Thursday, October 15, 2009

No Nobel For That Ivory Tower Economist

With all this mass media opinion and “reporting” about President Obama not deserving the Nobel prize, allow me to mention someone else who didn't deserve the Nobel prize.

Milton Friedman didn't deserve the Nobel prize in Economics.

That's right, free-market economics is a farce in the real world. Since the 1970's, not one country on the planet who has embraced free-market economics has seen greater prosperity for a majority of their citizens. (Of course, some of the people in these free-market economies are extraordinarily rich – at the expense of the rest of the country's people and environment – which is why some influential people still support his assumptions... They're getting filthy rich!)

Milton Freedman was an ivory tower intellectual with a convincing argument that simply hasn't panned out.

His basic premise is correct – that economic markets have a tendency for being self-correcting. But so what? The real world is just not that simple or predictable.

Here are some of the weaknesses of Free-Market Economics:


  1. A society that focuses on a simple free-market economy tends to neglect its health, education, social justice, sanity, safety, and sustainability – and is less able to report the truth about this neglect.

      Example: Almost 45 thousand Americans a year die in part due to lack of health insurance. Approximately 50 million Americans don't have health insurance. And every American with health insurance is at risk of being denied coverage by their insurer. Yet, in spite of these terrifying statistics, Americans are reluctant to change our health care system – because the information they receive from television is slanted towards insurance companies, drug companies, and the health “care” industry. The reason; just turn on your TV. You can't watch a show without seeing an expensive ad about some “treatment” for what ails us. In a simple free-market system, profits are more important than everything else – including the truth.

  2. Irresponsible behavior in a real world “free” market system is often rewarded.

      Example: The big insurance companies have manipulated our government and our mass media to the disadvantage of everyone else. They have raised their rates and lowered their payouts. They have lowered their taxes and changed laws to make it very difficult to sue them, no matter what they do. Consequently, they've made obscene profits. And consequently, investors want to invest in their companies.

  3. Free markets only respond to change. Simple free markets just cannot anticipate change well enough to make a real difference.

      Example: We have known since the 1970's that the world is running out of oil. Yet, here we are, over 30 years later, facing peak oil; and totally unprepared. Many of us live in homes in the suburbs, miles away from where we work. And for the better part of that 30 years, we have been buying bigger gas hogs to make the commute. We ship in all our goods, including food, from thousands of miles away. And we have no backup plan.

  4. In the race to get rich in a free-market system, millions of people are bound to make poor decisions with horrendous consequences.

      Example: Scientists have known about Global Warming for decades now. (I first heard about the Greenhouse Effect in the mid-1970's – when the science had already been well established.) Scientists now predict that the Arctic Ocean will be melted during the summer within 10 to 20 years! And yet, corporate profits are still more important than the fate of the Earth's climate. Somehow, the free-market pundits have been able to convince many of us that the economy is more important than the environment. Of course, this is obvious nonsense, because any economy is only a subset of the Earth's environment. And if the balance of the environment topples, the economy (and therefore we) will eventually suffer immensely.Link

  5. The self-corrections of economic free-markets can be very painful.

      Example: When the price of oil goes through the roof and coastal cities flood, the economic markets will self-correct – by collapsing. Millions of people will be left homeless and starving. Had we anticipated these risks and done a better job of preparing for them, we could have designed a far more resilient economy.

  6. There can never be a truly free market.

      Example: Markets are being manipulated by the greedy – whether we like it or not. The fossil fuel industry suppresses sustainable power generation. The drug industry suppresses alternative health options. Lobbyists manipulate regulators. Astro-turf organizations manipulate gullible people to manipulate the tax structure. The military/industrial complex manipulates government spending. Insiders manipulate the stock market. Bankers manipulate the money supply. And of course, advertisers manipulate consumers.

Our only option is to minimize the detrimental manipulations and design into our economy intelligence, fairness, resiliency, and the ability to adapt.

Allow me to make one thing very clear. Capitalism is not inherently evil. We need some limited amount of free market economic thinking. However, history has shown us that given the freedom to choose; we all choose to act irresponsibly sometimes. And some of us choose to act criminally. If we don't set boundaries and responsible rewards; some people will simply take advantage of everyone and every thing they can.

Humanity has already lost 30 critical years to an oversimplification of how our economy operates within our planet's environment – an oversimplification that was validated by a Nobel prize in economics.

Milton Friedman was wrong.

But Milton Friedman is dead.

Milton Friedman can't send his Nobel back and say he's sorry. And his followers are getting too rich pillaging.

It's up to us to figure out a better way.

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