Free to Choose - The Power of the Market

The roots of the idea of a free market can be traced back to the Scottish Enlightenment, but perhaps no scholar has done more to promulgate the Utopian dream of a free capitalistic society than the late and influential 20th century economist from the Chicago School of Economics, Milton Friedman.

Inspired by the promise of political freedom in the Declaration of Independence, and the ideal of economic freedom articulated in Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, Friedman wholeheartedly believed that a prospering society is one which opens up economic opportunities to its citizens to freely pursue their goals and improve their lives. And if freedom is an ideal to be preserved, Friedman thought, then government regulation is to be opposed.

The ideal of a truly free market is one that should give us pause, not necessarily because it is wrong or ill-conceived but because so much depends on it, and because the unintended consequences of such a doctrine in the real world are so difficult to foresee. Any absolutist position on this issue is likely to be premature and ill-informed.

In this first installment of his documentary series Free to Choose, Friedman introduces us to the practical and social benefits that the free market promises. The documentary is followed by a spirited debate with scholars and leaders of industry who provide fascinating angles through which to make sense of and analyze Friedman's ideas.

As an economist, Friedman saw the world through the filters of economic incentives and opportunities. One of the things he failed to consider, in my view, is that although a political system driven by the pursuit of capital maximization does tend to deliver the practical goods, it has the pernicious effects of changing the goals and expectations of those who engage in trade, and of measuring them exclusively by the standards of profit.

This downside, I think, is the erosion of the cultural framework, slowly changing our perception of each other as human beings to be treated with dignity and respect to that of instruments to be used for some ephemeral and utilitarian purpose... but that's just me. What do you think?
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