David Mamet: Milton Friedman Explained

Sunday, 10 Jul 2011 06:29 PM

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In June, Newsmax published an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet, who described his conversion to conservatism.

The following is an excerpt from chapter 10 of Mamet's new book, “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture."

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The question, as posed by Milton Friedman, was not “What are the decisions?”— any human or conglomeration is capable of decisions both good and bad — but “Who makes the decisions?” Shall it be the Government, that is, the State, or shall it be the Individual?

In some cases it must be the Government, which is, in these, the only organ capable of serving and protecting individual liberty and freedom: notably, in defense, the administration of justice, and main­tenance of and oversight of Federal Infrastructure, e.g., Roads, Inter­state Travel, Waterways, Parks, and so on. But what in the world is the Government doing meddling in Education, Health Care, Automobile Production, and the promotion of dubious, arguable, or absurd programs designed to bring about “equality”? Should these decisions not be left to the Individual, or to a Free Market, in which forces compete, to serve the Individual who will be the arbiter of their success?

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David Mamet
(Getty Images photo)

But but but, some will interject, “Look at the abuses.” Well, some abuses fall afoul of the laws, in which case the provision has been made for their correction which, if not forthcoming, is in the right of the public to demand. Others fall afoul of custom, and will or can be corrected by censure, withdrawal of custom, or attempts at crimi­nalization. Some must be borne, as they would under any system of government, business, or administration: someone eventually, inevi­tably, makes what someone else might characterize as “an error.”

But which system, Free Enterprise, or the State, is better able to correct itself?

For this is the essence of the difference between the Free Market (constrained) and the Liberal (unconstrained) view of the world — to use Friedrich Hayek’s terms. It is not a difference of preference for plans or programs — in which either side may not only differ but, equally, be wrong. It is a difference in appreciation of structure.

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The constrained view is that neither human beings, nor any con­glomeration into which they may form themselves, are omnipo­tent, nor omniscient, nor omnibenevolent. We are incapable even of knowing, let alone of implementing, engines to alleviate the true causes of, and indeed of understanding the true nature of, many of the problems besetting us. This is, as Hayek says, the Tragic View.

We are not only wrong, but most often wrong. The treasured values of one generation (slavery, phrenology, lobotomy, physical discipline of children, women as property, et cetera) are seen now not only as vile but as absurd. As, eventually, will many of the cherished ideas of today. This is tragic, but inevitable.

The question is which of two systems is better able to discard the failed and experiment to find the new; and the answer is the Free Market. It is not perfect; it is better than State Control; for the Free Market, to a greater extent, must respond quickly and effectively to dissatisfaction and to demand — if a product or service does not please, to continue in its manufacture in the Free Market is point­less. (Compare Government persistence and expansion of programs proved to have failed decades ago—farm subsidies, aid to Africa, busing, urban renewal, etc.) On the other hand, in a Free Market, every man, woman, and child is scheming to find a better way to make a product or a service which will make a fortune. The garage mechanic, the housewife, the tinkerer, the scientist, the artist, and their kids — everyone is always looking for a better way. (Compare the Government employee sitting at his desk. Why is he not looking for a better way to do his job? Why should he? A more efficient way might possibly eliminate his job, or that of the superior to whom he owes allegiance.)

Nothing is free. All human interactions are tradeoffs. One may figure out a way to (theoretically) offer cheap health insurance to the twenty million supposedly uninsured members of our society. But at what cost — the dismantling of the health care system of the remain­ing three-hundred-million-plus? What of the inevitable reduction, shortages, abuses, delay and injustice caused by all State rationing?

There’s a cost for everything. And the ultimate payer of every cost imposed by government is not only the individual member of the mass of taxpayers who does not benefit from the scheme; but likely, also, its intended beneficiaries (cf., welfare, busing, affirmative action, urban planning).

Well, you will say, it’s not Either/Or. And, of course it is not. All civilizations need, and all civilizations get Government. Many have inherited, had forced upon them, or in fact demanded a real or obvi­ously potential dictatorship (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy) — these, and their like, began as Welfare States, dedicated, supposedly, to distributing the abundant good things of the Land to all. But they, and all the Communist States, and Socialist States, operated at a cost, for everything has a cost.

The cost of these benevolent dictatorships was shortage, famine, murder, and the eventual dissolution of the State. Hayek calls this utopian vision The Road to Serfdom. And we see it in operation here, as we are in the process of choosing, as a society, between Liberty — the freedom from the State to pursue hap­piness, and a supposed but impossible Equality, which, as it could only be brought about by a State capable and empowered to function in all facets of life, means totalitarianism and eventual dictatorship.

Editor’s note: To get David Mamet’s new book, “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture,” at a good price — Click Here Now.

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