Milton Friedman and our world now

Recently I have stumbled upon some YouTube videos on Milton Friedman, a famous American economist who received a Nobel prize on economics. Generally, I don’t put too much weight on Nobel prizes because I believe it’s a highly convoluted system with a lot of inside dealings (especially peace prizes). But Professor Friedman is truly different. In my eyes, he is a genius with a special type of charisma. And no, I don’t agree with everything that he supports but that’s the beauty of intelligence. The end result/belief is not the key, it is how one demonstrates it that matters. And here are a few of my reflections.

This first video is about Professor Friedman debating with another famous economist Professor Walter Heller on a show called “Why economists disagree”. Oh, the facilitator is not a lightweight either (Marina von Neumann Whitman)! For sure the economics they discussed is not simple though their intelligence (and the audience) is clear. And my point is, why wouldn’t anyone produce television content with such high “academic” quality these days! Why more and more of us just like to binge on things like reality TVs?

Before we try to answer the question, let’s look at another video where Professor Friedman debates with students (there are lots of them on Youtube). Whilst Professor Friedman may inevitably make some of the students look less intelligent than they really are (yes I really think he just enjoys playing with other people’s mind), the whole debate was carried out in such a professional manner. The questions were well asked, the disagreements were well handled and that grin on Professor Friedman (and maybe that middle finger too), as MasterCard would say, is priceless. This is the “Respect” that we keep referring to in our world now. So what’s missing NOW?

Well, I think it’s partly because we simply do not respect intelligence and perhaps more broadly science anymore. Our understanding of interpretivism or constructivism, whilst I have written before that they are useful, may have gone too far. Whilst clearly most of us don’t score 100 on our exams in schools (even primary school), everyone, once they get to our society today, thinks, or maybe are asked to think, they know everything. The reality is we don’t. The more we are ignorant about our ignorance, that’s the downward spiral we are separating from the real world. But the more scary thing is not the lack of respect for intelligence, it’s that certain people play on others’ ignorance (or perhaps insecurities) and make them feel like they are the ones who are not being understood and therefore their needs and concerns are being disregarded. This is populism. And this is truly scary.

So how do we change that? Let’s use this following video as an example. Equal pay for all gender. Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? I won’t reiterate Professor Friedman answer here but the way he flips the question and gets to our blindspots is pure genius. And the problem is, in reality, most people just don’t understand this logic easily and most of the people in our world these days, instead of pursuing the understanding, choose to ignore it (and worse debating that it is wrong without actually understanding it). That’s why we have our situations today. We can’t debate intelligently. Perhaps because no one is really that intelligent now (and I blame this on the unnecessary expansion of the middle class who generally work as middle management, but more about this on another post). But perhaps more so because we miss the point that while all views are equal, some views are more equal than others. And that’s intelligence. To change this, we all need to learn to ask ourselves, what gives us the right and privileges to uphold our own views. As Professor Milton mentions, no one deserves anything! We have to work on it!

Most of all, this last video gets to what I really want to get to in this post.

As someone who has studied a little bit of accounting and laws, I know the intricacy of this brilliant little invention called corporation. Despite it is something completely imaginary, it enjoys a lot of legal privileges (another imaginary or socially construct system) similar to a natural human being. We all know the reason (and perhaps benefits) why a corporate exists. It makes sense right? But does it? In the video above, Professor Friedman dissects the problem with corporate tax. Remember, I am not debating the validity of a corporate tax per se, but rather I am saying how most of us simply would believe in something when we are educated in that way. This is when we can really comprehend the scary power of education. Not propaganda, but real education changes people’s minds. Our mental prison.

Secondly, his arguments make me understand, corporates are just a tool, ultimately it’s always the people, who have self-interest and motivation. So if we extend his argument of corporate tax (i.e. there is no corporate, it is ultimately the people associated with the corporate such as its shareholders, employees and customers who pay it), what are we saying when we refer ourselves to groups such as country, religion and political party? When we try to protect our belief or belonging to these groups (this little invention called voting), who are we really trying to protect? Our self belief or have we inevitably make ourselves (more likely deliberately by others) to believe that there is a greater good but we are ultimately satisfying the self-interests of certain individuals? Indeed, there is no such thing as a government. There are politicians, lobbyists, donors (businesses), and well the laypeople. So instead of focusing on government, perhaps we should focus on these actors in such a vast and complex system. Finally, how is this willingness to serve a greater good relates to living in harmony while respecting intelligence (as shown by videos above)? Are they contradicting with each other?

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