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I know it is a bit sophomoric to Hayek readers, but it is important to realize that even well-educated, marginally bright people, who attended decent liberal arts schools – may have never even heard of Milton Friedman, much less Hayek…..
All I really need to know I learned on the Phil Donahue Show. As a nearly lifelong Democrat, Phil was a favorite for a long time, and on a daily basis his guests informed and buttressed my beliefs in my formative twenties.
Approximately 20 years later, long after he was no longer living in my dorm-turned-den, he entered my world again to teach one of the most valuable lessons of my life.
My son, who I sent off to an East Coast university as a good liberal, brought Phil home with him on a Winter Break. I was thrilled. I had taught him well; he valued my views and adopted my heroes.
What more could a mother ask for?
My son invited me to watch his favorite episode with him. I was overwhelmed. He wanted to sit with me? He wanted to spend more than five minutes with me? That is far more than a mother could ask for.
So we sat down in front of his laptop. There was Phil and an old guy, balding, academic looking – so, in my snobbery, I assumed he must know of which he spoke. His name was Milton Friedman. Friedman? I had never studied Friedman in my Conflict Theory based Sociology classes. This could be interesting….
The discussion started off great. Phil said, “When you see around the globe the mal-distribution of wealth. When you see the desperate plight of millions of people in underdeveloped countries? When you see so few have’s and see so many have not’s. When you see the greed and the concentration of power, don't you ever have a moment a doubt about capitalism and whether greed is a good idea to go on?"
This guy is a capitalist? I thought to myself, go get ‘em Phil.
And then he spoke, and confirmed my long held beliefs. As a liberal, I was raised to love this country and hate its inequities. I was taught to value its freedoms and hate its oppressors.
Like every other good liberal, I sat and talked about the solutions, grabbing at and formulating every desperate gimmick in our hysterical scramble to solve all of the world’s ills. The answer was there all along; it had simply never been shared in our classrooms.
He started, “Well, first of all, do you know one society that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn't run on greed? Do you think China doesn't run on greed? What is greed? Of course none of us are greedy; it is only the other fellow that is greedy.”
Okay, I was following along. This could be interesting. We shall see.
He continued, “This, the world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn't write his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you're talking about, the only cases in recorded history are where they have had capitalism in largely free trade.”
I started to feel ill. That old dis-ease called cognitive dissonance.
“If you wanna know where the masses are worst off, it is exactly from the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record history is absolutely crystal clear; that there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities are unleashed by a free enterprise system.”
Phil came to my cognitive and spiritual defense: “But it seems to reward not virtue, as much as ability to manipulate the system.”
But that man insisted on killing me softly, (I am really showing my age here), when he said, “And what does reward virtue? You think the communist commissar rewards virtue? You think a Hitler rewards virtue? You think, excuse me, if you'll pardon me, do you think American presidents reward virtue? Do they choose their appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed or on the basis of their political clout?"
He was talking to me. He understood what I understood. We agreed on something. I was listening to him.
He asked, “Is it really true that political self-interest is better somehow, than an economic self-interest? You know, I think you're taking a lot of things for granted. Just tell me where in the world you find these angels who are going to organize society for us? I don't even trust you to do that.”
Phil gave up and so did I. The man had won the argument in the most gentle and gracious manner. He never raised his voice which compelled me to drop my raised fist.
With my originals values intact; a love of country, and hate for inequity, I now knew that capitalism was not the cause, it was the cure.
Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from Phil Donahue, and my son.