Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is Jamie Galbraith Humane

Of all the economists behaving badly at the Milton Friedman symposium at Econ Journal Watch, surely none exceeds the poor form of the one who titles his contribution Mistah Friedman? He Dead.

Whatever would possess anyone with scholarly pretensions to begin that way--implying Friedman was a slave master?--when discussing the man who is arguably the greatest economist of the 20th century can't be admirable. Then to recycle an easily refuted slander is even worse;
We may surmise that Friedman’s affinity for first principles were behind his support for the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a man who granted freedom—and life itself—only to those who dared not oppose him. Here was a grisly contradiction between “economic freedom” and the real thing. My impression is that Friedman did his best to ignore Pinochet’s crimes, and then made up excuses when he had to. This is perhaps harsh. But it’s a more generous view than the alternative, which is to believe that he thought the socialists, communists, poets and musicians in the National Stadium got what they had coming.
First, Friedman was not in any way a supporter of Augusto Pinochet.  The charge of him being so is made up  almost out of whole cloth. Friedman, while in Chile for a speech at Catholic University in Santiago which was not sponsored, nor even associated with the Chilean government, agreed to meet with the General to discuss with him, for approximately forty minutes, the options he had for controlling the virulent inflation in his country.

Inflation (running to around 700% per year in mid 1974) bequeathed to Chile by the man Pinochet deposed, Salvador Allende Gossens.  By taking Friedman's advice Chile's economists managed to cut that to 10% in about a year three years. Truly a good deed done for the citizens of that country. This history is easily ascertainable; it's related in the Friedmans' memoir, Two Lucky People, including a copy of the letter Friedman wrote to Pinochet as a follow up to his meeting with him.  So Galbraith has no excuse whatsoever for his claims.

Nor should we excuse Galbraith's attempt to pretend that Pinochet didn't have real (and deadly serious) enemies; socialists, communists, poets and musicians. That phrasing is designed to obscure that the people who had been in power before Pinochet's coup were attempting to transform Chile from a republic into a Castroite dictatorship. They weren't really making much of an attempt to hide what they were doing, so Galbraith should know that fact as well.

If he doesn't, he could find out by reading the chapters in Georgie Anne Geyer's Buying the Night Flight, that concern her dealings with both Castro and Allende when she lived in Cuba. He'd see that when asked by Geyer if, when after he was in office there would be any more elections (as there weren't after Castro took power in Cuba) Allende told her;  'You don't understand. Everything will be different then.'

Which brings us to the real reason Galbraith probably feels the need to slander Friedman; it can be found in the essay Is Capitalism Humane, written in 1978 and included in Bright Promises, Dismal Performance: An Economist's Protest:
When you hear people objecting to the market or to capitalism and you examine their objections, you will find that most of those objections are objections to freedom itself.  What most people are objecting to is that the market gives people what the people want instead of what the person talking thinks the people ought to want.  That is true whether you are talking of the objections of a Galbraith to the market, whether you are talking of the objections of a Nader to the market, whether you are talking of the objections of a Marx or an Engels or a Lenin to the market.
The Galbraith referred to in the above being Jamie's more famous father J. Kenneth.  But the apple didn't fall far from the tree.  It's the same arrogance that allows him to ignore what the common people of Chile were suffering under Salvador Allende, because Allende was a socialist, a communist, maybe even a poet or musician.  The Galbraiths' kind of people.  There are never too many excuses to be made in the name of class solidarity. As for the riff raff, they should just suffer what they had coming.


  1. The actual allusion is to Kurtz, in Heart of Darkness. Nothing especially to do with slavery -- though possibly worse.

    I won't trouble to refute the nonsense about Pinochet. He was a murderer, pure and simple.

    Regards, James Galbraith

  2. You think that comparing Milton Friedman to someone with 'a heart of darkness' makes you look better?

    And I won't comment on the arrogance of someone who thinks his mere assertions are a substitute for evidence and analysis.