Friedman, Keynes and Marx
The capitalist system operates according to definite economic laws which governments can neither change nor overcome; to the extent that they try to they generally make matters worse or create some new problem.
This view is quite at variance with the prevailing economic and political orthodoxy, which holds that government intervention in the workings of capitalism can ensure crisis-free growth and continuous full employment (Keynes) and that government action can eliminate poverty, bad housing, poor schools, inadequate health services, pollution and so on (reformism).
Fortunately not all teachers of economics are content to repeat parrot-fashion the theories of Keynes. Some have been prepared to examine the real world and so have not been able to avoid noticing the manifest failure of government intervention to do what the Keynesians and reformists said it would. This has led to a reaction, with a growing number of economists now arguing that the trouble stems from too much government intervention and calling for a return to what their mentor, the American Professor Milton Friedman, calls “competitive free enterprise capitalism”. Even Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph have been toying with this suggestion.
They are wrong, of course. Pure private enterprise capitalism would be no better than the mixture of private and state capitalism we know today. But these economists can claim to have a better understanding of how capitalism works than the Keynesians and reformists, since they at least recognise that it operates according to economic laws which governments can’t change. As one advocate of laissez-faire capitalism, Nathaniel Branden has put it:
All government intervention in the economy is based on the belief that economic laws need not operate, that principles of cause and effect can be suspended, that everything in existence is “flexible” and “malleable”, except a bureaucrat’s whim, which is omnipotent; reality, logic, and economics must not be allowed to get in the way (in Ayn Rand Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 79).
We couldn’t express it better ourselves! After all, it was Marx who spoke of “the natural laws of capitalist production” as being “tendencies working with iron necessity towards inevitable results” (1867 Preface to Capital).
Milton Friedman is the new star in the firmament of capitalist economics—he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1976, effectively for having demolished the theories of Keynes—but there is nothing especially original about his work. All he had done is to observe how capitalism works and so has noticed that it doesn’t work in accordance with Keynes’ theories.
Take the question of inflation, for instance. Although Keynes at one time stated that over-issuing an inconvertible paper currency would inevitably lead to a rise in the general price level he later came to attach little importance to monetary policy, seeing its role as merely to ensure that enough money was available to finance the government spending which the tax and investment policies he advocated would involve. He thus provided an ideal theoretical justification for governments to finance their activities by recourse to the printing press. Which is what they have been doing in all countries since the war, with the inevitable result that prices generally have been constantly rising.
Friedman has merely done a bit of historical research to show the relationship between unwarranted increases in the money supply and rises in the general price level, enabling him to conclude that rising prices was bound to be the result of Keynesian policies and will continue to be as long as they are applied. In doing this “monetarists” (so called because they disagree with Keynes’ view that “money doesn’t matter”) like Friedman have rediscovered what Marx (and other economists of his time) had stated over a hundred years ago as being the inevitable result of over-issuing an inconvertible paper currency.
Keynes was also something of an “underconsumptionist” in that he thought that capitalism needed government spending to keep it going. His followers have favoured inflation, or more exactly government spending financed by inflating the currency, as a means of trying to reduce and avoid unemployment. But that inflation can reduce unemployment has proved an illusion, as the artificial inflationary boom gives way to the sort of “stagflation” or “slumpflation” we now have, where widespread unemployment and a high rate of price rises exist side by side.
Which if any of the great ‘reforms’ of past decades have achieved its objectives? Have the good intentions of the proponents of these reforms been realized? (. . .) An income tax initially enacted at low rates and later seized upon as a means to redistribute income in favour of the lower classes has become a facade, covering loopholes and special provisions that render rates that are highly graduated on paper largely ineffective (. . .)
A housing program intended to improve the housing conditions of the poor, to reduce juvenile delinquency, and to contribute to the removal of urban slums, has worsened the housing conditions of the poor, contributed to juvenile delinquency, and spread urban blight (. . .)
Social security measures were enacted to make receipt of assistance a matter of right, to eliminate the need for direct relief and assistance. Millions now receive social security benefits. Yet the relief rolls grow and the sums spent on direct assistance mount.
If a balance be struck, there can be little doubt that the record is dismal. The greater part of the new ventures undertaken by government in the past few decades have failed to achieve their objectives.