The Milton Friedman Quote on Equality and Freedom
“A society that puts equality before freedom gets neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.” -Milton Friedman on Equality and Freedom
My Take on the Intersection of Freedom and Equality
I think that this Milton Friedman quote on equality and freedom is spot-on because ties in well with many historical examples of nations that have tried to pursue the elusive idea of economic equality for all citizens and have instead ended up with a rich, government elite, an impoverished citizenry, and little to no freedom.
Nations like the early American republic, on the other hand, that pursued personal freedom and individual liberty and thought little of equality had both lots of freedom and relatively equal access to opportunities to advance oneself. Citizens in them intuitively grasped the concept of this Milton Friedman quote on equality and freedom and benefitted immensely because of that.
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Countries that Placed Equality Before Freedom
First, let’s take a look at a few countries that did not understand that wage inequality arguments are ridiculous and, as a result, pursued horribly destructive policies that show the principle outlined in this Milton Friedman quote on equality and freedom. Socialism, the supposed ideology of “equality,” benefits only a government elite and impoverishes everyone else. Socialist societies create vast economic inequality and oppressive regimes, as history shows.
The Soviet Union
The Soviet Union is a great example. The Red Revolution in 1917 was supposed to bring about equality for all. Never mind that equality leads to poverty, the Bolsheviks and Mencheviks were deeply committed to making all subjects of the new Soviet Union “equal.” Or, that’s what they said, at least.
What we can read about in The Case Against Socialism and The Gulag Archipelago, on the other hand, shows the true story, which is that the Soviet Union was both unequal and unfree. Government elites in the Politburo became unbelievably wealthy and were above the law. Their subjects, however, were put under the brutal heel of the Soviet regime and died of starvation, were thrown in gulags with horrendous conditions, and died because of Stalin’s paranoia. Soviet society, as you might expect from this Milton Friedman quote on equality and freedom, were neither equality nor free.
Stalin wanted to liquidate the kulaks, the aristocrats, the industrialists, and other successful people because he thought that would make society “equal.” Perhaps it did, it made everyone equally poor and oppressed. The lesson from that is that government-mandated equality leads only to death and destruction.
Communist China is another great example of the principle outlined in this Milton Friedman quote on equality and freedom. Tens of millions, if not up to 100 million, Chinese subjects were killed by their government because Mao thought that his disastrous “Great Leap Forward” would make everyone equal. Like Stalin’s policies, perhaps it did. Chinese peasants were all equally free to starve to death or be shot for resisting the evil ideology of communism.
However, not everyone in China was impoverished by Mao. Government officials who took over state-owned industries grew incredibly wealthy as their subjects starved. Like the Soviet Union, China shows that this Milton Friedman quote is exactly right; equality and freedom cannot exist in states that try to use government policies to create equality.
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Countries that Have Pursued Freedom rather than Equality
In my mind, one of the best examples of a nation that pursued freedom rather than equality was pre-New Deal America. Before the progressives (liberal fascists) were in charge, Americans did not care about economic equality. They cared instead about they personal freedom. As a result, they were both free and had equal access to opportunities for economic advancement. Those early Americans, especially in the Northeast, which quickly did away with slavery, showed just why this Milton Friedman quote on equality and freedom is correct; capitalism and freedom is far better than socialism and oppression, as history shows.
The Early American Republic
Want a perfect example of the type of nation that is referred to in the second sentence of this Milton Friedman quote on equality and freedom? Then look at the early American Republic. Read The Federalist Papers. Read The Anti-Federalist Papers. Read The Wealth of Nations. Read After the Revolution. All of those books show what the first generations of Americans were thinking about and focused on.
It probably won’t surprise you that they could not care less about economic equality, the siren song of today’s Marxist left. American farmers, merchants, and financiers instead just wanted freedom. They wanted to be able to do what they wanted and how they wanted and demanded that their representatives see that that will became reality.
As a result, America at that time was quite free. Yes, there were slaves who were not free. But, other than them, everyone in America was able to make a fortune if they worked hard and were reasonably intelligent. Merchants could build vast trading empires. Farmers could move west and buy ever-larger farms. Shop owners could build highly-successful stores. Little of their money was taken in taxes, so the economy constantly had money pumping through it. People were free and had equal opportunities because they did not try to use the power of the state to create equal economic outcomes.
Gilded Age America
Read my review of what I think is the best book about the Gilded Age, The Republic for Which It Stands. Or, even better, buy and read that book. If you do, you will see that Gilded Age America, like the early American republic, was a nation focused on freedom and opportunity, not equal outcomes. As a result, it also shows the genius of this Milton Friedman quote on equality and freedom.
Was society clamoring for the track-layers of the transcontinental to be paid the same as the barons that organized and built that railroad? No, of course not. Did workers rant about income inequality? Again, no. Instead, they wanted to have equal access to opportunity and to retain their personal freedom. Because of that, they were both free and able to improve their lives by working hard.
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Conclusion: If you Want Prosperity, Listen to this Milton Friedman quote about Equality and Freedom
The lesson, to me at least, is clear. This Milton Friedman quote about equality and freedom is 100% correct. What causes prosperity? What leads to freedom? Focusing on freedom, especially individual liberty, is what causes those things.
So, do not listen to the delusional leftists that want America to now focus on improving “equality.” That will lead only to misery and poverty. As Winston Churchill said, “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”
Capitalism might lead to income inequality, yes. But it also leads to personal freedom, access to opportunity, and prosperity for everyone. It’s better to be poor in America than rich in most other nations not because of welfare or equality, but because of freedom and capitalism. Remember that.
By: Gen Z Conservative
Image at top from AZ Quotes