CAPITALISM IN A FREE SOCIETY
Dispersal of Government Power
The second way to avoid government's threat to freedom, according to Friedman, is to disperse government power at the local and state levels. This certainly accords with Jefferson views.
"The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1816. ME 14:421
i agree. i think political power should be hierarchical. you have certain functions that are met at the city level; then those met at the county level; then state level; and finally at the national level. states, of course, cannot declare war, and neither can they engage in international commerce. only nations can do those things. but the federal government does not need to control education, welfare, and public works. these are better left to the local community, which will have a better understanding of the problems at hand. at the same time, higher orders of political power have the right to overturn lower orders where necessary; e.g., to ensure that schools are not segregated. another balancing act. we need acrobats in office, not ideologues!Eyler
Friedman suggests that one of the reasons why legislative action at the federal level is so attractive to some people is the fact that, being centralized, it is difficult to avoid. Federal legislation affects everyone in the nation, whereas legislation at the state and local level affects only those in that locality. He cites several disadvantages of such central authority, but "more important, what one man regards as good, another may regard as harm." (p. 3)
no kidding (regarding last sentence). that's why we have government. men are not angels, says hamilton (or was it madison? i can never be sure). but is laissez-faire a solution to value inequity? hardly! i think it would only exacerbate the situation by allowing the "right of the strongest to dominate" (so says camus).Eyler
Nowhere in his argument is there a recognition that a whole sovereign nation of people may make decisions that are in the public interest and that necessarily affect all. "The preservation of freedom is the protective reason for limiting and decentralizing government power." (p. 3) But what about the freedom, not just of individuals, but of a whole nation of people to make determinations for themselves as a nation? Here again, individuals are to be given freedom, but the whole nation and the people as a whole shall be held in check by this theory of individual freedom!
see above. i agree. i can agree with friedman's concern for individual rights, but i think he suffers the flaw of most libertarians in that he doesn't allow for any means to _preserve_ individual freedom, short of rhetoric. that's the function of good government: to protect and serve individuals. if the government isn't doing its job, you need to change it (or at least the people running it), but eliminating it won't solve anything.Eyler
This same theory of the prevalence of each individual's wants over that of all individuals is expressed in the idea that "what one man regards as good, another may regard as harm." Well, of course! What proposal has ever been supported by 100% of the population? So what shall we do -- do nothing rather than offend one person in opposition? This is the basis of some libertarian's opposition to majority rule. To them, consent of the governed means UNANIMOUS CONSENT! But Jefferson identified this as evidence of political immaturity.
the opposite of majority rule is not individual freedom, but minority rule.Eyler
"The first principle of republicanism is that the lex majoris partis is the fundamental law of every society of individuals of equal rights; to consider the will of the society enounced by the majority of a single vote as sacred as if unanimous is the first of all lessons in importance, yet the last which is thoroughly learnt. This law once disregarded, no other remains but that of force, which ends necessarily in military despotism." --Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, 1817. ME 15:127
only problem: you might hear that "the united states is not a democracy, but a constitutional republic". again, cheap and easy argument.Eyler
This has been covered elsewhere (see Federalist No. 10 & Thomas Jefferson ), but even in a constitutional republic, those representatives who legislate and administer the government are chosen by the will of the majority of individual citizens having equal rights. The lex majoris partis is not just the first principle of a pure democracy; it is also the first principle of republicanism.
i agree. it's just one of those weak and cheap (though generally effective) one-liners. you hear it a lot. cal thomas used it recently in a column on clinton. public opinion doesn't matter in this case, he argues, because we live in a constitutional republic. but elsewhere he's made the case that we live in a democracy and have the right to alter or avoid the complications of the constitution (e.g., through instituting a school prayer amendment).
one general point i must make:
i am not opposed in anyway to individual rights, though i think ontological individualism, as a philosophy, is generally flawed. i find much to agree with in libertarian and laissez-faire philosophy, and would like to live in a world where such a form of economics were possible (without unnecessary suffering, hardship, etc.). however, i think to change our current economy over to a free market would invite disaster. there is too much inequity as is--in power and money--and to institute free market policies now would only exacerbate those differences. if we were all starting out on a level playing field, at the very beginning, then sure we could try libertarianism. but it won't work now without a great deal of suffering. it's like taking the referees out of a footbal game in the last quarter when one team is up 35-0, and is known to employ less than fair tactics. you won't improve things any, except for the winning team. the refs, at least, ensure that no one on the losing team gets hurt (without those on the winning team being reprimanded).Eyler
If decisions are to be made that affect a whole nation of free people, those people must be free to make whatever decisions they choose on whatever matters they choose. And they can only do that through their majority.
agreed. as above, the alternative to majority rule is minority rule. the only way to ensure individual freedom is to give the greater society the ability to preserve and defend that freedom. that's what it boils down to. either you can claim allegiance to some transcendent ideal, or you can give people the means to achieve it.Eyler
The buck must stop somewhere. Somebody has to stand guard for individual freedom, and who better than the greater society? Isn't the majority a safer guardian than a minority or a single dictator?
Even as an economist, Friedman should recognize that there are central government measures affecting the economy that can only be administered at the national level. It is true that those who would suppress freedom try to do it at the national level. But this is the vital point: some things are to be enacted at the national level, and some things are to be avoided. It all depends on the particular nature of the measure, not on some ideological rule that would restrict national legislation "to preserve freedom."