Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman has died. He was 94.
I know our readers have a wide range of views regarding his economics, but Friedman deserves the thanks of everyone opposed to conscription. A long-time opponent of the draft, Friedman served on the presidential commission that finally abolished what he forthrightly called a form of slavery. At a conference on the War on Drugs, which he also opposed, Friedman recalled the anti-draft movement as a source of hope for anti-prohibitionists:
Back in the 1940s and 1950s we had a military draft. And I may say, I was just as opposed to the military draft as I now am to the prohibition of drugs. It looked as if you couldn’t get rid of it. It was politically unfeasible to get rid of the draft. We had a conference like this at the University of Chicago; I have forgotten the exact date â€“ sometime in the fifties or early sixties. It was one of the few conferences in which opinions were changed. I hope this will be another. We took a poll at the beginning of the draft conference. We had, just as here, people in favor of the draft, people opposed to the draft-a much wider group than here, including politicians, academicians, and so on. At the beginning of that conference the vote was one-third in favor of the volunteer army and two-thirds in favor of the draft. After three days of the conference, the vote was precisely reversed. Two-thirds expressed themselves in favor of the volunteer army and one-third still in favor of the draft.
I believe that was a major factor in starting the ball rolling, which ultimately got rid of the draft in 1973. 1 believe that this is the same kind of an issue. The evidence is highly persuasive to those who are willing to look at it from the point of view not of one extreme or the other, but of the sensible middle that everybody is looking for. We must change the present policy. I am not without hope that something will happen. At least, the vigor of the attempt at enforcement will lessen.
When specifically asked about foreign policy in a 1995 interview, Friedman was somewhat ambivalent:
Reason: Do you consider yourself in the libertarian mainstream on foreign policy issues?
Friedman: I don’t believe that the libertarian philosophy dictates a foreign policy. In particular I don’t think you can derive isolationism from libertarianism. I’m anti-interventionist, but I’m not an isolationist. I don’t believe we ought to go without armaments. I’m sure we spend more money on armaments than we need to; that’s a different question.
I don’t believe that you can derive from libertarian views the notion that a nation has to bare itself to the outside without defense, or that a strong volunteer force would arise and defend the nation.
Reason: What did you think about the [First] Gulf War?
Friedman: I always had misgivings about the Gulf War, but I never came to a firm decision. It was more nearly justified than other recent foreign interventions, and yet I was persuaded that the major argument used to support it was fallacious.
After all, if Iraq took over the oil, it would have to do something with it. If they don’t want to eat it, they’d have to sell it. I don’t think the price of oil would have been much affected. The more important consideration was the balance of power with Iran and Iraq. I have mixed feelings about that war; I wouldn’t be willing to write a brief on either side.
Yet, as our own David Henderson noted earlier this year, Friedman’s economic insights, when applied to foreign policy, yield decidedly noninterventionist conclusions. And in a July conversation with the Wall Street Journal, the still spry gentleman was flatly opposed to the latest attack on Iraq:
“What’s really killed the Republican Party isn’t spending, it’s Iraq. As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression.” Mrs. Friedman â€“ listening to her husband with an ear cocked â€“ was now muttering darkly.
Milton: “Huh? What?” Rose: “This was not aggression!” Milton (exasperatedly): “It was aggression. Of course it was!”