religion; Linking free market and individualism; Developing a preference for individualism; Gordon's approach to individualism; Government telling us what to do; public school system; Prof. Friedman's basic premise; anti-trust laws

07-29-04
Milton
Re: Conversation Summary—June22
07-31-04
Gordon

Your Comments Appreciated -- My intent to build a conceptual framework for linking individualism and free-market theory

09-05-04

Gordon
Update to Linking Project -- Addressing the problem of causation and the problem of assuming a knowable, physical reality
09-16-04
Gordon
Step #3 Update -- Correlation rather than causation; Focusing on individualism rather than democracy; Let every country do what it does best; Invisible hand of self interest
09-20-04
Milton
Re: Step #3 Update -- [Professor Friedman's comments on Step #3 topics]
09-20-04
Gordon

Brief Response to One of Your Comments -- More thoughts on Adam Smith's “Invisible Hand”

10-03-04
Gordon
Delayed -- My hay fever, delay, and reorganization
10-12-04
Gordon
Individualism and Free Market -- Linking individualism and the free market; Resistance to individualism

16

10-28-04
Milton
Re: Individualism and Free Market -- [Response to 10-12-04 “Individualism and Free Market”]
10-30-04
Gordon
1st Reply to Your Response of 10-28-04 -- A reply to Professor Friedman's view regarding “an external reality”
10-28-04
Gordon
Step 5 and Closing -- School Curriculum--contrasting collectivism and individualism
11-08-04
Milton
Re: Step 5 and Closing -- Responses to 10-28-04 “School Curriculum”
11-11-04
Gordon
Reflections on the Bay -- Response to Professor Friedman's “Bay” illustration; the use of value statements
12-06-04
Gordon
Looking Forward -- Areas of agreement and differences
12-09-04
Milton
Re: Looking Forward -- Role of science
12-23-04
Gordon
Your 12-09-04 Comments -- Reply to: “truth about an external world” and “religion not science delivers truth”
01-03-05
Milton
Re: Your 12-09-04 Comments -- More on “truth”
01-03-05
Gordon
Bon Voyage -- Gordon's inability to walk on water
04-07-05
Gordon
Closing Synthesis -- Our perceptions in contrast
05-26-05
Gordon
The Conversation—My Closing Summary… -- Collectivism and economic theory; Individualism and economic theory; 3 loose ends regarding our perspectives—causation, self interest, and that” invisible hand”; and a table illustrating concepts in contrast
05-31-05
Milton
Re: The Conversation—My Closing SummaryPoint-by-point reply to the Summary and Conclusions
06-03-05
Gordon
The Conversation—A Final Thank YouThe hope that this conversation can make a significant contribution to the public dialogue linking individualism and free-market economics
09-28-05
Gordon
Reviewing Table of Contents and Index
10-04-05
Milton
Re: Reviewing Table of Contents and Index

32

12-05-05
Gordon

Postscript—Recommendation—CopyrightClarifying the role of individualism

33

12-16-05
Milton
Re: Postscript—Recommendation
12-26-05
Gordon
My Hope—Clarifying individualism-free market link
01-06-06
Milton
Re: My Hope
Index of Topics

 

___________________________________________

[Doc] (page)

[1] (1)

Gordon F. Brown

Arcadia , CA 91006

May 10, 2004

Professor Milton Friedman

Hoover Institution

Stanford , CA 94305-6010

 

Dear Professor Friedman:

After the close of your “Conversation” at the Hoover retreat last week, I asked you how you had arrived at your preference for individual freedom. I understood your response to be that you never really thought about it—you have just always believed in it. […Friedman]

I was with my spouse (Claudia) at the time, and the inquiry was more to us than a question of passing interest. We are educators by trade, Claudia at Long Beach State University and me at Pasadena Community College. With PhDs in educational psychology from the University of Southern California, our primary focus was on child development and research design.

More to the point, beginning in the 1960s and continuing for about 30 years, we spent our weekends, summers, and daily spare time working with youth in the Los Angeles Housing Projects. Thinking of our efforts as fieldwork, our objective was to identify the primary factors influencing the often self-destructive life styles of project youth, and our intent was to design a program that would increase the likelihood of these youth embracing a lifestyle that was more viable. […youth]

Over time, we realized that the primary dynamic was that of empowering individuals as individuals. Later, we became familiar with Free to Choose and recognized some similarities between our understanding of your theories and our own efforts. However, while we considered your approach as beginning with a preference for individual freedom and looking forward to extend its application to economic theory; we would describe our approach as also beginning with a preference for individual freedom, but looking backward to identify those experiences giving rise to a preference for individual freedom.

When Claudia and I asked you how you had arrived at a preference for individual freedom, it was with high hopes that your response would be consistent with our formulations developed over 30 years—I know of only 2 or 3 general ways people come to embrace a preference for individual freedom. Such a response would have been somewhat validating and personally gratifying.

At the risk of sounding impious, I would like to ask you for an opportunity for Claudia and me to ask the question again (and a few leading questions) to hear what impromptu reflections come to your mind. We are planning to visit the Hoover Institute within the next

 

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few months. The timing of our visit is entirely flexible, so we could accommodate any time and location of your choosing.

Whatever your response, Claudia and I thoroughly enjoyed your “Conversation” and appreciated your candor with us. Whether with us, or others, we hope you will consider linking your free-market arguments with the philosophical arguments giving rise to a preference for individualism. […linking]

Sincerely,

/S/

Gordon F. Brown

relspeak@earthlink.net

___________________________________________

[2] (3)

[Letterhead]

HOOVER INSTITUTION

ON WAR, REVOLUTON AND PEACE

June 1, 2004

 

Dr. Gordon F. Brown

Arcadia, California 91006

Dear Dr. Brown:

I would be glad to talk with you and your wife about the source of preferences of individual freedom. The issue is certainly an interesting and important one and I wish I had something sensible to say about it, but I believe I do not.

As it happens I do almost all my work at home and only come to Hoover at infrequent, unspecified intervals. Presumably if you are coming to Hoover you will also be in San Francisco during some part of your visit. It would be much easier for me to talk with you at our home in San Francisco at . . . you would let me know if that is possible and when you are likely to be in this area, I would be glad to make a definite date with you.

Sincerely yours,

/S/

Milton Friedman

Senior Research Fellow

F:v

 

STANFORD UNIVERSITY * STANFORD, CA 94305-6010 * WWW.HOOVER.ORG

 

___________________________________________

[3] (4)

Gordon F. Brown

….

Arcadia, CA 91006

June 7, 2004

Dr. Milton Friedman

….

San Francisco, CA

 

Dear Professor Friedman:

Thank you for your letter and invitation to set a date for a conversation with Claudia and me. Anytime on or after June 20th would work for us with the exception of June 28-30. Let us know what is convenient for you.

We are looking forward to an informal conversation. I am intrigued by your candor—it has been my experience that often much is communicated by what is not said as well as what is said.

As I see it, our primary focus will be on the nascent conditions for developing a preference for individualism. In addition, I am excited about the possibility that our discussion may include linking the concept of individualism with free-market thinking. […linking]

How long shall we set aside for the conversation? As for me, when I begin discussing an idea, I am inclined to be engaged for at least an hour…and I am prepared to be engaged for a lifetime. As Dewey or James put it, “the problem with thinking is that you don't know where it will take you.”

To fix the date and time, feel free to call us at our home at …. We tend to monitor our calls, so please begin your message. While the US mail can work, we also can be reached via email: relspeak@earthlink.net .

Looking forward to hearing from you,

/S/

Gordon F. Brown

 

P.S. I took the liberty of mailing this letter to the address where you “do almost all [your] work.” If you prefer the Hoover address for corresponding, let me know. This time, I sent a duplicate to the Hoover address.

___________________________________________

[4] (5)

From: Milton Friedman

To: Gordon Brown

Subject: Appointment

Date: Thursday, June 17, 2004 9:44 AM

 

Dear Mr. Brown:

How about three o'clock in the afternoon of Tuesday, June 22, at our apartment, …. We would plan on meeting for about an hour. That's about the longest I am good for. Thank you. Look forward to seeing you.

Sincerely yours,

Milton Friedman

Senior Research Fellow

Hoover Institution

___________________________________________

[5] (6)

 

JUNE 22, 2004

 

MEETING AT DR. MILTON FRIEDMAN'S HOME

TIME: 3:00 TO 4:00 pm

 

PRESENT: MILTON FRIEDMAN

GORDON BROWN

CLAUDIA WRIGHT

 

___________________________________________

[6] (7)

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: With Appreciation

Date: Saturday, June 26, 2004 7:12 PM

 

Dear Professor Friedman:

Claudia and I were delighted with the opportunity to meet with you last Tuesday. We were gratified with the outcome. I was able to cover the basic points of my interest, and we were both pleased and impressed with your candor.

Looking back to our first communication—when I asked you about the basis for your preference for individualism—I clearly was not anticipating your response.

After our discussion, I am now even more interested in trying to link a few of your basic contentions with the model of individualism that, for the last 30 years, I have been developing and refining. […linking]

To get started, I have a critical preparatory task. It is to identify those points in your thinking to which I will try to connect. For this purpose, a sufficient number of points were covered during Tuesday's discussion. However, before attributing any such points to you, I would like to verify my understanding of your comments before beginning the linking process.

Within the next couple of weeks, I am planning on making a list of several notable points made during our conversation, sharing that list and my understanding of those points with you, and asking you to verify my recollections by agreeing (with or without modification) or not agreeing with my characterizations. […validation]

Of course, I understand that you may choose to assist me on this matter or not. However, I do believe a significant contribution can be made to the general-public dialogue if some attempt were made specifically to link your economic theory of a free market with a philosophical theory of individualism. […sharing]

With best regards,

Gordon

P.S. You have one spectacular view of the Bay! Thank you for sharing it with us.

 

___________________________________________

[7] (8)

[This communication has been duplicated in 8 with Dr. Friedman's comments.]

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Conversation Summary--June 22

Date: Sunday, July 11, 2004 5:36 PM

 

Professor Friedman,

I have grouped into 4 Focus Points those issues raised by me during our June conversation, and I have followed each point with my recollection of your general response. I would very much appreciate your comments as to the general accuracy of my characterizations.

My next step will be to link my understanding of the positions taken by you to a theory of individualism. This linking, I anticipate, will take several weeks to complete. I will share with you a copy of my results because I would like to—and this will also provide an additional opportunity for checking my characterizations of your positions.

My Focus Point #1: Defining "Individualism"

Are we defining "individualism" in substantially the same way?

Your Response #1 : You agreed with my working definition of individualism as "the contention that the individual person has dignity as an individual." Furthermore, you agreed that individualism is the foundation for your free-market approach to economic theory and, you noted, that you have included the idea in your work.

My Focus Point #2: Is it Free Will or Determinism?

I pointed out, as it appears to me, your descriptions of the free market could be used to support either a philosophy of free-will individualism or determinism. The "invisible hand of self interest" is not unlike Skinner's deterministic reinforcement theory; and the idea of each country doing what it does best, does not seem to give the individual within each country much leverage for choosing a trade. Do we agree that free-will individualism and determinism are contradictory? Can a position embrace both and remain intelligible?

Your Response #2 : You agreed that "determinism" is contrary to "individualism"; and to embrace determinism would be to argue against free will. As you see it, there are viable arguments for both positions-neither can be proved. Personally, you believe in both free will and causation. However, you believe as a matter of faith—not the religious kind—that free will takes precedence over causation and determinism. As for contradictions, we are all faced with them and we learn to live with them. [I asked about your use of the term "faith."] You agreed on my working definition of "acting as if something were so without being able to demonstrate that it is so."

Clarifying your above position, you said that while society is best served by having the individual free to choose, who is to say upon what basis that choice is made. Arguably, you

 

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hypothesized, the "free choice" made by the individual could have itself been predetermined. That is the mystery of free will, and it is insolvable.

[I asked about the role of chance.] You stated that "chance" may turn out simply to be a reflection of our ignorance. Many things we attribute to chance today may be discovered tomorrow to have identifiable causes.

My Focus Point #3: As For Religion

I presented the suggestion that virtually all organized religions are contrary to individualism. I added, that as a theist myself, Job's position—if God disagrees with him, then "Let God come down here and argue his case"—represents one of the first celebrated, religious individualists. The focus is on personal integrity and a one-on-one relationship with God. As I saw it, it would be a real social contribution to describe a religious approach to living that would be consistent with individualism.

Your Response #3 : You said you had no idea what I was talking about or what I was referring to by this one-on-one relationship. As for you, you do not find religious explanations to be of much use and you are not interested in them. Adding, a person can't prove the existence of God. When it is said that God caused everything, the question is raised, "Who caused God?" It is of no use. [We agreed to put "off the table" any discussion relating to religion or religious beliefs.]

My Focus Point #4: Linking Free Market and Individualism

I pointed out that, now more than ever, it appears to me your free-market ideas could be used to support either individualism or determinism. Now, more than ever, it appears to me that linking your thinking specifically to a theory of individualism would be a constructive addition to the public dialogue. And that is exactly what I would like to do.

Your Response #4 : Such theoretical efforts, you said, do not provide the major incentive for change in public thinking. It's the outcomes that count. People do not need to know why the free market works. They are impressed by results. More people were convinced of the free market by the fall of the Soviet Union than by all of your writings and those of Hayek and your other colleagues.

In Closing

Professor Friedman, the above 4 topics are significant to me for establishing linking points between your free-market approach and my philosophic approach to individualism. Your comments regarding my characterizations of your positions would be most welcomed.

With best regards,

Gordon Brown

(10)

P.S. In the Addendum below, I have listed several topics included in our discussion, but they are not the focus of my current task, which is to link specifically the free market approach to a concept of individual freedom.

Addendum-Additional Points Discussed

1. Developing a Preference for Individualism

You mentioned that in high school, you were involved in the very lucrative business of selling fire works, or as you said it, "pyrotechnics." I described my grade-school experiences of delivering newspapers and establishing a lawn mowing business. We agreed that such experiences are consistent with developing a later preference for individualism—that is, activities that directly link effort/skill to rewards.

As for teaching self empowerment, I described a youth program I developed where inner-city youth earned enough money selling peanuts to pay for their own summer camp. I noted the intuitive appreciation by non-participants where money about to be stolen by older boys was passed over as "it's just peanut money."

2. My Approach to Individualism

I described my beginning point for conceptualizing individualism to be the contention that "conscious awareness" is the basic foundation for all human experience. And, conscious awareness is both private and personal to every individual. Freedom, as I see it, is a matter of each person being able to choose that with which the individual wishes to associate, and thereby giving rise to each individual's world of experience—freedom to choose your own world. I mentioned the supporting notion of "social contracts" as put forth by Hobbes and others.

You referred to the collectivists' argument and you took the role of "devil's advocate" (the collectivist). The argument in sequence was that: "No man is an island"; cooperation is essential to survival; central direction is therefore necessary; and thus, what follows is the loss of freedom to choose by the individual.

3. We Don't Need Government Telling Us What to Do

You described some everyday examples of complex product exchanges that are driven by self interest without involving the government directing anyone—home-delivered newspapers and milk at the local store.

4. As For the Public School System

You described the basis for your disapproval of the public school system: as if hostages, students are not free to choose the school; schools do not have control over the curriculum; unions have control over the whole system. The point being, there is little if any individual freedom to choose within the public school system.

 

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Your Basic Premise

You agreed that it is one of your basic contentions: People should be free to do whatever they choose, so long as they do not interfere with others from doing the same.

6. Anti-Trust Laws

I raised the apparent virtue of anti-trust laws to individualism. You mentioned that you once favored them; you still think the idea is constructive to individual freedom; but you find that such laws have been used to rein in the free market, citing the government's recent effort to prevent Microsoft from freely competing in the market.

___________________________________________

[8] (12)

[Text from 7 duplicated here along with Dr. Friedman's comments.]

From: Milton Friedman

To: Gordon Brown

Subject: Re: Conversation Summary--June 22

Date: Thursday, July 29, 2004 3:58 PM

 

Dear Claudia and Gordon:

I have inserted in red below my comments. I apologize for being so late in getting back to you. Best wishes.

Yours,

Milton

[Note: Dr. Friedman's red text has been replaced with larger print in bold italics.]

 

July 11, 2004

Professor Friedman,

I have grouped into 4 Focus Points those issues raised by me during our June conversation, and I have followed each point with my recollection of your general response. I would very much appreciate your comments as to the general accuracy of my characterizations.

My next step will be to link my understanding of the positions taken by you to a theory of individualism. This linking, I anticipate, will take several weeks to complete. I will share with you a copy of my results because I would like to—and this will also provide an additional opportunity for checking my characterizations of your positions.

My Focus Point #1: Defining "Individualism"

Are we defining "individualism" in substantially the same way?

Your Response #1 : You agreed with my working definition of individualism as "the contention that the individual person has dignity as an individual." Furthermore, you agreed that individualism is the foundation for your free-market approach to economic theory and, you noted, that you have included the idea in your work. […definitions]

This is OK with me.

 

(13)

My Focus Point #2: Is it Free Will or Determinism?

I pointed out, as it appears to me, your descriptions of the free market could be used to support either a philosophy of free-will individualism or determinism. The "invisible hand of self interest" is not unlike Skinner's deterministic reinforcement theory; and the idea of each country doing what it does best does not seem to give the individual within each country much leverage for choosing a trade. Do we agree that free-will individualism and determinism are contradictory? Can a position embrace both and remain intelligible? [Free Market / Free Will /…invisible hand]

Your Response #2 : You agreed that "determinism" is contrary to "individualism"; and that to embrace determinism would be to argue against free will. As you see it, there are viable arguments for both positions—neither can be proved. Personally, you believe in both free will and causation. However, you believe as a matter of faith—not the religious kind—that free will takes precedence over causation and determinism. As for contradictions, we are all faced with them and we learn to live with them. (Separately, I asked about your use of the term "faith.") You agreed on my working definition of "acting as if something were so without being able to demonstrate that it is so."

I would clarify my position. There is no conflict between free will and causation. Causation does not have to be universal whereas determinism does. […free will]

The issue of faith is more complex. I may believe something that is not true, e.g., that the world is flat. That is a case of mistaken belief which we might describe as taking something on faith. However, it is in principle possible to demonstrate to the person that he or she is in error. But that is a very different meaning of faith than belief in a god. With respect to such a statement, it is not possible to demonstrate that it is true. Equally, it is not possible to demonstrate that it is false. It must be taken or rejected on faith. [God / Science]

Clarifying your above position, you said that while society is best served by having the individual free to choose, who is to say upon what basis that choice is made. Arguably, you hypothesized, the "free choice" made by the individual could have itself been predetermined. That is the mystery of free will, and it is insolvable.

[I asked about the role of chance.] You stated that "chance" may turn out simply to be a reflection of our ignorance. Many things we attribute to chance today may be discovered tomorrow to have identifiable causes. [Causation / Science]

My Focus Point #3: As For Religion

I presented the suggestion that virtually all organized religions are contrary to individualism. I added, that as a theist myself, Job's position—if God disagrees with him, then "Let God

 

(14)

come down here and argue his case"—represents one of the first celebrated, religious individualists. The focus is on personal integrity and a one-on-one relationship with God. As I saw it, it would be a real social contribution to describe a religious approach to living that would be consistent with individualism. [God]

Your Response #3 : You said you had no idea what I was talking about or what I was referring to by this one-on-one relationship. As for you, you do not find religious explanations to be of much use and you are not interested in them. Adding, a person can't prove the existence of God. When it is said that God caused everything, the question is raised, "Who caused God?" It is of no use. [We agreed to put "off the table" any discussion relating to religion or religious beliefs.]

My Focus Point #4: Linking Free Market and Individualism

I pointed out that, now more than ever, it appears to me your free-market ideas could be used to support either individualism or determinism. Now, more than ever, it appears to me that linking your thinking specifically to a theory of individualism would be a constructive addition to the public dialogue. And that is exactly what I would like to do. […linking / Public]

Individualism is consistent with free markets in the sense that a free market provides a way in which people can cooperate with one another without coercion, each of his own free will. I do not see how free market ideas could be used to support determinism. A person who says he believes in determinism is in a logically contradictory position. He is a prerecorded phonograph record on which the words he is uttering are recorded. Can a phonograph record have beliefs? […free market]

Your Response #4 : Such theoretical efforts, you said, do not provide the major incentive for change in public thinking. It's the outcomes that count. People do not need to know why the free market works. They are impressed by results. More people were convinced of the free market by the fall of the Soviet Union than by all of your writings and those of Hayek…and your other colleagues. [Hayek]

Nonetheless "linking your thinking specifically to a theory of individualism would be a constructive addition to the public dialogue." […sharing]

In Closing

Professor Friedman, the above 4 topics are significant to me for establishing linking points between your free-market approach and my philosophic approach to individualism. Your comments regarding my characterizations of your positions would be most welcomed.

With best regards,

Gordon Brown

(15)

P.S. In the Addendum below, I have listed several topics included in our discussion, but they are not the focus of my current task, which is to link specifically the free market approach to a concept of individual freedom. […linking]

Addendum—Additional Points Discussed

1. Developing a Preference for Individualism

You mentioned that in high school, you were involved in the very lucrative business of selling fire works, or as you said it, "pyrotechnics." I described my grade-school experiences of delivering newspapers and establishing a lawn mowing business. We agreed that such experiences are consistent with developing a later preference for individualism—that is, activities that directly link effort/skill to rewards. […Friedman]

As for teaching self empowerment, I described a youth program I developed where inner-city youth earned enough money selling peanuts to pay for their own summer camp. I noted the intuitive appreciation by non-participants where money about to be stolen by older boys was passed over as "it's just peanut money." […youth]

2. My Approach to Individualism

I described my beginning point for conceptualizing individualism to be the contention that "conscious awareness" is the basic foundation for all human experience. And, conscious awareness is both private and personal to every individual. Freedom, as I see it, is a matter of each person being able to choose that with which the individual wishes to associate, and thereby giving rise to each individual's world of experience—freedom to choose your own world. I mentioned the supporting notion of "social contracts" as put forth by Hobbes and others. […definitions]

You referred to the collectivists' argument and you took the role of "devil's advocate" (the collectivist). The argument in sequence was that: "No man is an island"; cooperation is essential to survival; central direction is therefore necessary; and thus, what follows is the loss of freedom to choose by the individual. […collectivism]

3. We Don't Need Government Telling Us What to Do

You described some everyday examples of complex product exchanges that are driven by self interest without involving the government directing anyone—home-delivered newspapers and milk at the local store. [Government]

4. As For the Public School System

You described the basis for your disapproval of the public school system: as if hostages, students are not free to choose the school; schools do not have control over the curriculum; unions have control over the whole system. The point being, there is little if any individual freedom to choose within the public school system. [School]

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5. Your Basic Premise

You agreed that it is one of your basic contentions: People should be free to do whatever they choose, so long as they do not interfere with others from doing the same. […Friedman]

6. Anti-Trust Laws

I raised the apparent virtue of anti-trust laws to individualism. You mentioned that you once favored them; you still think the idea is constructive to individual freedom; but you find that such laws have been used to rein in the free market, citing the government's recent effort to prevent Microsoft from freely competing in the market. [Government]

 

___________________________________________

[9] (17)

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Your Comments Appreciated

Date: Saturday, July 31, 2004 12:36 PM

 

Greetings Professor Friedman,

Your thoughtful responses to the points raised in our last email are very much appreciated and will help clarify assumptions underlying key points, particularly as an effort is made to build a framework logically linking individualism and free-market theories.

We will share with you our developing thoughts as these mature.

With high hopes,

Gordon and Claudia

___________________________________________

[10] (18)

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Update to Linking Project— 9-5-04

Date: Sunday, September 05, 2004 11:25 AM

 

Greetings Professor Friedman,

I would like to share with you an update on my project of linking a philosophy of individualism with the concept of a free-market economy. Here is an overview of how I presently organize the task:

(1) Characterize our discussion and pass by you. (done)

(2) Identify and resolve any initial linking problems. (presented here)

(3) Briefly outline significant implications relating to the above resolutions. (in about 2 weeks)

(4) Outline positions of individualism and a free-market economy, and link the two. (about 3 more weeks)

(5) Describe several life-type experiences and school curricula that would provide an environment where the concept of individual freedom could flourish and provide a foundation for free market thinking. (about 2 more weeks)

For all five tasks, the conceptual organizing has already been completed. What remains is writing them up so as to avoid being burdensomely detailed or fragmentally incomplete. The following analysis is intended to complete Item 2 above.

A Couple of Initial Problems and Their Resolution .

At the start of our meeting, you commented that you did not understand the reasons for my expressions of bafflement. You expressed no discomfort with your having developed a detailed concept of a free-market society without including a basis for embracing individualism or free will. I understood you to say that you had just always believed in them. In contrast, I have spent most of my life addressing, and mostly agonizing over, the reasons for embracing a concept of free will and a philosophy of individualism. Clearly, most of the world has not and does not embrace either. As I see it, a free-market economy can be admired, but it can be embraced only after the arms of free will and individualism have been developed. [Free Market]

After our meeting, my bafflement morphed into a sense of challenge and focused problem solving. I enjoy this stage more than the bafflement. Over the following few weeks, two problem areas emerged: the idea of causation and the assumption of a physical reality . Having been a long-time reviewer of the 200-year debate on these two topics, I had already made my peace with these two pesky interlopers. On the surface, they appear to tilt toward determinism and, as such, represent a problem to be addressed by those bent toward free will. I will share with you a brief description as to how I have personally dealt with them.

 

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First, as for a belief in “causation,” I understand you to be using the term in its traditional sense—“to bring about” or “to account for the presence of something.” Your distinction that causation is applicable to the immediate level of observation, while free will (or determinism) could still be operating at the big-picture or universal level, seems a little awkward to me. As to the debate on causation, I am personally persuaded by those arguments recommending that the term “causation” be replaced with the term “correlation.” […free will /…determinism]

Supporting this notion, we have David Hume's argument that in actual experience we perceive not causation, but only sequence. Attributed to Kant, and not dissimilar perhaps to your own view, was, according to Kant as paraphrased by Will Durant, “the apparently contradictory but necessarily true notion that freedom of action must occur along with caused action.” However, as noted by Durant, Kant apparently relegated causation to an a priori status as an inherent structure of the mind. I have rarely, if ever, seen merit in a priori arguments. Consistent with the thinking of Hume, Bertrand Russell argued that “the reason physics has ceased to look for causes is that, in fact, there are no such things.” In Lincoln Barnett's The Universe and Dr. Einstein , one can find, in the original version, the phrase “Quantum physics thus demolishes two pillars of the old science, causality and determinism.” [See about 3 pages into Chapter 4.] That book was personally validated by Einstein himself. As for me, unlike causation, the term and concept of correlation can be grounded in an individual's human experience and support a free-will perspective. […correlation]

Second, as for the assumption of a knowable physical reality, I infer from your statements that this also is used in its traditional sense—what you see is what you get. Or, as the Realist may put it, the world we see around us is real and exists substantially as we see it. Here, I find the matter to have been adequately resolved by the British Empiricists (including Locke and Berkeley) arguing that we simply do not have access to the characteristics of an external world as it exists independently of the human perceiver. Similarly, the German mathematician Leibniz argued that “I am able to prove that not only light, color, heat, and the like, but motion, shape, and extension too are mere apparent qualities.” As I see it, all of this adds up to a relative approach to reality—all we can ever know are the products of interacting forces and not the forces themselves. What we have are conscious ideas without access to any external characteristics. This relative perspective supplants a “physical reality” assumption with a “metaphysical reality” (consciousness) assumption as the basic building block for organizing human experience. And, this suits me just fine in my attempt to link individualism to the free market economy. […relative]

Summarizing, I am substituting “correlation” and “a metaphysical-reality basis” (consciousness) for causation and a physical-reality basis, respectively. The effect is to tilt the playing field away from determinism and in favor of free will and individualism. I see this approach as complementing and strengthening the free-market theory as I understand it.

Looking forward, in about 2 weeks, I will provide you with another update in which I plan to outline a few implications I see flowing from my handing of the above two concepts.

 

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Please feel free to regard these updates any way you wish. However, while I welcome any comments you wish to make, I would particularly appreciate any comments you may have with regard to problems you may foresee with respect to how my comments apply to a free-market economy.

Sincerely,

Gordon

___________________________________________

[11] (21)

[This communication has been duplicated in 12 with Dr. Friedman's comments.]

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Step #3 Update— 9-16-04

Date: Thursday, September 16, 2004 4:02 PM

 

Professor Friedman,

Here is my Step #3: Implications Regarding My Preference for “Correlation” over “Causation.”

For me, the idea of “causation” becomes a slippery slope, and I intend to avoid using the concept in my deliberations. In its place, I will rely on the concept of correlation. As I see it, this enables me to avoid both the bias toward determinism and the mysticism associated with the notion of causation.

However, there are three concepts frequently employed by free-market economists that seem to be tied to causation and, as I see it, therefore indirectly linked to determinism: (1) the primacy of democracy; (2) doing what you do best; and (3) invoking the invisible hand. Although my approach will not be relying on them, the purpose of this particular update is to share with you my concerns with these three concepts (with slightly modified headings) and the reasons for their exclusion.

1. Individualism, and Not Democracy, is the Fundamental Principle

With individualism, the goal is to maximize individual freedom. Democracy, on the other hand, is simply one of many tools which can be used to implement and maintain a policy of individualism. As a tool, democratic procedures can be used to maximize individual freedom by: (a) providing a means for establishing those policies thought to maximize individual freedom; and (b) creating a hurdle for those in government who would use their office to suppress individual liberty (I am thinking of the “public-good” and compulsory-union advocates). The point is that democracy unyoked from individualism can be ruinous; while democracy, subordinately yoked to individualism, can be one constructive approach for establishing and preserving individual freedom. This focus on the individual brings us to the next point.

2. “Let Every Country Do What It Does Best”—A Possible Problem

If interpreted at the national level, there seems to be little room for individual decision making. Once a government decides what its country could do best, there would be considerable pressure for each citizen to support the national interest.

If interpreted at the individual level, surely, the actions of others will significantly impact on one's choice of action. Even if, at some point in time, every individual were free to choose, eventually a system of “what the country is best suited to do” would emerge, and this determination would exert considerable pressure upon individual decision making. And, most significantly, there is that sticky problem of determining the basis on which an

 

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individual decides what he/she can do best. Is that determined? This brings us to the third point.

3. “Invisible Hand of Self Interest”—Does It Do the Job?

At issue is the basis for establishing self interest. What is it that gives rise to the self interest? If able to do anything you want, what is it that gives rise to your wants?

As for Adam Smith and others, the answer is to postulate an “invisible hand of self interest.” As I understand this point of view, it is believed that if everyone were free to act in their own self interest, and did so, the “Hand” would invisibly guide the self-interest choices of every individual to form a most productive society. Said another way, it is as if each individual were programmed to be compatible to a master program which would maximize material benefits. This appears to be a formula for “feeling free” without “being free”; and, as such, is simply another variation of determinism. What we have is a concept of a domineering government being replaced by a domineering system of “self interest” residing within each individual. The distinguishing characteristic is that the guiding force is to be found by looking “inward” rather than “outward.” As for looking inward, the notion of “wants” guided by an “invisible hand” can be seen as similar to: (a) Skinner's description ( Beyond Freedom and Dignity ) of individual behavior being guided by the [invisible] laws of reinforcement; (b) the ancient prescription “to thy own self be true”; and (c) the contention that “the invisible hand of self interest” is what some people would call “the invisible hand of God.” For me, all of these invisible—yet controlling—forces tilt the scales toward determinism rather than free will and individualism.

In order to take individualism seriously, the sine qua non appears to be that of describing an intelligible concept of free will. This is the challenge and, in about three weeks, I will share with you how I have approached the task of addressing the notion of free will in a way that embraces free-market thinking.

As always, please feel free to make or not make comments; whatever suits you.

Sincerely,

Gordon

__________________________________________

[12] (23)

[Text from 11 duplicated here along with Dr. Friedman's comments.]

From: Milton Friedman

To: Gordon Brown

Subject: Re: Step #3 Update-- 9-16-04

Date: Monday, September 20, 2004 10:23 AM

 

Claudia and Gordon: Herewith a few comments in bold print [red highlight].

[Note: Dr. Friedman's red text has been replaced by larger print in bold italics.]

 

Professor Friedman,

Here is my Step #3: Implications Regarding My Preference for “Correlation” over “Causation.”

For me, the idea of “causation” becomes a slippery slope, and I intend to avoid using the concept in my deliberations. In its place, I will rely on the concept of correlation. As I see it, this enables me to avoid both the bias toward determinism and the mysticism associated with the notion of causation. […correlation]

However, there are three concepts frequently employed by free-market economists that seem to be tied to causation and, as I see it, therefore indirectly linked to determinism: (1) the primacy of democracy; (2) doing what you do best; and (3) invoking the invisible hand. Although my approach will not be relying on them, the purpose of this particular update is to share with you my concerns with these three concepts (with slightly modified headings) and the reasons for their exclusion.

1. Individualism, and Not Democracy, is the Fundamental Principle

With individualism, the goal is to maximize individual freedom. Democracy, on the other hand, is simply one of many tools which can be used to implement and maintain a policy of individualism. As a tool, democratic procedures can be used to maximize individual freedom by: (a) providing a means for establishing those policies thought to maximize individual freedom; and (b) creating a hurdle for those in government who would use their office to suppress individual liberty (I am thinking of the “public-good” and compulsory-union advocates). The point is that democracy unyoked from individualism can be ruinous; while democracy, subordinately yoked to individualism, can be one constructive approach for establishing and preserving individual freedom. This focus on the individual brings us to the next point. […democracy]

We very much agree though my way of putting it is somewhat different. The ideal political principle for a free society is unanimity. Democracy, generally interpreted as majority rule, is an expedient, as are super- or sub-majority rules. An expedient is needed because of the costliness of getting unanimity.

 

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2. “Let Every Country Do What It Does Best”—A Possible Problem

If interpreted at the national level, there seems to be little room for individual decision making. Once a government decides what its country could do best, there would be considerable pressure for each citizen to support the national interest. [Government]

The law of comparative advantage is a scientific conclusion of what will happen under free trade among individuals seeking their own interest who are well informed. It has nothing to do with government decision of what a country can do best. It has precisely the same relation to the issue of free will and determinism that the law of gravity does. [Science]

If interpreted at the individual level, surely, the actions of others will significantly impact on one's choice of action. Even if, at some point in time, every individual were free to choose, eventually a system of “what the country is best suited to do” would emerge, and this determination would exert considerable pressure upon individual decision making. And, most significantly, there is that sticky problem of determining the basis on which an individual decides what he/she can do best. Is that determined? This brings us to the third point.

3. “Invisible Hand of Self Interest”—Does It Do the Job?

At issue is the basis for establishing self interest. What is it that gives rise to the self interest? If able to do anything you want, what is it that gives rise to your wants? […invisible hand]

Here is Smith's invisible hand quote:

"...every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good."

The invisible hand is the market; self-interest is the fuel as it were.

 

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As for Adam Smith and others, the answer is to postulate an “invisible hand of self interest.” As I understand this point of view, it is believed that if everyone were free to act in their own self interest, and did so, the “Hand” would invisibly guide the self-interest choices of every individual to form a most productive society. Said another way, it is as if each individual were programmed to be compatible to a master program which would maximize material benefits. This appears to be a formula for “feeling free” without “being free”; and, as such, is simply another variation of determinism. What we have is a concept of a domineering government being replaced by a domineering system of “self interest” residing within each individual. The distinguishing characteristic is that the guiding force is to be found by looking “inward” rather than “outward.” As for looking inward, the notion of “wants” guided by an “invisible hand” can be seen as similar to: (a) Skinner's description ( Beyond Freedom and Dignity ) of individual behavior being guided by the [invisible] laws of reinforcement; (b) the ancient prescription “to thy own self be true”; and (c) the contention that “the invisible hand of self interest” is what some people would call “the invisible hand of God.” For me, all of these invisible—yet controlling—forces tilt the scales toward determinism rather than free will and individualism. […self interest]

In order to take individualism seriously, the sine qua non appears to be that of describing an intelligible concept of free will. This is the challenge and, in about three weeks, I will share with you how I have approached the task of addressing the notion of free will in a way that embraces free-market thinking.

I will be interested in that.

As always, please feel free to make or not make comments; whatever suits you.

Sincerely,

Gordon

___________________________________________

[13] (26)

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Brief Response to One of Your Comments

Date: Monday, September 20, 2004 8:42 PM

 

Professor Friedman,

I enjoyed reading your comments ( 9-20-04 ). I have a brief response to one of the items that I would like to share with you now while it is timely. Also, to do so now will assist in preparing the context for my Step #4, which I am now drafting.

The item of interest I am referring to is cited in your Smith's invisible hand quote. As for this quote, I find useful, for my purposes, the approach of using self interest as a primary, conceptual building block; and I find useful the proposition that if everyone were to act with self interest, without vetting it through some social agenda, the anticipated result would be a most effective economic situation for everyone.

However, that “invisible hand” rubs me the wrong way. I just do not see its contribution to the issues at hand, while I do see its potential to invite mischief by those of ill will. It is by way of metaphor that I attempt to clarify my point. […invisible hand]

Consider the cells of the body. Often I have wondered how two cells can divide and come to produce the variety of cell structures found in the human body.

When looking for a conceptual explanation, what tends to make sense to me is that each cell acts solely in its own self interest without any consideration whatsoever to the end product. Now, at this point, I do not see the usefulness of proposing the existence of some external, invisible force guiding the cell division toward the end product. On the other hand, what does seem reasonable to me is that within each cell is the capacity and inclination to interact in such a way so as to bring about the fully developed human organism. That is, it is within each individual cell—and its potential to interact with other cells in various environments—that we will eventually find the potentials for cell differentiation leading to an effectively functioning human organism.

Well, I have made my point—I feel better—and I am ready to get back to my Step #4. I have enjoyed thinking about and responding to Smith's quotation. As an aside, let me say something about myself: I enjoy focusing on differences and find that it is with the dynamics of dealing with differences that I find my greatest resource for maximizing my own personal growth and maturity. In this context, I would consider it helpful if you would let me know if you feel I have been remiss in failing to acknowledge my appreciation and understanding of similarities on a given issue. While I seem inclined to gravitate toward differences, I do recognize that to do so would inevitably lead to a distortion of my own position. It just occurred to me that perhaps the individual cells do the same thing—they are genetically inclined to maximize their potential for differentiation when interacting with their immediate environment, at least when they are young. Well, enough on that topic.

 

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Professor Friedman, it appears that I may be getting back to you as soon as one week with Step #4—particularly if I do not try to be overly cautious in my wording. As we become more aware of each other's conceptual patterns, and believe something constructive could be taking place, we may find it mutually acceptable to tolerate periods of simply not understanding what assumptions the other is relying upon and be prepared to examine apparent discrepancies for a reasonable period of time.

Gordon

P.S. The “bold print” works very well for me.

___________________________________________

[14] (28)

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Delayed

Date: Sunday, October 03, 2004 5:46 PM

 

Professor,

I got side-tracked with allergies for about 3 days—ragweed seems to be the culprit. Anyway, when I returned to what had been a task 90% completed, it quickly became a task of reorganizing. The 3-day delay apparently gave rise to some organizational alternatives that I am finding both entertaining and constructive.

Bottom line, it looks like another two weeks before completing Step 4. Best wishes.

Gordon

 

___________________________________________

[15] (29)

[This communication has been duplicated in 16 with Dr. Friedman's comments.]

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Individualism and Free Market

Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 9:15 PM

 

Dr. Friedman,

Here is my Step #4:  Linking Individualism and Free Market .

An Advanced Organizer

I have written over 20 drafts addressing Step #4—all too long (more than 4 pages) and all too pedantic sounding. Reduction became distillation, and distillation gave rise to two separate ideas: (1) linking individualism and the free market, and (2) resistance to individualism. As I now see it, the way to understand (a) the difficulty of linking individualism and the free market is to (b) first appreciate the nature of the popular resistance to individualism; and to appreciate the nature of the resistance to individualism, it is first necessary to grasp the dynamics of the empirical perspective upon which it is based. How I will approach this task is to briefly describe (a) the linking and then (b) the resistance, while expressing my belief that what comes later will clarify what came before. I have provided an attachment where I have addressed (c) the dynamics of the empirical perspective. This 16-page attachment is a copy of the first chapter of a book Claudia and I are working on (our second full draft)—pages 7-8, “absolute and relative models” being of particular relevance to the points being made here. While this book has no mention of economics (that I recall), I do appreciate this opportunity to communicate with you and, in so doing, to clarify my own thinking on the matter of individualism.

(1) Linking Individualism and the Free Market

Thanks to the efforts of past contributors, the linking task is not conceptually difficult. As for a “friendly-to-the layman” description of the free-market economy, there is a general public consensus that the writings of Milton Friedman satisfy this objective. For me, all that is needed is a description of individualism that can be easily coupled with it.

Fortunately, we have it; and, what's more, it can be seen as the springboard giving rise to the free-market concept. I am referring to those circa 18 th Century thinkers including Locke, Hume, Berkeley, and Kant, who became know as empiricists. As I see it, their formulations provided the basis for a concept of individualism. In a nutshell, they put forth the thesis that human experience is limited to personal perceptions; and conversely, knowledge of the characteristics of some external world of physical reality is unobtainable within the confines of human experience. The consequence of this position is that the only world anyone can know is one that is unique and private to each individual. For the critics, it was noted that similarities of experience can be assumed to result from persons having similar sensory systems and environmental exposures; however, such experiences are not identical and they never reveal anything about the characteristics of an external reality.

 

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Anyone can review these arguments and find upon serious examination that the empiricists' argument becomes increasingly self-evident, while the former or traditional argument—of discovering the truth about reality as it exists independently of the individual perceiver—becomes exposed as erroneous and critically flawed.

For those in the debate, it was clear that the two perspectives—the traditional truth-seeking perspective and the empiricists' individual perception perspective—were logically contradictory. And, as what typically happens, each attracted cohorts of similar persuasions:

(A)   As for the traditional belief in a knowable external reality, the ideological cohorts include: determinism, socialism, and cause-and-effect. Practitioners include “philosopher king” types such as Plato and those “truth-seeking” advocates common to many university campuses. It would seem to follow that those claiming to have the truth would be inclined to impose the implications of that truth upon the citizenry, including centrally-controlled economic practices.

(B)    As for the contention that empiricism is the exclusive basis for describing human experience, the ideological cohorts include: free will, individualism, and choice. Practitioners include the before-mentioned empiricists (Locke, et al.), existentialists such as Jean Paul Sartre and Franz Kafka, and social-contract theorists such as Rousseau. It would seem to follow that those who would reject the doctrine of truth and embrace the concept of individual perceptions would be committed to maximizing individual freedom, including a free-market economy.

Given the inherent weakness of the traditional approach, we would expect the traditional to morph rather quickly into the empirical perspective, as occurred between the flat- vs round-world debate and the geocentric vs heliocentric debate. “Quickly” may be in the eyes of the beholder, but there does seem to be an inordinate amount of unexplained resistance for changing from the erroneous traditional perspective to the virtually self-evident empirical perspective.

To summarize (1), as I see it, when our society becomes receptive to the empirical perspective, individualism will quickly follow as a natural consequence, and so will a free-market philosophy.

(2) Resistance to Individualism

Unfortunately, unless there is some fortuitous event, it looks like the debate will continue for another hundred years. In its present form, the debate is not so much between the two positions, but rather between blends of the two positions. Even people of good-will seem to balk; while acknowledging the erroneous assumptions imbedded in the traditional perspective, they just can't let go. Such a mixing of these two contradictory perspectives is the worst-case scenario. Neither position gets tested, discussions simply lead to unstable and uncomfortable standoffs—intellectual gridlocks.

To summarize (2), as I see it, the fundamental obstruction is not the availability of the individualism and free-market concepts, the obstruction is the resistance to serious

 

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consideration of the empirical perspective. I have some thoughts as to the reasons society continues to cling to the discredited vestiges of the traditional approach and, consequently, are not free to fully embrace the empirical perspective. However, that is another topic for another time.

Gordon

P.S. Step #5, the last in this series, I anticipate will be completed in about 1-2 weeks and will address the matter of a school curriculum that is consistent with individualism. I was intrigued by a recent WSJ quote attributed to a Fellow at Hoover describing the objective of the voucher program. I will also address that quote and my perspective on its implications.

___________________________________________

[16] (32)

[Text from 15 duplicated here with Dr. Friedman's comments.]

From: Milton Friedman

To: Gordon Brown

Subject: Re: Individualism and Free Market

Date: Thursday, October 28, 2004 1:25 PM

[Note: Dr. Friedman's red text has been replaced by bold italics.]

 

Dr. Friedman,

Here is my Step #4: Linking Individualism and Free Market.

An Advanced Organizer

I have written over 20 drafts addressing Step #4—all too long (more than 4 pages) and all too pedantic sounding. Reduction became distillation, and distillation gave rise to two separate ideas: (1) linking individualism and the free market, and (2) resistance to individualism. As I now see it, the way to understand (a) the difficulty of linking individualism and the free market is to (b) first appreciate the nature of the popular resistance to individualism; and to appreciate the nature of the resistance to individualism, it is first necessary to grasp the dynamics of the empirical perspective upon which it is based. How I will approach this task is to briefly describe (a) the linking and then (b) the resistance, while expressing my belief that what comes later will clarify what came before. I have provided an attachment where I have addressed (c) the dynamics of the empirical perspective. This 16-page attachment is a copy of the first chapter of a book Claudia and I are working on (our second full draft)--pages 7-8, “absolute and relative models” being of particular relevance to the points being made here. While this book has no mention of economics (that I recall), I do appreciate this opportunity to communicate with you and, in so doing, to clarify my own thinking on the matter of individualism. […relative / Public]

(1) Linking Individualism and the Free Market

Thanks to the efforts of past contributors, the linking task is not conceptually difficult. As for a “friendly-to-the-layman” description of the free-market economy, there is a general public consensus that the writings of Milton Friedman satisfy this objective. For me, all that is needed is a description of individualism that can be easily coupled with it. […linking / …Friedman]

Fortunately, we have it; and, what's more, it can be seen as the springboard giving rise to the free-market concept. I am referring to those circa 18th Century thinkers including Locke, Hume, Berkeley, and Kant, who became know as empiricists. As I see it, their formulations provided the basis for a concept of individualism. In a nutshell, they put forth the thesis that human experience is limited to personal perceptions; and conversely, knowledge of the characteristics of some external world of physical reality is unobtainable within the confines of human experience. The consequence of this position is that the only world anyone can know is one that is unique and private to each individual. For the critics, it was noted that similarities of experience can be assumed to result from persons having similar sensory

 

(33)

systems and environmental exposures; however, such experiences are not identical and they never reveal anything about the characteristics of an external reality. […empiricism]

(1) I take it we agree that there is an external reality. (2) I take it we agree that although individuals can never know for certain about external reality, their personal observations enable them to formulate a hypothesis about the characteristics of that external reality. It can enable them to go further and act upon that hypothesis. That does mean that all hypotheses about external reality are tentative and uncertain, but it does not mean they don't exist. […reality]

Anyone can review these arguments and find upon serious examination that the empiricists' argument becomes increasingly self-evident, while the former or traditional argument—of discovering the truth about reality as it exists independently of the individual perceiver—becomes exposed as erroneous and critically flawed.

For those in the debate, it was clear that the two perspectives—the traditional truth-seeking perspective and the empiricists' individual perception perspective—were logically contradictory. And, as what typically happens, each attracted cohorts of similar persuasions: […reality]

(A) As for the traditional belief in a knowable external reality, the ideological cohorts include: determinism, socialism, and cause-and-effect. Practitioners include “philosopher-king” types such as Plato, and those “truth-seeking” advocates common to many university campuses. It would seem to follow that those claiming to have the truth would be inclined to impose the implications of that truth upon the citizenry, including centrally-controlled economic practices.

There seem to be three categories of believers here: (1) believers that there is a normal external reality and they know it; (2) people who believe that there is a normal external reality but they do not know it; (3) people who believe that there is an external reality but that they do not and cannot know it. Only the first of these three categories would be inclined to try to impose their knowledge upon their fellows. And even all of them might not be, depending on the character of their belief about the external reality. I believe it is misleading to use the term "the doctrine of truth" to refer only to the first of these three categories. […reality]

(B) As for the contention that empiricism is the exclusive basis for describing human experience, the ideological cohorts include: free will, individualism, and choice. Practitioners include the before-mentioned empiricists (Locke, et al.), existentialists such as Jean Paul Sartre and Franz Kafka, and social-contract theorists such as Rousseau. It would seem to follow that those who would reject the doctrine of truth and embrace the concept of individual perceptions would be committed to maximizing individual freedom, including a free-market economy.

 

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I believe there is a non-knowable doctrine of truth which I am trying to know but I do not believe that I can ever really know it. […Friedman /…reality]

Given the inherent weakness of the traditional approach, we would expect the traditional to morph rather quickly into the empirical perspective, as occurred between the flat- vs. round-world debate and the geocentric vs. heliocentric debate. “Quickly” may be in the eyes of the beholder, but there does seem to be an inordinate amount of unexplained resistance for changing from the erroneous traditional perspective to the virtually self-evident empirical perspective.

To summarize (1), as I see it, when our society becomes receptive to the empirical perspective, individualism will quickly follow as a natural consequence, and so will a free-market philosophy. […philosophy / …empiricism]

You are an optimist. The resistance to free markets is not primarily philosophical. It is that it is in the self-interest of people, acting separately and individually, to try to achieve power over other people in any way they can. In an enforced free market, providing service to other people is the only way they can. In the political market the situation is very different. [Government]

(2) Resistance to Individualism

Unfortunately, unless there is some fortuitous event, it looks like the debate will continue for another hundred years. In its present form, the debate is not so much between the two positions, but rather between blends of the two positions. Even people of good-will seem to balk; while acknowledging the erroneous assumptions imbedded in the traditional perspective, they just can't let go. Such a mixing of these two contradictory perspectives is the worst-case scenario. Neither position gets tested. Discussions simply lead to unstable and uncomfortable standoffs—intellectual gridlocks.

To summarize (2), as I see it, the fundamental obstruction is not the availability of the individualism and free-market concepts, the obstruction is the resistance to serious consideration of the empirical perspective. I have some thoughts as to the reasons society continues to cling to the discredited vestiges of the traditional approach and, consequently, are not free to fully embrace the empirical perspective. However, that is another topic for another time. […resistance]

Gordon

P.S. Step #5, the last in this series, I anticipate will be completed in about 1-2 weeks and will address the matter of a school curriculum that is consistent with individualism. I was intrigued by a recent WSJ quote attributed to a Fellow at Hoover describing the objective of the voucher program. I will also address that quote and my perspective on its implications.

___________________________________________

[17] (35)

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: 1st Reply to Your Response of 10-28-04

Date: Saturday, October 30, 2004 10:36 AM

 

Dr. Friedman,

Here are a couple of items for clarification. I am seeking a wording that I feel comfortable with for the purpose of being consistent with a philosophy of individualism; so, if my re-phrasing of your wording does not match the point you intended, please let me know. If there is a mismatch, I will either change it or ask you to elaborate on your intended meaning for the purpose of identifying whether any such difference is critical to my perspective on individualism or simply a preference for an alternative use of terms with substantially the same meaning. For me, the “devil” is often in the details—once ignored, each has the potential to later become the intractable and hidden lynchpin preventing the resolution of later major matters.

As for your statement:

(1) I take it we agree that there is an external reality. (2) I take it we agree that although individuals can never know for certain about external reality, their personal observations enable them to formulate a hypothesis about the characteristics of that external reality. It can enable them to go further and act upon that hypothesis. That does mean that all hypotheses about external reality are tentative and uncertain, but it does not mean they don't exist.

My response:

As for (1), yes, I think we have basic agreement. My preferred wording is that “it is reasonable to believe that there is an external reality.” I tend to remind myself that it is a statement of belief rather than an observation. […reality]

As for (2), as used, the phrase “personal observations” gets close to suggesting we are looking outward. For me, this is a critical point. Any “observation” is the sequential result of some “stuff” first being picked up by some individual's sensory system and then formatted using the characteristics unique to conscious experience. A major contribution by the empiricists was to formalize the argument that, while it is reasonable to believe something is there, the characteristics of conscious experience are not characteristics of that external world. The experience of “color” was the example frequently used—green is not an external characteristic of the tree; it is unique to the nature of conscious experience. Using arguments similar to that used with color, writers such as Berkeley and Kant asserted that every other characteristic of conscious experience could be shown to exist exclusively within the domain of conscious experience and specifically not in some theoretical external world. I think it was the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead who described our experience as having a relationship with the “stuff” out there, but we cannot know what it is and neither do we need to know in order to have that relationship. […reality]

 

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This point, as I see it, is a threshold matter to the philosophy of individualism. While we could set this matter aside until later, I know it would be helpful to me if we at least clarify, if not come to agreement, as to our respective positions on this matter before addressing your other statements. I am eager to respond to your three categories and where we each see ourselves and each other. In addition, your perception on the use of power intrigues me. But, then, everything in its time. [Philosophy]

Gordon

___________________________________________

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From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Step 5 and Closing

Date: Thursday, October 28, 2004 1:02 PM

 

STEP #5 Individualism and THE SCHOOL CURRICULUM

(Along with CLOSING COMMENTS)

Introduction

There is probably considerable agreement as to what constitutes a basic school curriculum at the primary level—some variation of reading, writing and arithmetic. Where there is less agreement is with respect to the context in which the content is presented. This context is derived from the assumption being made as to the intended end or purpose of the schooling experience—whether consistent with collectivism or individualism (or some blend of the two).

COLLECTIVISM: CURRICULUM OBJECTIVES [School]

Good Teachers Helping Students To Be Loyal and Productive Citizens

As They Strive To Achieve Their Maximum Human Potential

A knowable external world of reality would be uncritically assumed, with “science” presented as one method for accessing the truth of that reality. Human experience would be presented as if we were looking outward and discovering an external world as it exists independently of us—that we are literally dis-covering or uncovering the truth about an external world. Teachers would present “facts” as truths to be memorized and relied upon when making decisions. The curriculum would be heavily laden with value judgments. For example, those individuals who are aware of more truths are “better” than those individuals who know fewer truths. Commendation, such as “good work” or a happy-face diagram would be attached to individual achievement. Language and math classes would be replete with phrases such as “that's correct” and “you got that right.” Some students would even be described as “excellent” or “superior.” Students would be told that there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything. Categorical imperatives such as “you must…” and “I need you to…” would be common. Sports and music could be used to teach interpersonal values such as subjugating individual expression to the team achievement. […reality]

INDIVIDUALISM: CURRICULUM OBJECTIVES [School]

A Value-Free Environment Designed to Maximize

Individual Freedom and the Opportunity to Mature

The empiricists' perspective would be the foundation for all learning. That is, we do not look out of our eyes! Rather, the only world anyone can experience is a world of personal

 

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perception always acquired after processing by an individual's sensory system and always somewhat unique to each individual. In as much as this is the perspective upon which modern-day science is built, teaching would include an understanding of this approach to scientific understanding. The objective of learning would be to provide an ever-widening variety of experiences and the encouragement to seek integrity within each learner's world of perceptual experience. The learning environment would strive to be value free. Care would be taken to distinguish between “what is” and “what ought to be.” Not only would the assessing of values be left to the individual, but so would the determination as to whether or not to use a value approach to living. While free to discuss the topic of values, actual decisions by individuals would be a personal matter and outside the scope of any public school assessment. […value free]

Among the primary goals of a curriculum for individualism would be to provide the student with the opportunity to become familiar with the ideas both common and contrary to the culture. While some students may demonstrate understanding of cultural information more than others, it would never follow to say that one student is “good” while another is a “failure.” And again, a student may demonstrate more “intellectual maturity” than another by having demonstrated a wider and deeper (greater theoretical integrity) understanding of the subject matter. However, while grades may verify a student's choice to focus on particular achievements, the choice to do so is always an individual choice and not a subject for social review or judgment—whether to focus on gardening or theoretical physics is a choice exclusively within an individual's domain and gives rise to a concept of individual identity, which in turn provides the basis for a policy of individual freedom. […School /…value free]

Degrees and diplomas would reflect the mastery of identified subject matter (science, history, philosophy, etc.) and the ability to communicate with others (language, the arts, physical education, etc.). Mastery of information would be a matter of understanding ideas common to the culture and the ability to convince others that the understanding has, indeed, taken place. A graduate would have two proclamations: First, s/he has demonstrated an ability to see from the perspective of another; which would be of interest to employers seeking managers. And second, s/he would have been exposed to many perspectives about living—and now has an expanded number of alternatives from which to choose h/er own personal world of experience and identity. [School]

THIS COMPLETES MY ODYSSEY

For me, this letter provides closure to what was my “two-minute” question. For over 30 years, I have contemplated the concept of individualism. I never really focused on economics, I just always thought of a free-market economy as a logical extension of individualism. However, for the last 6 months, I have struggled to see if I could work backwards—beginning with a free-market concept and arriving at a concept of individualism. I could not. As I see it, a philosophy of individualism can be easily extended to include a free-market concept, while I fail to see how the reverse could occur. Even if government policy were to impose a free-market economy, at best, the result would be to simply attract those individuals who already embrace individualism, and it is they that would energize and provide the compass for implementing the free-market practice. Others

 

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would follow (without thinking about it) simply because the combination (a free market guided by a philosophy of individualism) works to bring about material benefits. My point is that individualism is the foundation and essential precursor to a free-market economy. [Free Market]

Dr. Friedman, what I received out of this “conversation” with you was the opportunity to review and analyze my approach to individualism. For this experience and for how I feel now, I am genuinely grateful to you personally. Perhaps my descriptions never raised above an occasionally fleeting moment of curiosity as far as you were concerned; but I was testing my thinking and became even more confident that a philosophy of individualism (or at least the assumption of one) is the essential beginning point for the following: a political system insuring individual freedom, a useful application of democracy, and a free-market economy.

In this regard, a couple of recent quotes in the Wall Street Journal caught my attention. First, there was the quote (WSJ 9-29-04) attributed to Harvard Professor and Hoover Institute associate, Caroline Hoxby: “The goal [of charter reform] is boosting the performance of all schools by fostering competition and innovation.” As I see it, the critical element will be found in the definition of “boosting.” However defined, it seems to me that authoritarian systems would have no problem in achieving high marks, and I would expect it to have an advantage—a beaten horse will run faster, and a subordinate will be more motivated to learn from the experts. As I see it, school achievement has never been the litmus test for embracing a belief in individual freedom. As for vouchers, they could be a desirable alternative approach to education—given the present strangling of our school system by collectivist-type thinking. However, the voucher system would only become the education of choice if it were coupled with individualism. Home schooling would be another intriguing approach for free-market validating. […vouchers]

The other quote, WSJ 9-3-04 , was attributed to you: When asked “What do Nobel Prize winners in economics worry about? You reportedly said “holding down the size and scope of government.” It occurred to me, could you have just as easily said “finding a way to increase government's respect for individual freedom.” As I see it, “smaller” government, however defined, may be a desirable but not sufficient factor to provide the necessary guidance leading to individual freedom. [Government]

As per my style, here are my metaphors for describing the problem I see with advocating a free market or vouchers without linking each of them to a specific concept of individual freedom: It would be like taking a domesticated dog and setting it “free” in the wild. It would be like gathering a group of homeless together and asking them to build homes for themselves without providing either the architectural plans or the required skill training. And, it would be like encouraging people to board a ship during an Irish potato famine for sailing to the land of plenty—without providing them with either a compass or the provisions necessary to make such a journey. As I see it, it is the philosophy of individualism that provides the guidance and inspiration for (a) implementing a free-market economy or (b) a school voucher system that leads to the American vision of individual freedom. What Socrates reportedly said in The Republic (about 80% into Book 8) about democracy [without individualism] could also be applied to the introduction of a free market or school voucher program without individualism: “…so tyranny naturally arises out of

 

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democracy….” You made a similar argument in Free to Choose (when special interests unite). […democracy]

Looking forward, Claudia and I will now return to the task of completing the final draft of our book titled “God, Sex, and Politics—It's All Relative.” This is basically a position statement on the philosophy of individualism. Also, we are setting up a web site ( schoolofcommunication.org ) to serve as a clearing house for writings—past and future—that address the conceptual basis and application of individualism—maybe we could add a note on economics under our politics chapter. [Public]

In closing, I would like to say that if I were to pick one attribute of yours that has most impressed me, it would be your compassion for individual freedom; and, I would add that, it is this particular attribute that I believe has moved the hearts and minds of so many people around the world. Perhaps it was extraordinarily perceptive of you when you said to me: “Why don't you ask Rose—she is standing right beside you.” Perhaps she would be the one person who would best understand that you are fundamentally a person of strong passion and integrity when it comes to the cause of individual freedom. […Friedman]

Both Claudia and I send our best wishes to you and Rose,

Gordon


P.S. FYI—when I first talked with you, Claudia and I were at the Hoover Institute for the purpose of talking with Don Meyer about the feasibility of setting up an endowment for continuing the web site and related research, when we are no longer able to do so. [Public]

___________________________________________

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From: Milton Friedman

To: Gordon Brown

Subject: Re: Step 5 and Closing

Date: Monday, November 08, 2004 4:54 PM

 

Dear Claudia and Gordon:

Herewith a few comments on your successive e-mails. First, on your e-mail of 10/28/04, 1:02 PM , on Step 5: Individualism and the School Curriculum.

I believe the context which determines the content of what is presented in schools is fundamentally ownership. If the schools are owned and operated by the government, their content will reflect that phenomenon and they will teach socialist values and socialist methods. On the other hand, if they are privately owned, they must attract customers; the customers choose the school to go to, the schools will teach an individualist philosophy, a free market view. [Government / School]

That is a very different explanation for context. You make the philosophy come first. In my opinion, the philosophy which underlies the school is the result of the institutional organization, not the other way around. This is not to differ with you on the existence of the two very different kinds of curriculum objectives. However, I find it hard to agree fully with your description of the bad features of the collectivism curriculum objectives and the good features of the individualism curriculum objectives. This has to do I think with our difference about the concept of an external world. I do believe that we as individuals and as scientists make hypotheses about that external world and that our actions are affected by those hypotheses. […Friedman / School /…reality]

I believe it is a part of good teaching to say that some students in some subjects are superior to other students in those subjects, that there is such a thing as getting something right and wrong. It is a correct description that some students are superior to other students in respect of what they are being judged on. There is not a right and a wrong way to do everything but there is a right way and a wrong way to do some things. In other words, I believe that your first paragraph is much too one-sided. You need to introduce a little flexibility, and the same goes for the second; each system has something to bring to the other. The crucial driving force is a bottom line that applies to each system. […value]

On another much broader issue, I do not disagree with you on the need for a philosophical underpinning of a free market system. Markets are present everywhere. Markets are a means not an end. Free markets are a particular set of means of using markets. The role of markets and of prices associated with markets is as a way of transmitting the information that is necessary to coordinate the activities of people who do not know one another, who may be of different religions, different value systems and the like. It is fundamentally a coordinating mechanism. As you quite properly say, when it is allowed to operate it does foster and promote the development of individualist values. But there does need to be an individualist philosophy to begin with in order to validate the results of market transactions. About this we do not have any disagreement. In so far as we have any disagreement, it is whether that individualist value needs to be as closely

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related to the distinction that you draw between the empiricist and the external reality approaches. […Friedman / …empiricism]

I see the individualism and free market e-mail as simply an acknowledgment of the receipt of my letter and the only other letter I have to answer is the one of 10/30/04 on 1st Reply to Your Response. I have no objection to replacing the word "observation" by "experience" so I would say that personal experience enables them to formulate a hypothesis about the characteristics of that external reality. My personal experience as I look out of my window and I see the bay below me is that the bay is full of water, and I have a very strong feeling of confidence in the statement that if I went down to the waterside and put my hand in there, I would feel water there and it is water there that I feel and not some idea that I have of water. [Science]

So I have a hypothesis that that is water and I have a high degree of confidence in the correctness of that hypothesis. Is that somehow inconsistent with the empiricist view? I don't believe it is inconsistent at all. It is of course a social convention that we call the color of the water blue. It is a social convention also that we use the term "water" to refer to it. But I find it hard to see what language other than the direct language I have used to describe that experience you would want to use. […empiricism]

I hope that this helps clarify what I mean and will bring out if there really is or is not a difference between our views on these subjects.

Cordially yours,

Milton Friedman

Senior Research Fellow

Hoover Institution

434 Galvez Mall

Stanford , CA 94305-6010

___________________________________________

[20] (43)

 

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Reflections on the Bay

Date: Thursday, November 11, 2004 3:58 PM

 

Dr. Friedman,

I appreciate your comments, and I am enjoying them and finding them useful in clarifying my own perspectives. As I see it, you are giving me the opportunity to see my views from your perspective and your formulations. It is as it was during my tennis playing days—it was the other player's game that gave me the opportunity to test the merits of my own and to achieve a new perspective of my game in terms of that other player's game.

Before responding to your “bay” illustration, here is a synopsis (and brief commentary) of what stood out to me in your last e-mail ( 10-8-04 ): First, it appears that we are achieving considerable clarification as to each of our respective positions on several critical points. As for school curriculum, I understand you to say that private ownership will be guided by free-market dynamics and that this will lead to the expression of an individualistic philosophy. We agree that you see private school ownership as giving rise to individualism; while I, reversing the process, see a clearly stated philosophy of individualism being essential to guiding the school curriculum toward free-market thinking. [I do not make a distinction of significance between the free-market dynamics involving ideas (philosophy) versus free-market thinking involving business (economics). I take the traditional view that philosophy is the broader concept and economics is a subdivision of philosophy as is science.] [School]

I am delighted that we agree on the importance of the external-world issue as it relates to our respective positions. Such recognition is essential to my being able to present my perspective. [As I see it, the belief in an unknowable external reality is essential to several of my formulations, just as a belief in a knowable external reality can be seen as essential to several of your formulations.] […reality]

As for using value statements, you again stated with clarity our respective positions. Here, I see your use of terms (such as good, superior, right, and wrong ) to suggest or declare value judgments. I do not know the basis for arriving at value judgments. I know what it means to score high or low with respect to some criterion, but I do not know how a teacher can use a purely descriptive observation and come to a value-judgment conclusion. [I suspect this goes back to the assumption of a knowable external reality—but even here, there are logical hurdles for arguing that truth is “good”—try as I may, I have never found a way to jump high enough to clear these hurdles.] […value free]

As for your statement—“Markets are a means not an end….”—we are in complete agreement as to our respective positions; and, furthermore, our positions appear to be similar [of more significance in an assumed knowable world than an unknowable world]. […Friedman / Free Market]

Now—for your bay illustration: I agree, using conventional terms, you can “look out” your window, see the “blue” water, and go down to the bay and feel the “wet” water. [I did not

 

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know what characteristics you were referring to when you said “feel water,” so I will use “wet” to complete the thought.] As for using conventional terms, I have no objection when they are purely for recreational use; however, the use of such terms would come under considerable scrutiny if they are used to suggest that they reflect the characteristics of an external reality. […reality]

In this regard, I think we would agree that, physiologically speaking, we do not look “out” of our eyes; that agreement alone is sufficient for me to address your “bay” illustration. Under strict scrutiny, you can certainly choose to aim your head toward the bay. If light enters your pupils and is processed by your sensory system, you may very well experience what you call the “bay.” You may, using conventional terms, experience the water as blue , and you may be able to confirm your hypothesis that if you test the water, it will appear to be wet . However, while your experiences are real—that is, you do have such experiences—the question raised by the empiricist's position is whether or not such experiences reflect anything about the characteristics of an external world. I would describe your experience in very much the same way; however, I would not assume that the characteristics found in my experience, such as blue and wet , are characteristics existing independently of me and reflecting an external reality. As one philosopher put it, I can't jump out of my skin and see how the world looks independently of my sensory system—take away my sensory input and that is what is meant by “nothing.” As for scientific hypothesis-testing, that is limited to establishing the nature of individual experience, rather than establishing the characteristics of an external world—or, so asserts the empirical position. You can certainly confirm that you will feel something cold and wet if you put your hand in the bay. Most certainly, this says something about the nature of the human sensory experience; on the other hand, it says nothing about the characteristics of the stuff existing independently of that sensory system. […empiricism /…reality]

Gordon

P.S. For years, I have used the terms “absolute” (referring to the traditional belief in a knowable external reality) and “relative” (referring to the empiricists' position of an unknowable external reality and the assumption that all we can ever have access to are relationships —describing something in terms of something else, but never unto itself). Personally, I have found these terms to be intuitively accommodating, pragmatically functional, and the most widely used terms (science or literature) when these two systems of thought are being addressed. Looking forward, do you mind if I use the terms “absolute” and “relative” when referring to either of these positions? On the other hand, if you prefer, we can use “traditional” and “empirical,” or any other distinguishing terms you find suitable. […relative]

___________________________________________

 

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From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Looking Forward 12-06-04

Date: Monday, December 06, 2004 8:45 PM

 

Dr. Friedman,

I thank you for your comments during the last six months. Over this time, I have developed an increasing sense of interest in the connection between a philosophy of individualism and the assumptions underlying a free-market economy. While I continue to welcome any additional comments you may wish to make, I would also like to open the discussion to anyone interested in this link between individualism and the free market. […sharing]

As I see it, our "conversation" can serve as a beginning point for additional dialogue. Claudia and I can piggyback this objective onto a project we have already begun. As I mentioned in a previous communication, Claudia and I are in the process of constructing a web-site (schoolofcommunication.org) for the purpose of establishing a clearing house for addressing the topic of individualism. We are planning on including classical research such as that associated with the study of perception and historical arguments such as those advanced by the empiricists. To include our conversation (yours and mine) over these several months could serve as an invitation and beginning point for others to address the philosophy-economy link. […web]

I would particularly like to hear any comments you would wish to make regarding my opening this discussion to others that may be interested.

With the above in mind, this would seem to be an appropriate time for me to outline our respective positions, as I see them, regarding the individualism and free-market connection. Reviewing our communications, one can see points where we agree and points where we differ; and, there are logical consequences that can be seen to flow from each. As I see it, while our areas of agreement are fundamental, the areas of differences are significant enough to offer the opportunity for a constructive and engaging dialogue. […Friedman]

WHERE WE AGREE:

1. Individualism —We both subscribe to it, and it has been a primary focus during my life.

2. Free Market —We both subscribe to it, and it has been a primary focus during your life.

3. We both see the principle of self interest as the primary force underlying individual action.

4. We both see individualism as providing the conceptual foundation for the free market; individual freedom is the goal and a free market is the means.

 

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WHERE WE DIFFER:

1. You believe that free-market dynamics will give rise to individualism; I reverse the process.

2. You believe in a knowable external universe; I believe in an unknowable external universe.

3. You are able to believe in the traditional university mission of "searching for and disseminating the truth," as exemplified in the sciences. I do not so believe. For me, scientific approaches are limited to describing a world of personal experience. Relationships, and only relationships, are knowable-as put forth by the 18th Century empiricists, and currently referenced by the term "relativity." As I see it, mankind is in a position of experiencing how he responds to an external world but lacking the ability to experience that external world as it exists independently of his own perceptual characteristics. [Science]

4. I am able to believe in a theistic approach to human experience. You do not find this approach useful.

Consequences:

1. While we both agree on the importance of a philosophy of individualism and the practice of the free market, our recommendations would be in opposite directions when trying to link the two. I would teach the reasonableness of individualism and hypothesize that, to the degree I am successful, a free-market economy and educational system would naturally follow. You, as I understand your position, would attempt to establish a free-market economy and educational system; and you would hypothesize that, to the degree you were successful, this environment would give rise to the expression of individualism. […free market /…Friedman]

2. To fulfill a sense of meaning for one's life, you would have the comfort of knowing that you are involved in the significant task of advancing the cause of truth for mankind. For me, my satisfaction would be in believing that I have, to a significant degree, chosen my own world of experience by the relationships I have chosen to pursue. If an individual pursuit includes a theist orientation, as it does in my case, so much more to be said for the potential significance. […Friedman]

Sincerely,

Gordon

___________________________________________

 

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From: Milton Friedman

To: Gordon Brown

Subject: Re: Looking Forward 12-06-04

Date: Thursday, December 09, 2004 12:03 PM

 

Dear Gordon:

1. I certainly have no objection to your opening "the discussion to anyone interested in this link between individualism and the free market." […sharing]

2. I have some question about your points 2 and 3 in Where We Disagree. "Truth" and "knowable" are too strong. I do not believe that science delivers truth. It delivers conjectures about the truth, whether it be about the external world or relationships. They are no more knowable in any interpersonal way than are the characteristics of the external world. I agree that "mankind is in a position of experiencing how he responds to an external world but lacking the ability to experience that external world as it exists independently of his own perceptual characteristics." However, that is equally true about relationships. And in both cases, conjectures differ. Some deserve more confidence than others. In any case, it is religion not science that delivers the truth. […reality / Science]

My best,

Milton

___________________________________________

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From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Your 12-09-04 Comments

Date: Thursday, December 23, 2004 12:08 PM

 

Professor Friedman,

As always, I appreciated your comments. In response, I have one point of clarification and two points to make with reference to your comments.

Clarification Regarding "Opening the Conversation"

I am inclined to continue our conversation as long as you are willing—at least for the next few months. During this time, it is my preference to not open the "linking" discussion to others simply because of the complexity of communication. Everyone uses different mental tools when engaged in problem solving, and individual interests vary widely. I have a specific interest in seeing how my views on individualism interface with your views on a free-market economy. I am also beginning to grasp somewhat some of the conceptual tools you use when formulating your positions. My task is, in part, to distinguish between: (a) those tools that are merely alternatives and easily accommodated—such as your "invisible hand" and my "law of effect"; and (b) those tools that appear to represent significant differences as to logical consequences—such as an assumption of a "knowable external universe or approximation thereof" versus an assumption of a "totally unknowable external universe." While I am generously rewarded with insights into my own thinking, I do spend days and even weeks deliberating over the points you raise. To open up this conversation to others, along with their own interests and unique conceptual tools, would create a complexity that is beyond my interest to address effectively. […sharing]

That said, when you reach a point where you are no longer inclined to actively continue our conversation, my interest in the "linking topic" itself is sufficiently high so that I would like to have others pick up the dialogue—with our conversation providing a jump start. It is within this context that I had mentioned the idea of "opening up" the conversation. As for now, I intend on simply continuing as we have—a conversation between two individuals.

Now then, here are two points in response to your comments.

#1 Regarding the Truth About an External World and the Truth About Relationships

We appear to agree somewhat that absolute knowledge (the truth about the intrinsic nature of things) is inaccessible to human experience directly, whether one is talking about "objects" in that external world or the relationships between "objects" in that external world. […reality]

We appear to differ somewhat as to what, if anything, can be said indirectly about the characteristics of those objects or their reciprocal relationships. I understand you to be saying that "conjectures" can be made about the true nature of that external world; and

 

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furthermore, levels of confidence can be ascertained regarding such conjectures. I, on the other hand, see no basis for even making conjectural statements regarding the intrinsic nature of an external world; and, as it would follow, I do not see how one would establish levels of confidence regarding such conjectures.

Specifically, there appears to be some degree of difference as to how we view the role of science. I understand you to say that science, while not able to deliver truth, can deliver those "conjectures" about truth. In contrast, it is my position that the scientific method can deliver neither the truth nor even a conjecture about truth (the nature of reality as is exists independently of the individual perceiver). We just cannot jump out of our skin and look at it; and neither does it follow that some instrument can assess that external world independently of its own wiring system. Studying the "beep" from a Geiger counter will tell us little about the external characteristics of uranium. As it is with the Geiger counter, an individual can only experience a reality generated by h/er own wiring. When we remove all of our sensory input, that is what we mean by "nothing." [Science]

What science can deliver are findings of agreement among individual perceivers; and those findings will always be in terms of measurements artificially created by the scientists themselves—it is not the "water" they observe, but the measurements taken of "water." And, whether one is talking about liters or calories, such measurements can be reasonably argued to exist nowhere except in the mind of a perceiver. The task of science is to conceptualize human experience; the goal of science is to improve our quality of life. While telling us something about how we can favorably interact with that external world; science need not, and cannot, tell us about the intrinsic nature of that external world. As it is said, "Science is a horse to be worked, not a cow to be worshiped."

As for us mortals, the bottom line for all human experience is that an individual can know his or her own experience when interacting with the "stuff" of that external world. In this context, I use the term "relationship" to simply refer to one's own personal experience of an event. For example, I can tell you what I experience—"cold" and "wet"—when I place my hand into the Bay waters. In this sense I do "know" my experience and using conventional terms, as you put it, I can share that experience with you. On the other hand, I would make no assumptions as to the characteristics of that stuff called "water" as it exists independently of my sensory system. Perhaps as a modern-day physicist would put it, "I can have a relationship with that 'water' without ever knowing or needing to know its intrinsic characteristics." From this perspective, my experience of "reality" is always relative to me and it is always undergoing dynamic change. And the converse holds. Absolute truth, and conjectures about such truth, are simply inaccessible—and, arguably, unintelligible. […relative]

To summarize my position, human nature presents an ultimate barrier to having any knowledge or opinions about the nature of a reality as it exists independently of our sensory system. Correspondingly, the "reality" an individual can know (and the only reality any individual can know) is that experienced by that individual perceiver. And, this reality is always somewhat unique to each individual and always changing. Now, getting to the heart of the matter, it is the foregoing reasoning that provides the primary basis for a philosophy


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of individualism, which in turn is the foundation upon which a free-market economy can be solidly erected. […individualism]

#2 "It is Religion Not Science that Delivers the Truth"

I, too, have a sense of humor and believe you to be jesting. I assume we agree that those methodologies typically associated with religion are "not useful" in understanding anything.

That said, it is my belief that there is a bur under the saddle of civilization's horse that is impeding progress. The bur has to do with traditional views on religion. Organized religions are typically rooted in truth systems; and, as such, tend to be contrary to the principles of individualism and free-market thinking. What is needed, as I see it, is a conceptualization of religion that is consistent with individualism. Such an accomplishment would get the bur out from under and enable civilization to ride off peaceable and productively into the future. As I see it, only after this happens, will society enthusiastically embrace my individualism and your free market. [God]

Best wishes,

Gordon

P.S. You may have noticed that I occasionally use the imprudent terms "always" and "never." Permit this bit of bravado on my part—I am so confident in the facts supporting the position I have taken that I am prepared to give others the easiest of challenges—they need only show one exception to maintain a contrary position. It's a little bit as if I had a Straight Flush and I am convinced that a person holding an alternative position has no better than a Full House.

___________________________________________

 

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From: Milton Friedman

To: Gordon Brown

Subject: Re: Your 12-09-04 Comments

Date: Monday, January 03, 2005 11:40 AM

 

Dear Gordon,

Herewith a few comments on yours of 12/23/04 .

1. I am willing to continue the conversation between us, but I believe we are fast reaching the point where we are repeating ourselves, so that it cannot be for long. Incidentally, Rose and I shall be on a cruise for most of the month of January and early February.

2. You say

What science can deliver are findings of agreement among individual perceivers.

I do not disagree with that, but it begs the question of what they agree on. I argue that they reach agreement on conjectures about the external world. [Science]

3. You say

On the other hand, I would make no assumptions as to the characteristics of that stuff called "water" as it exists independently of my sensory system.

You make such assumptions when you decide not to try walking on that stuff called water. […reality]

4. You say

Now, getting to the heart of the matter, it is the foregoing reasoning that provides the primary basis for a philosophy of individualism, which in turn is the foundation upon which a free-market economy can be solidly erected.

You have not persuaded me of this proposition. Tolerance is essential, but people who profess to believe in a God may possess tolerance. […Friedman]

  5. I did not mean to shock you with my statement that "it is religion not science that delivers the truth." You and I agree that we cannot know the truth, yet all of us desire to know the truth and religion professes to deliver the truth. Any statement which no observable evidence can contradict is either a truism (the father of a father is a grandfather) or a religious statement (God did it). Organized religions have been the source of much evil--but also of much good. [God]

I am afraid that these comments do not get us any closer.


Milton

___________________________________________

 

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From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Bon Voyage

Date: Monday, January 03, 2005 4:52 PM

 

Professor Friedman,

Thank you for taking the time to respond before leaving on your cruise. I do not know if you and Rose are looking forward to bumping into lots of inquiring minds or just relaxing and “being there” together. Whatever it is, Claudia and I wish both of you well.

As it is with the evening sun, I delight in the moment. Upon your return, and with a sense of gratitude, I will seek to work toward a closure that facilitates others in pursuing those points most germane to the task of linking the free-market and individualism positions. I will appreciate any assistance you may choose to afford me. […sharing]

For now, you have left me with the question of whether my inability to walk on “water” and your cruise ship's ability to stay afloat tells me anything about the characteristics of the “water” as it exists independently of me—or, independently of the characteristics of your ship. […reality]

Best wishes,

Gordon

___________________________________________

 

        [26] (53)

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Closing Synthesis

Date: Thursday, April 07, 2005 12:17 PM

 

Dr. Milton Friedman,

Best wishes. As we look forward to wrapping up this particular "conversation," I have in mind two final points. First, as addressed in this communication, I put forth a synthesis of how I see our positions presented over these past several months. The intent of this synthesis, as it has been with my other communications, is to provide a focus point that could be used by others to initiate debate concerning the linking of a free-market economy and individualism—a matter of great interest to me.

In my next (final) communication, after you have had an opportunity to respond to this present one, I will put forth a position statement in which I will advance the notion that a free-market presupposes a belief in individualism; and I will invite you to do the same in reverse—advancing the notion that a belief in individualism can be derived from a free market (or, alternatively, invite you to simply point out critical points that appear to be equivocal or logically inconsistent in my position).

Before beginning my synthesis of our conversation, I would like to comment on the closing statement in your last communication ( 1-3-05 ).

You say that "I am afraid that these comments do not get us any closer." I think I know what you mean by "closer"—a sense of increasing agreement or resolution of differences—but my own inclinations have a different emphasis. I see "closeness" as a matter of gaining a sense of understanding as to how another person perceives a given matter. […Friedman]

As for my experience during this conversation, your comments have always given me a sense of greater clarity as to how you perceive the matters raised; and, by my contrasting your positions with my own, you have provided me with a clearer perception of my own positions. My objective in this conversation has been to increase mutual understanding of each other's perspectives, rather than expecting or even seeking agreement. Such an objective has the potentially pragmatic benefit of providing the basis for advocating a public policy that maximizes every individual's freedom to choose. As the song lyrics put it, "you make room for me in your world and I will make room for you in my world." Case in point-while we were discussing determinism (at your home), you affectionately referred to how the room for your home office was determined. "It was predetermined," you said, "by Rose." Such is the reflection of closeness. It is less agreement and more a matter of understanding the perceptions of another and creating an environment that accommodates both. (Here is that underlying theme of "truth" versus "personal perception"—with truth, we would expect to move towards agreement; while, with personal perceptions, we would expect differences and work toward creating an environment that maximizes the individual freedom to choose by every participant.) […Friedman]

 

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Now, here is my attempt at synthesizing our positions as I see them expressed in our past communications regarding the linking of individualism and a free-market economy:

We have put forth similar perspectives on the following points:

1. We share a preference for a free-market economy and a belief in individualism. From our use of the phrase, I assume we would agree that a basic tenet of the free market is one where the objective is to maximize every individual's freedom to choose with whom or what s/he does business. As for individualism, we have agreed that a basic contention of individualism is that the individual person has dignity as an individual; and, consequently, the individual would have the freedom to choose as an individual. […Friedman]

2. We agree that "individualism" and "determinism" are contrary concepts—to include one is to exclude the other by definition. That is, "individualism" defines the individual as being free to choose; while "determinism" holds that the individual is not free to choose for the reason that individual actions are assumed to be pre-determined. […determinism]

3. We agree that self interest is the basic determiner of behavior throughout nature. […self interest]

We have raised different perspectives on the following points:

1. Regarding how "individualism" and the "free market" are linked together:

- You see merit in the idea that a free market leads to individualism.

- I see merit in the idea that individualism leads to a free market.

2. Regarding the matter of "cause and effect":

- You see merit in the traditional idea of "cause and effect." [Causation]

- I see merit in the idea that "cause and effect" is a misnomer in that it is merely specific example of apparent sequence (correlation). […correlation]

3. Regarding the objective of science: [Science]

- You see science as seeking external truth while acknowledging that only approximations of truth are attainable.

- I see science as seeking to create an intelligible picture of the unique world created in human experience by the human sensory system.

I welcome any response you would be willing to make regarding the above synthesis.

Sincerely,

Gordon

___________________________________________

[27] (55)

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: The Conversation—My Closing Summary and Conclusions

Date: Thursday, May 26, 2005 9:05 AM

 

Dr. Milton Friedman,

FROM THE BEGINNING of our conversation, the objective has been to "link individualism and the free market." When we first met, during a conference at Stanford University 's Hoover Institute, I asked if you agreed that individualism (individual dignity) was the basis for supporting a free market. You agreed, and I asked how you had arrived at your preference for individualism. You said that you had no idea—never thought about it—just always believed in it; and you suggested that I "ask Rose," who was standing beside me. I became intrigued.

Later, I described to you how my spouse and I were constructing a web site dedicated to the topic of individualism. The site would provide a research archive and a forum for members of the public wishing to address the topic of individualism. As a celebrated advocate of a free market, your views on "individualism and the free market" could make a significant contribution to the web site's public debate. I was delighted when you agreed to meet and discuss the matter. So began our "conversation" on linking individualism and the free market. […sharing]

Our communications have now spanned a year, and we have agreed that this may be an appropriate time to synthesize and wrap it up. As I see it, we have addressed two diametrically opposed doctrines (teachings) with respect to human experience. They can be aptly termed "collectivism" and "individualism." My primary task throughout this conversation has been to define (and redefine) these terms for the purpose of linking each with its respective economic system. What follows are my present thoughts, which I have organized around three basic points: (1) collectivism and a centrally controlled market; (2) individualism and a free market; and (3) my comments on three loose ends. ("As I see it" is a qualifying phrase to be implied for each and all of the following statements.)

First point : "Collectivism" can be seen as a traditional doctrine. It was in place at the time when the doctrine of individualism formally sought to replace it-about 200 years ago. Simply stated, collectivism can be seen as a teaching built on a philosophical assumption of knowable truths applicable to everyone, and to which everyone and everything is subject—one truth, one people. […collectivism]

Cause-and-effect thinking (causation) can be seen as a critical pillar supporting the notion of knowable external truths. While the observation of change would seem to dispel the notion of absolute truths, a belief in causation could revive it. That is, change can be seen as a series of "cause and effect" events. As in a domino effect, what came before "caused" what is happening now, and what is happening now will "cause" what happens next. Knowing the truth is to know (or approximate) the unchanging dynamics that are guiding those cause-and-effect events. [Causation]

 

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What makes collectivism significant to human behavior is the assumption that through observation (physical), inspiration (mental), and/or revelation (spiritual), the truth can be discovered (approximated or known in part). Like the parts of a puzzle, knowledge of individual cause-and-effect events can be combined to form an increasingly refined and complete portrait of the absolute truth. Most significantly, it is thought that some people have more knowledge about some aspects of the truth than others.

Once it is assumed that some people have more knowledge of truth than others, it can be seen to follow logically that those who are more informed should serve as leaders over the rest of us, for the purpose of maximizing the common good. Said another way, the brightest among us are more able (at least with respect to their specialties) to illuminate the path leading to good consequences and away from bad consequences. We can note that it was once thought that those who were physically strongest were most able to lead; then there was the notion that some combination of God and heredity ordained the most able; and more recently, there is the practice of using democratic-type procedures to select those who are thought to be most qualified to lead. […democracy]

Economically, here is the collectivists' bottom line: From a "knowable external truth" perspective, it can be seen to follow logically that a centrally controlled economy, run by those thought to be the most able among us, would best serve the common good. This brings me to my next point—individualism, an alternative to collectivism.

Second point : The "individualism" to which I have been referring in this conversation is that which has been formally developed over the last 200 years by the likes of British Empiricists such as David Hume and George Berkeley, and Existentialists such as Soren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre. Simply stated, the doctrine of individualism is the teaching that "I am an individual"—nothing more, and nothing less. All anyone has are h/er personal and constantly changing perceptions. Such is the dignity (status) of every person. […definitions]

What makes individualism significant to human behavior is the often accompanying belief in "free will." That is, individuals can be seen as typically confronted with alternatives from which there appears to be choices that must be made, but without any requisite basis for choosing one alternative over another. Choices made under such conditions are said to be acts of free will. The capacity to engage in free-will choices is generally thought to be characteristic only of individuals—groups do not make decisions except through some combination of individual choices. Being "free to choose" is uniquely human-and unique to each individual. As such, humans can be seen as distinct from an otherwise materialistic and deterministic description of Nature. [Free Will]

Logically consistent with a belief in free will and self determination, a doctrine of individualism would advocate a public policy seeking to maximize every individual's freedom of association—that is, to maximize the right of every individual to associate with whomever and whatever s/he chooses under conditions of mutual agreement.

Economically, here is the individualists' bottom line: A free-market economy would be a logical application of a public policy which advocates the right of free association to every

 

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individual. Individual rights, in turn, are a logical extension of the contention that human experience is always relative to the personal and changing perceptions of each individual.

Dr. Friedman, many of your basic contentions can be seen as consistent with the above description of individualism and a free-market economy. What's more, over the years, you have expressed a passion for individual dignity that has inspired and fortified multitudes of people worldwide. […Friedman]

Now, as I attempt to bring a close to this task of linking individualism with a free-market economic policy, I still have three notable loose ends regarding your perspective on the free market. Briefly commenting on these three topics brings me to my last point.

Third point : The three loose ends to which I refer are as follows: (A) holding a belief in causation but not necessarily determinism; (B) assuming the primacy of economic self interest over other self interests; and (C) the significance of Adam Smith's "invisible hand" metaphor. The following commentary is intended to serve as an invitation for public debate on the matter of linking individualism and a free-market economy.

(A) Does a belief in causation presume a belief in determinism?

The concept of determinism is simply a logical extension of causation. Combining cause-and-effect events defines determinism—it's a part-whole relationship. Furthermore, the notion of causation becomes particularly significant when combined with the idea of a "first cause."

To make causation work, truth advocates frequently advance the notion of a "first cause" or "prime mover"—otherwise, you have an endless series of cause-and-effect events with no sense of a beginning purpose or direction. Arguably, a sense of purpose or direction is the primary motivation for assuming the existence of knowable truth in the first place. Within this context, there is the presumption that everything that happens is predetermined and predestined from an initial cause, and this gives rise to an all-encompassing notion of determinism or sense of purpose. Taken together, the concepts of absolute truth, determinism, causation, and collectivism can be seen as complementary and logically consistent with each other. Any one of these concepts can be linked reasonably to the others. [Causation]

(B) Does an economic self interest take priority over other self interests in human behavior? […self interest]

An economic self interest may be neither the sole, nor even the dominant, self interest guiding human behavior. There are choices that are not easily subsumed under an economic rubric. For example, a personal economic self interest does not appear to be primary when decisions are made to protect (a) a rain forest from destruction, (b) endangered species from extinction, (c) the interests of the defenseless, and/or (d) the interests of future generations.

Also, as a matter of observation, power over others may be a stronger self interest than an economic self interest; and a self interest in personal integrity may triumph over either a

 

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power or an economic self interest. For sure, economic interest may require satisfaction at some minimal level, but it may never be sufficient to generate by itself either a belief in free will or a corresponding doctrine of individualism.

On a separate note, it can be seen that an assumption holding to the primacy and sufficiency of economic self interest in human affairs is contrary to the principle of individual freedom. If an economic self interest were the only significant player, it can be seen that there are those whose self interest could be served best by some combination of cartels, slavery, compulsory union membership, and theft—any one of which would be inconsistent with the notion of individual freedom.

From the above-cited perspective, the recommendation would be for free-market advocates to cultivate a preference for individualism step-by-step as they seek to implement a free-market economy. It is not enough to simply resist big government; what is necessary is to actively promote a government that is dedicated to preserving the rights of every citizen to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." In a word, a government committed to individualism. And, from a commitment to individualism, a free-market economic system would naturally evolve. [Government]

(C) Does Adam Smith's "invisible hand" metaphor presume determinism?

I think so. As I understand Smith's metaphor: If every individual were "free to choose" according to h/er own self interests, the result would be an efficient economy—at least more efficient than a centrally controlled economy. Among the reasons it would be efficient is that, in the big picture, those "choices" are "caused" by a predetermined coordinating program referred to as "the invisible hand." That is, the individual is not free (as in individualism); but if left to act without external coercion, each individual would carry out a predetermined, internal program of self interest. The individual need not be aware of the program guiding h/er choices, but will necessarily act in accordance with that predetermined program. Adam Smith was not arguing that the individual is free, but only that the individual is best left alone. Again, if left alone, Adam Smith argued that each individual will be guided, not by a free will, but by an "invisible hand" that is deterministically programmed so as to "cause" the most beneficial economic result. For clarity, I would describe Adam Smith's view as advocating that the individual be "left alone to choose" rather than being "free to choose." […freedom / …invisible hand]


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A COUPLE OF CONCLUDING REMARKS

I find it useful to distinguish between the different levels of generalization when comparing concepts. Looking back at our conversation, I would now make the following distinctions—going from general to specific: […definitions]

Level of Generalization and Distinguishing Concepts

Level Concepts
   

Philosophy

absolute truths versus relative perceptions

Belief

causation & determinism versus free will & self determination

Doctrine

collectivism versus individualism

Public Policy

central control versus individual freedom to choose

Application

economic central control versus free markets

Regarding the above table, an absolute philosophy would assume knowledge of external truths applicable to everyone; while a relative philosophy would define human experience as limited to the changing perceptions unique to each individual. Also, it can be noted that the former concepts in each comparison can be seen as logically consistent with each other, as can the latter concepts with each other. However, a logical contradiction is created if the two opposing sets of concepts are mixed. And furthermore, while we did not use the terms "socialism" and "capitalism," their common usage can be seen as approximating the concepts of collectivism and individualism, respectively. […relative]

Dr. Friedman, any comments you may choose to make in regard to the above cited points would help to increase the intellectual integrity and my understanding of the link presented here connecting individualism and the free market. Whether here or elsewhere, comments by you addressing this link could contribute significantly to the rational empowerment exercised by free-market advocates as they seek to influence public policy.

I shall close with a comment I have made several times--I greatly appreciate your sharing your thoughts with me. My appreciation stems from the opportunity you have provided me to test my perceptions from the vantage point of your perspective. In your doing so, I have been able to choose among the alternatives raised and thereby advance the ongoing process of establishing my own personal beliefs and identity.

Best wishes,

Gordon

___________________________________________

[28] (60)

From: Milton Friedman

To: Gordon Brown

Subject: Re: The Conversation -- My Closing Summary and Conclusions

Date: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 2:07 PM

 

Dear Claudia and Gordon:

My apologies for having been so slow to reply to your earlier missive. I am now replying to your latest one of May 26. I appreciate the tone of that missive as of the others and am impressed that you have done an excellent job of summarizing the state of our conversations. Let me comment on it point by point. […validation]

Start with your first point, "Collectivism." I do not agree that collectivism is based on a philosophy of knowable truth. In those terms it is rather based on known truth, known to at least one group. Alternatively, it could be said to be based on a philosophy of might makes right where might may be achieved in some cases by persuading a major part of a population that the holders of power know the truth. One could equally say that individualism is based on a philosophy of knowable but unknown truth. The crucial distinction seems to me to be known versus unknown rather than knowable versus unknowable. Indeed, I have a little difficulty knowing what an unknowable truth would be. Similarly with causality. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a fallacy but that does not mean that there is no such thing as causation. Just as I have difficulty in knowing what an unknowable truth would be, I have difficulty in knowing what an uncaused event is. […collectivism]

The fact that some people have more knowledge than others does not logically imply that some people should be given control of other people. It does not logically imply collectivism. The reason is because the person who has more knowledge does not have complete knowledge. He may still not have a particular bit of knowledge possessed by the person who has less knowledge. The real problem of social organization is to enable all the knowledge to be used in order to enable men to cooperate most effectively. The virtue of a market system is precisely that it enables the bits of knowledge that people separately have to be combined presumably in an optimal way.

This point is best developed in a famous paper by Friedrich Hayek, "The Use of Knowledge in Society" ( American Economic Review , September, 1945). Finally, the individualist bottom line could be stated from a "knowable external truth perspective." It could be seen to follow that a free-market economy is the only way in which the bits of knowledge of knowable external truth possessed by various people can be combined in order to produce the most effective cooperation among the people, some of whom have knowledge that others do not. [Hayek /…reality]

I have great difficulty with your Part A. Causation is a very tricky concept and I have always tried in my writings to steer away from it if I could, to avoid it, but I cannot conceive of a world without causation. In almost every act we take, however trivial, we are relying on some concept of cause and effect. You decide through an act of free will to turn the faucet to get a glass of water to drink. You do so because you believe that turning the faucet will cause water to flow.

 

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That is a very superficial and proximate description. The cause of the water flowing is connected with the existence of a tank, with the plumbing and so on that brings the water from the tank to your faucet. There are many levels of causation starting from the proximate level to deeper levels. I do not know how to combine logically a belief in causation on the one hand and a belief that it does not apply to every event, that there is free will, and determination is not an acceptable hypothesis. [Causation /…Friedman]

With respect to your Point B of the third point, that is a misunderstanding. I do not and never have believed that economic interest is the whole of self-interest. I have repeatedly emphasized in what I have written that self-interest is much broader than pecuniary self-interest, that Mother Theresa was serving her own self-interest just as much as a businessman who seeks to maximize his pecuniary profit. What is often the case is that it is easier to see the implications of pecuniary interest than it is to see the implications of other items of self-interest. The one lends itself to precise calculation in a way that other kinds of self-interest do not. […self interest]

With respect to your Point C, Adam Smith's invisible hand, the invisible hand is competition which leads to coordination. The problem for every society is how to get different people to coordinate their activities and work together. It is not obvious what is the best way to do that: the way of the army from the top down or the way of the market from the bottom up. The market mechanism of competition is under special circumstances the best way to achieve such cooperation but not always. There are market failures. I think Smith would have viewed his invisible hand statement as a scientific discovery, as having learned the way the world works. […invisible hand]

In conclusion, I have enjoyed this discourse but I do believe it is time to bring it to an end.

Sincerely yours,

Milton Friedman

Senior Research Fellow

Hoover Institution

434 Galvez Mall

Stanford , CA 94305-6010

___________________________________________

 

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From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: The Conversation: A Final Thank You

Date: Friday, June 03, 2005 2:25 PM

 

Dr. Milton Friedman,

I appreciate your comments, particularly your sharing those points on which our perspectives appear to differ. It is from such differences that I find the greatest opportunity for increasing my understanding.

In the next few weeks, I will include our "Conversation" (our combined communications) on the web site Claudia and I are setting up. As mentioned several times in the past, the purpose of sharing our communications is to open the conversation to others interested in the prospect of linking individualism and free-market economics.

I believe our Conversation will make a significant contribution to the web site's broader objective of addressing the idea of individualism within a philosophical context. [Public]

Best wishes,

Gordon

P.S. web site address: www.schoolofcommunication.org

___________________________________________

 

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From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Subject: Reviewing Table of Contents & Index

Date: Wednesday, September 28, 2005 6:36 PM

 

Dear Professor Friedman,

Greetings.

Claudia and I have just completed the "Table of Contents" and "Index of Topics" (copies attached) for our "Conversation." There are a couple of matters to be addressed prior to opening this conversation to others on our newly constructed web site.

First, in the "Table of Contents," I have a "Sender" column. How would you prefer your name to be referenced? I would like to limit the width of the column, but also I wish to show no disrespect to you. For me, I like the informality and status-free identification "Gordon."

Second, the communications have been numbered for easy reference. Only 2 have been omitted-both were simply acknowledgements of my receiving your communications and my interest in responding within a few days. In addition, I have made a few minor formatting changes and corrected obvious typos. If you wish, I can provide you with a list of those changes.

In closing, let me say that I have reviewed the communications several time while constructing the index topics for conceptual consistency and relevancy. I am pleased that the conversation appears to me to make a constructive contribution to the basic task of linking the free-market concept with a philosophy of individualism.

Best wishes,

Gordon

P.S. Also deleted from the communications were all references to personal information such as home addresses.

[Drafts of the Table of Contents and the Index of Topics were attached to the original.]

___________________________________________

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From: Milton Friedman

To: Gordon Brown

Subject: Re: Reviewing Table of Contents & Index

Date: Tuesday, October 04, 2005 1:14 PM

 

Dear Gordon:

I have no objection to your listing me in the Sender's column as Milton.

I am glad you found the conversations useful for your purpose. I found them interesting and enlightening.

Milton

___________________________________________

[32] (65)

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Sent: Monday, December 05, 2005 6:49 PM

Subject: Postscript--Recommendation

 

Dr. Milton Friedman,

By way of a postscript, I would like to address two matters regarding our conversation.

First, there is a straight forward matter. For the purpose of keeping our “conversation” intact, I plan to copyright it. As is already the case, I plan to continue making it available on our website to anyone interested in pursuing the linkage between individualism and the free market. Of course, I will seek to accommodate any timely request you may have in this regard.

Second, I would like to put forth a suggestion for those who are focused on your free-market ideas and inclined toward implementing them into public policy and practice. My comments in this regard are prescriptive rather than descriptive, and as such, fall outside the scope of our conversation. That said, their inclusion by way of this postscript would seem appropriate. The context for this suggestion goes back to my initial inquiry and your initial response, both of which gave rise to our conversation.

Immediately after your presentation at the Hoover Institute's 2004 Spring Retreat, I asked how you had arrived at your preference for individualism. We agreed that the term “individualism” included the assumption of the dignity and significance of the individual, as an individual, applicable to all human experience. I was baffled when you said that you had not thought about how you had developed your preference for individualism—you had “just always believed in it.”

I probably was not thinking carefully when you commented on my inquiry regarding the basis by which a preference for individual freedom could be established. You wrote that “The issue is certainly an interesting and important one and I wish I had something sensible to say about it, but I believe I do not.” [See 6-1-04 .] I was intrigued by the prospect that a rational basis could be set forth describing how a person could begin with a free-market concept and logically arrive at a belief in individualism. I assumed you had done so without specifically thinking about it. Here, now, was a critical point: Reasonably or not, I interpreted some of your statements to indicate that you believed a free-market system could be a first step leading eventually to a philosophy of individualism. One specific example you have mentioned has to do with schooling—introducing a free-market approach by the use of vouchers—where the matter of individualism is addressed obliquely, if at all. I understand your position to be that a free-market approach, such as a voucher program, could reasonably lead to the recipients developing a preference for individualism without this preference being specifically addressed.

 

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During our year-long conversation, I did not find a rational basis for believing that a commitment to free-market principles would lead to a belief in individualism. As for schooling, I did form the following opinion: attempting to implement a voucher program without a commitment to individualism could have serious consequences. Without a doctrine of individualism to serve as a navigational beacon, generations of students and teachers could be encouraged to travel down a road, only to discover after many years that it ends with a cul-de-sac that tautologically turns upon itself. Even worse, government could impose a mutated form of a free market that lacks the essential element of voluntary action by narrowly limiting an individual's freedom to choose only within State-mandated interests. Not a good thing—for those embracing the principles of individual liberty. The likelihood of these unintended results can be seen to greatly increase when coupled with a belief in “cause and effect” and/or “a knowable external reality” and/or “one nation under God.”

My suggestion to those who would seek to implement their understanding of Milton Friedman's free market is as follows: In order to be successful—do what Milton Friedman did—begin with a belief in individualism. That belief in individualism can be arrived at rationally or intuitively. Social philosophers such as Locke and Hume have described a rational basis for individualism. As I see it, Milton Friedman seems to rely primarily on intuition for his belief in individualism. Perhaps he drew inspiration from his personal associations with social theorists such as Jacob Viner and F. A. Hayek. My point is that, however arrived at, a free market may be a necessary condition—but not sufficient—for making progress toward maximizing individual freedom. On the other hand, a belief in individualism is both necessary and sufficient. Arguably, a free market presupposes a belief in individualism.

Furthermore, it is reasonable to believe that celebrity status was bestowed on Milton Friedman for his contribution to society. However, there may be significant differences as to how that contribution may be described. On the one hand, there are those (perhaps including Friedman himself) who emphasize his articulation of a clear, rational, and engaging image of a free market. On the other hand, there are those who point out that his free-market concept was only a rational extension of his continuing belief in individualism. And, his sustained celebrity was the result of his ideas being widely embraced by both the rationally-rooted academic types and the faith-rooted common folk.

For the faith-rooted, and where I place myself, the distinction is critical. It would be a mistake for anyone to attempt to implement a free market without a sustaining philosophy of individualism. From this perspective, Milton Friedman primarily has been a man of faith who always believed in individualism. It also can be said that Milton Friedman is a man of passion. He could have become accomplished at any number of vocations given his ability to become passionate about whatever it is that he engages. And so, it can be reasonably said that just as Milton Friedman has never attempted to embrace a free market without a passionate belief in individualism, neither should those who have been inspired by him.

Dr. Friedman: It has occurred to me that my perception of “Milton Friedman” may not be the same as yours. You may even find my characterization of you—as primarily a man of faith and passion—to be intrusive and unfounded. However, I do not seek your “agreement” with my characterization.

 

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On the other hand, I would be interested in whether you “do not disagree.” I understand you to use this phrase to mean you agree that the matter under consideration has been reasonably characterized even though it may not be your personal viewpoint. I do invite your response, and I believe any response you may wish to make (1) would address the matter of validating the characterization presented here and (2) could be of significant import to those attempting to embrace and implement your vision of a free market.

Best wishes,

Gordon

___________________________________________

 

[33] (68)

From: Milton Friedman

To: Gordon Brown

Sent: Friday, December 16, 2005 1:53 PM

Subject: Re: Postscript—Recommendation

 

Dear Claudia and Gordon:

Obviously I have no objection whatsoever to your copyrighting what you put on your web page. I have no special desires with respect to it.

On your postscript, I feel that we are at the beginning of another year of conversation to straighten that one out. Let me make just two points.

First, vouchers are not a free market remedy. They are a means for reducing the harm that is produced by our present governmental monopoly of schooling. A truly free market reform in schooling would be the elimination of any government intervention whatsoever, neither running schools nor financing schooling.  Parents would be responsible for seeing that their children are schooled or private charity would fill in where parents do not perform that function. Under a voucher system the government is the funder. The point is that by funding the customer as it were rather than the producer it gives a greater play to competition and thereby allows the free market to reduce the harm that was being done.

Second, about schooling and belief in individualism: The key point here is that a socialist schooling system, which is what we have now, is going to instill socialist values. A quasi free-market school system, which is what vouchers might achieve, would reflect market values. The more general point is that individuals in any kind of system tend to reflect the values that are built into that system.

A third unrelated point: your statement proceeds as if my basic activity and claim to fame was promoting the free market. That is not the case. I am primarily a scientist, an economist, whose major activity has been to try to understand how the economic system works. A byproduct of that has been a concern with how it could work under alternative arrangements, but that is strictly a byproduct, not the primary function, and such celebrity as have achieved has been largely by my work in positive economics, not in normative economics.

More generally, free markets are a means not an end. The end  is to provide each individual with the maximum opportunity to satisfy his value and his beliefs and to achieve the productivity of which he is capable. Unfortunately, there are not enough hours in the day for us to carry this discussion to a real conclusion.

Cordially yours,

Milton Friedman

Senior Research Fellow
Hoover Institution
434 Galvez Mall
Stanford , CA 94305-6010

___________________________________________

 

[34] (69)

From: Gordon Brown

To: Milton Friedman

Sent: Monday, December 26, 2005 5:01 PM

Subject: My Hope

 

Dear Milton Friedman:

As could have been anticipated, several responses came to my mind after reading the points raised by you in your last communication. However, out of respect for your expressed wish to bring this conversation to a close, I will restrain my inclination to state them here.

I would like to say, without meaning to sound presumptuous, I hope that you would consider including in your public-policy recommendations your position as to whether a belief in individualism is essential or not essential to successfully implementing a free-market system.

Looking forward, let me say that Claudia and I would always welcome an opportunity to visit again the topic of individualism with you. Also, I hope that you would be available for an occasional comment or suggestion as we continue to (a) develop our website and (b) look into the protocol for setting up an endowment for the study of individualism at the Hoover Institute.

We thank you for the “Conversation.”

Best wishes,

Gordon

___________________________________________

 

[35] (70)

From: Milton Friedman

To: Gordon Brown

Sent: Friday, January 06, 2006 3:58 PM

Subject: Re: My Hope

 

Dear Claudia and Gordon:

I appreciate your letter, and I may say that the thanks is mutual for the "conversation." I wish you every success with your web page as well as with your project for the study of individualism at the Hoover Institution.

Cordially yours,

Milton Friedman

Senior Research Fellow
Hoover Institution
434 Galvez Mall
Stanford , CA 94305-6010

___________________________________________

 

[36] (71)

 

INDEX OF TOPICS

Note: The following topic identifications have been noted within the text of each communication.When a response duplicates the original communication, the indexed topics are cited only in the combined communication.

Topic
Document #
Causation
8, 26, 27, 28
correlation
10, 12, 26
determinism
free will
8, 10
   
Free Market  
individualism and free will
8, 10
philosophy
16, 18, 20
   
Free Will  
v. determinism
8, 27
v. freedom
   
God
8, 23, 24
   
Government  
anti-trust laws
democracy
12, 18, 27
role of government
8, 12, 16, 18, 19, 27
   
Hayek, Friedrich
8, 28
   
Individualism  
definitions (cross-index)
8, 27
v. collectivism
8, 27, 28
v. democracy (cross-index)
12, 18, 27
v. determinism
free market
8, 21
linking to free market
1, 3, 6, 8, 16, 33
resistance to …
   
Philosophy  
absolute v. relative
10, 16, 20, 23, 27
definitions
8, 27
empiricism and individualism
16, 19, 20
free market (cross-index)
8, 10, 16, 18, 19, 20
individualism
Friedman, Milton
1, 2, 8, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 26, 27, 28
reality (knowable v. unknowable)
16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 28, 32, 33
self interest
26, 27, 28
   
Public Dialogue  
copyright
32, 33
sharing our conversation
6, 8, 21, 22, 23, 25
validation
6, 28, 31
website and book
16, 18, 21, 27, 29
   
School Instruction  
free market
individualism v. collectivism
18, 19
philosophy and …
18, 19, 20
public v. private
8, 19, 20
value v. value free
18, 19, 20
vouchers
18, 33
youth programs
1, 8
   
Science & Knowing
8, 12, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26
   
Smith, Adam  
invisible hand of self-interest
8, 12, 13, 27, 28
self-interest and determinism
   
CONVERSATION SYNTHESIS
   
CONVERSATION SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
   
MILTON FRIEDMAN'S RESPONSE

 

© 2006 Gordon F. Brown
P. O. Box 1211  Arcadia, CA 91077-1211
626-445-1749; email: relspeak@earthlink.net
Date modified:  June 2, 2013 Feedback