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FREE TO CHOOSE 4: "From Cradle to Grave" (Milton Friedman)
Free to Choose ^ | 1980 | Milton Friedman

Posted on 07/20/2006 12:51:46 PM PDT by Choose Ye This Day

FREE TO CHOOSE: From Cradle to Grave

Friedman: After the 2nd World War, New York City authorities retained rent control supposedly to help their poorer citizens. The intentions were good. This in the Bronx was one result.

By the 50's the same authorities were taxing their citizens. Including those who lived in the Bronx and other devastated areas beyond the East River to subsidize public housing. Another idea with good intentions yet poor people are paying for this, subsidized apartments for the well-to-do. When government at city or federal level spends our money to help us, strange things happen.

The idea that government had to protect us came to be accepted during the terrible years of the Depression. Capitalism was said to have failed. And politicians were looking for a new approach.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a candidate for the presidency. He was governor of New York State. At the governor's mansion in Albany, he met repeatedly with friends and colleagues to try to find some way out of the Depression. The problems of the day were to be solved by government action and government spending. The measures that FDR and his associates discussed here derived from a long line of past experience. Some of the roots of these measures go back to Bismark's Germany at the end of the 19th Century. The first modern state to institute old age pensions and other similar measures on the part of government. In the early 20th Century Great Britain followed suit under Lloyd George and Churchill. It too instituted old age pensions and similar plans.

These precursors of the modern welfare state had little effect on practice in the United States. But they did have a very great effect on the intellectuals on the campus like those who gathered here with FDR. The people who met here had little personal experience of the horrors of the Depression but they were confident that they had the solution. In their long discussions as they sat around this fireplace trying to design programs to meet the problems raised by the worst Depression in the history of the United States, they quite naturally drew upon the ideas that were prevalent at the time. The intellectual climate had become one in which it was taken for granted that government had to play a major role in solving the problems in providing what came later to be called Security from Cradle to Grave.

Roosevelt's first priority after his election was to deal with massive unemployment. A Public Works program was started. The government financed projects to build highways, bridges and dams. The National Recovery Administration was set up to revitalize industry. Roosevelt wanted to see America move into a new era. The Social Security Act was passed and other measures followed. Unemployment benefits, welfare payments, distribution of surplus food. With these measures, of course, came rules, regulations and red tape as familiar today as they were novel then. The government bureaucracy began to grow and it's been growing ever since.

This is just a small part of the Social Security empire today. Their headquarters in Baltimore has 16 rooms this size. All these people are dispensing our money with the best possible intentions. But at what cost?

In the 50 years since the Albany meetings, we have given government more and more control over our lives and our income. In New York State alone, these government buildings house 11,000 bureaucrats. Administering government programs that cost New York taxpayers 22 billion dollars. At the federal level, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare alone has a budget larger than any government in the world except only Russia and the United States.

Yet these government measures often do not help the people they are supposed to. Richard Brown's daughter, Helema, needs constant medical attention. She has a throat defect and has to be connected to a breathing machine so that she'll survive the nights. It's expensive treatment and you might expect the family to qualify for a Medicaid grant.

Richard Brown: No, I don't get it, cause I'm not eligible for it. I make a few dollars too much and the salary that I make I can't afford to really live and to save anything is out of the question. And I mean, I live, we live from payday to payday. I mean literally from payday to payday.

Friedman: His struggle isn't made any easier by the fact that Mr. Brown knows that if he gave up his job as an orderly at the Harlem Hospital, he would qualify for a government handout. And he'd be better off financially.

Hospital Worker: Mr. Brown, do me a favor please? There is a section patient.

Friedman: It's a terrible pressure on him. But he is proud of the work that he does here and he's strong enough to resist the pressure.

Richard Brown: I'm Mr. Brown. Your fully dilated and I'm here to take you to the delivery. Try not to push, please. We want to have a nice sterile delivery.

Friedman: Mr. Brown has found out the hard way that welfare programs destroy an individual's independence.

Richard Brown: We've considered welfare. We went to see, to apply for welfare but, we were told that we were only eligible for $5.00 a month. And, to receive this $5.00 we would have to cash in our son's savings bonds. And that's not even worth it. I don't believe in something for nothing anyway.

Mrs. Brown: I think a lot of people are capable of working and are willing to work, but it's just the way it is set up. It, the mother and the children are better off if the husband isn't working or if the husband isn't there. And this breaks up so many poor families.

Friedman: One of the saddest things is that many of the children whose parents are on welfare will in their turn end up in the welfare trap when they grow up. In this public housing project in the Bronx, New York, 3/4's of the families are now receiving welfare payments.

Well Mr. Brown wanted to keep away from this kind of thing for a very good reason. The people who get on welfare lose their human independence and feeling of dignity. They become subject to the dictates and whims of their welfare supervisor who can tell them whether they can live here or there, whether they may put in a telephone, what they may do with their lives. They are treated like children, not like responsible adults and they are trapped in the system. Maybe a job comes up which looks better than welfare but they are afraid to take it because if they lose it after a few months it maybe six months or nine months before they can get back onto welfare. And as a result, this becomes a self-perpetuating cycle rather than simply a temporary state of affairs.

Things have gone even further elsewhere. This is a huge mistake. A public housing project in Manchester, England.

Well we're 3,000 miles away from the Bronx here but you'd never know it just by looking around. It looks as if we are at the same place. It's the same kind of flats, the same kind of massive housing units, decrepit even though they were only built 7 or 8 years ago. Vandalism, graffiti, the same feeling about the place. Of people who don't have a great deal of drive and energy because somebody else is taking care of their day to day needs because the state has deprived them of an incentive to find jobs to become responsible people to be the real support for themselves and their families.

For the past 7 years Maureen Ramsey has had to buy food and clothes for her family out of a government handout. For the whole of that time, her husband, Steve, hasn't had a job. Each week he collects what's known in Britain as Social Security. The government looks after him, his wife and their children. But accepting welfare payments means accepting the rules of those who hand them out.

Mrs. Ramsey: My opinion, anyway you feel as they own you. You know, there is no other way of putting it. Say I got a job tomorrow, because I needed something, well I know that means I've got to go down there and report it. Because I couldn't go into the job because you'd be looking over your shoulder thinking well the Social Security is coming in. And I'm going to be done for it. It's just hopeless, you can't fight against that.

Mr. Ramsey: The jobs are out there you only come up with about 45 pounds a week. And you need a doctors stamp over there. You see, you finish up with about 29 pound. So what good is it working? You still get the same thing, you know what I mean? I can't make any sense of it.

Friedman: Of course, he's quite right. It may not pay to get a job now. That's not his fault and I don't blame him. He's acting sensibly and intelligently for his own interest and the interest of his family. It's the fault of the system which takes away the incentive from him to get a job.

But suppose you were cruel and simply took away the welfare overnight. Cut it off. What would happen? He would find a job. What kind of a job? I don't know. It might not be a very nice job. It might not be a very attractive job. But at some wage, at some level of pay, there will always be a job which he could get for himself. It might be also that he would be driven to rely on some private charity. He might have to get soup kitchen help or the equivalent. Again, I'm not saying that's desirable or nice or a good thing it isn't, but as a matter of actual fact as to what would happen, there is little doubt that he would find some way to earn a living.

The American government is trying to break the welfare trend. These people were unemployed. They are now being trained at the taxpayers expense. It may or may not lead to a real job.

Lawrence Davenport: Here we have a vast national welfare system which is diametrically opposed to everything that America believes in. Because America was founded on a work ethic, has practiced a work ethic, and it's said this is what we want everybody to do. An opportunity to hold a job in America.

Friedman: Everyone here has to clock in and do a full days work. It's an attempt to make it seem like a real job.

Lawrence Davenport: We're saying a job is a part of the American way of life and we're going to help you find a job. So that you can get a piece of the pie. You can pay taxes, you can become a part of that American dream.

Friedman: But the dream isn't working. Schemes like this run under the government's Comprehensive Education and Training Act (CETA) have a high drop out rate and many trainees end up back where they began, on welfare.

The men and women who administer CETA and similar programs, the officials of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare are dedicated people. Their motives are good. Their achievements are not.

The results of these programs have been disappointing. Why? I believe that the basic reason is because it is very hard to achieve good objectives through bad means. And the means we have been using are bad in two very different respects.

In the first place, all of these programs involve some people spending other people's money for objectives that are determined by still a third group of people. Nobody spends somebody else's money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody has the same dedication to achieving somebody else's objectives that he displays when he pursues his own.

Beyond this, the programs have a insidious effect on the moral fiber of both the people who administer the programs and the people who are supposedly benefiting from it. For the people who administer it, it instills in them a feeling of almost Godlike power. For the people who are supposedly benefiting it instills a feeling of childlike dependence. Their capacity for personal decision making atrophies. The result is that the programs involved are misuse of money, they do not achieve the objectives which it was their intention to achieve. But far more important than this, they tend to rot away the very fabric that holds a decent society together.

If you think that's overstating the case, look what ATW found when it made a special investigation into the spending of the vast funds it administers.

Public Health Service worker: We just got the plan from the Public Health Service on reducing unnecessary beds.

Friedman: In these reels of tape that record every payment made, every recipient, they found evidence that a staggering $7.5 billion had been lost by fraud, waste and abuse in one year.

Doctors, building contractors, hospitals, schools, welfare recipients, everyone had been fraudulently dipping into the pot. And the investigation isn't over yet.

The inevitable consequence of having a huge pot of taxpayers money is that all of us want to get our hands in it. You can be sure that we'll all be able to find very good reasons why we should be the ones to spend somebody else's money.

Somebody or other put up a good case for spending taxpayers money to subsidize rents in New York City, including the rents of these apartments. The people who occupy these apartments pay something like $200 a month less than the market rent. And that subsidy comes out of the taxes of people, most of whom are much poorer than the people who live here. It's not unusual for this sort of thing to happen when government tries to do good with our money.

Look at what happened in Chicago. For most visitors, the immediate impression is of a rich, prosperous, bustling city. But like every large city in America, it has its problem areas. Over crowded slums breeding poverty and crime.

After WWII, one such area developed in Hyde Park. In the 50's, plans were drawn up to pull down large areas of slum buildings and to rebuild using government funds under an urban renewal program. It was to be a show project replacing a blighted area with an integrated community. Who controlled the spending of that government money? It was in fact, my own University of Chicago which felt it's very existence threatened by the spread of urban blight and crime. Government money was used to tear down an area that contained many small shops as well as families of low income. Once the area was cleared, private money rebuilt it with middle class apartments, townhouses and shopping complexes. The blight had been cleared here, but only to be shifted elsewhere.

Joe Gardner: In may instances, when government administers large grants, a lot of those funds don't wind up directly serving the people and achieving the objectives that were the intent of the programs. Because the grant has too feed that large government bureaucracy.

Friedman: Joe Gardner helped to set up an organization of local black people to protect their own interests. Previously, the blacks had rioted in the streets to try to get their way. Now it was to be done peacefully using government money.

When government funds became available, the Woodlawn Organization got control. They used them to build the kind of houses they wanted. Low rise apartments like these.

The bureaucrats, planners and architects told them that it was uneconomical. That only high-rise blocks would work. They were wrong.

Joe Gardner: A lot of people have this view that, the disadvantaged if you will, have no ideas what their problems are and how to resolve them, that it takes outside professionals to do that. And we say that's baloney because the outside professional does not feel in his gut what a woman on welfare with six kids living off of a $100 a month in a deteriorated building feels. She can come up with solutions much better than a bureaucrat.

Friedman: The intentions of this local community group are good. They want to rebuild the community as the community wants.

Joe Gardner talking to an elderly woman: I can't hear you. I said are you pretty pleased with the work we are doing? Yes I am very pleased with it.

Friedman: But government money always corrupts. Look at the number of people rebuilding this garage. It doesn't make sense except that these are CETA workers paid for by taxpayers money.

Government funds have allowed the organization to take over a whole area of Chicago. They now have their own supermarket.

They've built splendid houses for middle class occupiers. Very expensive, protected by the latest security systems. All at the taxpayers expense.

Joe Gardner: In a sense TWA is rapidly becoming a mini-government. At this particular point we have approximately 400 employees. We have an operating budget of, in excess of $5 million per year. So we are large.

Friedman: Large and expanding. Their next project is to redevelop this site. And that's only the first step in a 20 year plan that will cost $220 million. Most of it coming from the taxpayers.

In the South Bronx, they are very familiar with government protection. Like the rent controls have made it uneconomic for landlords to maintain their buildings. They've moved out and the vandals have moved in. The South Bronx is an area where many of the people are on welfare, and where the crime rate is high. But all this could change. A group of local people has begun to renovate these buildings to build new homes. They call themselves "Sweat Equity." Because at first sweat and effort was all they could put into the project. Only later did they accept a small government grant.

Friedman and Robert Foster: How long ago did you start working on this building? Four months ago for this building right here. And I take it what you are gut the whole thing from beginning to end. Totally gut it. And you'll have to rewire, right, roof, put new walls up, new floors, new ceilings, new everything in winter and summer whenever there was a chance to work. How many people do you have working here? A good 40 people. How do you keep them working? You know, some of them must want to, get tired of it. We show them what can be done in the future and what will be done in the future. And they get, at first, it's kind of hard to prove to somebody that in the next three or four years what will come out of it. They can't see it in long range terms. They only see it in short, they need money right now, not in two years. So we try to show them that it will happen.

Friedman: It's true they now accept some government money. But so far they've managed to retain their original philosophy. That the best way to get something done well is to do it yourself.

Robert Foster: Like what we're doing. We're bringing people out of the street and giving them something to look forward to. They have their own apartment, they'll be taken care of, the area around it, they have a garden, they have something to look forward to. They even get off welfare, you even give them a job. They can drop the welfare and have some self pride. That's the only thing about it, self pride. The longer you take from the government and sitting back, you've got no worries. We're not sitting back, we're working. We're making our money come in. And we are putting it into our building, we're building ourselves up as well as the buildings.

Friedman: Some of these people are CETA workers. Paid for by the taxpayer. But this isn't as useful as it might appear.

You ask these fellows which would they rather have, the CETA workers or the money that's being paid to the CETA workers? Laughter. Which would you rather have?

Robert Foster: The money paid to the workers. Friedman: That's your answer. That's very expensive help. In terms of what these people could use with the money. You give these people the amount of money you're paying to that CETA worker and I'll bet they'll have twice as much, three times as much, work. Am I wrong?

Robert Foster: Your right.

Friedman: So it's a very inefficient way to use their money. The problem is you've got bureaucracy and the government bureaucrats, they want to decide what to do. They don't want to let you decide what to do.

Robert Foster: Exactly.

Friedman: Ask yourself, how does this place get built up in the first place. After all, this was a pretty respectable, solid, substantial region when it was first developed. It wasn't done through a government project. It was done by people individually having an incentive to put up these buildings and occupying them. What these people we've been seeing here are doing is they are trying to restore that feeling and that attitude. You'll have a far healthier community here that grows out of the self-help of people like the people we've been talking to. That it is a paternalistic venture undertaken by governmental civil servants and bureaucrats who have to plan on a large scale for other people.

We must find a way to give everyone caught in the welfare trap the kind of initiative these people have.

The best, or should I say the least bad, solution I have even been able to devise was something called the negative income tax. This is the idea that we should get rid of a large part of the welfare bureaucracy, and for demeaning rules, and we should help people who are poor fundamentally by giving them money.

With a positive income tax, you're entitled to a certain amount of personal exemptions and deductions. And above that amount you pay tax. But suppose you have no income. Under a negative income tax a fraction of your unused exemptions would be paid to you by the government. Guaranteeing at least a minimum income.

If you earned something, you'd still get a fraction of your unused exemptions. And you'd end up better off.

As your earnings rose, the supplement to your income would become smaller and smaller until your earnings equaled your exemptions. At that point, you'd break even. Neither paying tax nor receiving a subsidy.

It's not an ideal system. It's not the system we might have liked to get into, but it's a system which would have the effect of eliminating the separation of a society into those to receive and those who pay. A separation that tends to destroy the whole social fabric. It would mean that we could each of us take advantage of opportunities that opened up without fearing that if by some chance we lost our jobs, it would be a long time before we could get back on assistance. It would be a system that would give all of us an incentive gradually to improve our lives would perhaps enable us, over time, to work ourselves out of the kind of mess we've gotten ourselves into. A mess we've gotten ourselves into for the very best of motives but with the very worst of results.

We've become increasing dependent on government. We've surrendered power to government, nobody has taken it from us. It's our doing. The results, monumental government spending. Much of it wasted, little of it going to the people whom we would like to see helped. Burdensome taxes, high inflation, a welfare system under which neither those who receive help nor those who pay for it are satisfied. Trying to do good with other people's money simply has not worked.


Participants: Robert McKenzie, Moderator; Milton Friedman; James R. Dumpson, Chief Administrator, Human Resources Admin., NYC; Thomas Sowell, Professor of Economics, UCLA; Robert Lampman, Professor of Economics, Institute of Poverty; Helen Bohen O'Bannon, Secretary of Welfare, State of Pennsylvania

MCKENZIE: The discussion's already underway here at the University of Chicago, so let's join it.

DUMPSON: As I looked at the film, I had a growing sense of anger. Anger that that position failed to recognize that the system that was being attacked was necessary in our capitalistic, free enterprise system that by its own failure produces poverty, and therefore requires governmental intervention in the interest of those people caught in the traps of poverty. So, as I sat and looked at the film, and as I hear Dr. Friedman's statement, I was aroused to the point, as I said, of anger because only half the story is told. We are really blaming again a victim, this time a system, the welfare system, for the failure of other systems to operate in the interest of people.

MCKENZIE: Let's get other reactions now to that statement: "Trying to do good with other people's money simply has not worked, the welfare system is rotting away the very fabric of society." Tom Sowell.

SOWELL: My reaction was just the opposite from __ my anger was at what had been created in the city where I grew up, under very different conditions, during the period of capitalistic failure, during the period when there wasn't this humanitarianism, and when it was possible for people to live better and to get out of that poverty. Now, I think someone who lived in the very same place where I lived would find it much harder to escape from that poverty because of all these things. Buildings were not abandoned like the buildings that we saw in that film when I lived in Harlem. The crime rate __ they're all things that are blamed upon the failures of the previous method did not exist. I slept out on the fire escapes in Harlem. I would defy anybody to do that in any part of New York City today.

LAMPMAN: Traditionally in the United States we have tried to avoid some of the welfare trap that was referred to by denying eligibility to people who are able-bodied and not aged and so on. And we've therefore tried to close the welfare door to a good number of categories within the poor population. The second point that was emphasized and I think needs to be put in some perspective is that some, but not all, of what we might call welfare programs broadly, have this very strong take-back of benefits as you earn some more money and that I guess is what I would like to single out as the principal problem identified in the film but it is not common to any and all welfare programs that one might think of.

O'BANNON: When the family fails, when the private sector fails to create jobs at a fast enough rate you find that people are unemployed and drift into needing help in order to exist and the welfare system was created in the '30's to do exactly that. When the private sector, essentially, failed we have the development of a welfare system, and it's not corrupting society, it is taking what society _ institutions have left behind: The family breaking up, the economy not expanding fast enough, the health system failing, the educational system not doing its job. We have untrained, unskilled people looking for jobs in a highly technical society or jobs that pay so low that people cannot in fact live at a decent level of humanity. I see the welfare system not corrupting, but in fact taking the remains and attempting to help people live in dignity.

MCKENZIE: So rotting away the fabric of society is not supported __ except perhaps by you, would you back that phrase or so.

SOWELL: Absolutely. You're saying __ you're talking about the failures of the other parts of society. What the welfare system and other kinds of governmental programs are doing is paying people to fail insofar as they fail they receive the money; insofar as they succeed, even to a moderate extent, the money is taken away. This is even extended into the school systems where they will give money to schools with low scores; insofar as the school improves its education the money is taken away, so that you are subsidizing people to fail in their own private lives and become more dependent upon the handouts.

O'BANNON: We have expectations built in today about the quality of life, the quality of jobs, the level if income for which one expects in return. Why? Because we look at the level around us that it takes us to have __

SOWELL: No, that's not why. That's not why. I may have all sorts of expectations, the question is: What can I do? If someone else is subsidizing my expectations, my expectations would be far higher. But insofar as the Center for Advanced Study was subsidizing my expectations a few years ago, I refused to work at UCLA for the normal full professor's salary. Why should I when I can get the same money for being at the Center for Advanced Study with no hours, no duties and no classes.

MCKENZIE: Let's look at another proposition in Milton's case. The insidious effect on those who receive welfare. They lose their independence and dignity, are treated like children, and so on. Now, Dr. Dumpson, as a former Administrator of a major program, is that a great hazard?

DUMPSON: That is not a great hazard. As a matter of fact, that presumes that people get on welfare, stay on welfare, and therefore have the result that Dr. Friedman's statement issues. The fact of the matter is that in our AFDC program throughout the country and particularly was this true in New York, there is a graduate __ a turnover of the welfare AFDC roles _ about a third of them go off each year. Now, if these people were so destroyed by the system, when they go off they wouldn't go into employment, they wouldn't hold employment, they wouldn't stay off the roles for six months, eighteen months, twenty-four months, as long as they are able to stay off. So, there's something wrong with that argument when one looks at people and what they do. People, you know, who are poor are no different from those of us who are not poor and their motivation for self-dependency, self-support and mobility in the economic scale is no different that those of __ than the motives we have, so that they will not let the system __ you remember, Dr. Friedman, the welfare rights organization who refused to let the system squash them down as it was attempting to do. We turned the policies around.

FRIEDMAN: You and I agree completely, that the people who are poor and are on welfare roles are no different from the rest of us. Of course not. They are human beings and they deserve every sympathy and every possibility of making their own way, but the welfare system makes them different.

DUMPSON: But you give them __

FRIEDMAN: It makes it in their interest to be different.

MCKENZIE: How do you account for them going off the roles, Milton?

FRIEDMAN: Oh, but figures are figures and you've got to be careful with figures. The fact that a third, there's a turnover of a third does not mean that there aren't half who are on all the time. People come on, go off; come on, go off. We've got to have the other figures __

DUMPSON: The latest statistic, Dr. Friedman, is that __

FRIEDMAN: __ fraction __

DUMPSON: __ 34 percent of the people on AFDC are on for five years or longer and when one thinks of the purpose of the AFDC program, which was the rearing and support of children, dependent children, minor children, I would submit to you that five years is not a terribly long time for a mother and children to have to be dependent if there's no other source of income.

O'BANNON: I think the other __ we have a program in Pennsylvania for essentially all of those who are not taken care of by the AFDC program. It's called the General Assistance Program. And there less than 15 percent are on more than eighteen months. So we have a great turnover. We have essentially young males moving into the welfare system after unemployment compensation, and then moving out when a job opportunity comes along. This, you know, I think the notion of generations of people on welfare is a very small minority in the whole system. That doesn't mean that the system as presently defined and as the set of programs that we have put together don't often contradict each other and I'm the first to agree with Dr. Friedman that some of the programs are conflicting. However, I think it is overly broad to say that we turn people into helpless children.

SOWELL: I don't remember talking to anyone who's ever been on welfare who didn't think they were being treated like children while they were on it.

DUMPSON: Of course, I think, you know, you __ one must make a difference, a distinction between a system that was set up to help people and the people who are employed in that system. Look at any public welfare system around the country and we have no, practically few trained people who to work with people. We employ them ill-trained, people who are not equipped to be helping people. We say they're social workers. They're not social workers, they have neither the skills, the attitudes, and some of them not even the concerns; so I think one has to separate how a conceptual framework of a system designed to help people and what the country and community puts into that system to implement those programs.

SOWELL: You mean to separate the hopes from the reality.

DUMPSON: I separate the skills that are available in order to implement what the objectives of the program are. I think we have to separate whether we are talking about program objectives, or we're talking about how it operates. I would be the first to say that the system that I administered had ill-prepared people to do the job that we were set up to do, and I would not say that the system that we set up __

SOWELL: I talked to some social welfare people who think that in fact they were so hamstrung by the system that there was very little they could do to help people to get off welfare; that is to build up skills at jobs, do whatever was necessary to get off welfare. They felt it was the system.

MCKENZIE: Bob Lampman, your comment.

LAMPMAN: The system that we're stereotyping is one of a great deal of paternalistic interference in individual family's lives and in fact isn't it true, Mr. Dumpson, that case load is so high for an individual welfare worker that they can't do a lot of interfering in individual family lives. Moreover, in the last decade there's been a real attempt to ease this welfare trap in AFDC by changing the take-back rate and by administering work expenses and child care expenses in such a way as to facilitate work by those who may want to do it; so it's not quite as harsh a picture as we sometimes get that there is this omniscient welfare worker who's right there in the living room with the family making all their decisions for them.

FRIEDMAN: I've never heard of a government program which was defective in which the people who ran it didn't say, "If only we had more money to spend on what we're not being able to accomplish with the amount we're spending now."

MCKENZIE: Milton, we're going to move along now to some of your prescriptions in that film because I think it's good ground for discussion. The most drastic one was when you said, speaking of an unemployed man, "Supposing you were cruel and took away welfare from this man, he would find a job at some wage, there'd always be a job he could get; he might need some charity on route, private charity, but he would get a job." Now, I want you to react, those of you, before we come back to Milton on that. Is that a picture that seems plausible to you?

DUMPSON: He may get a job, and he may get a job in what we refer to as the underground economy, and that's where a number of our youth are now going to get their jobs. Those activities that are illegal, the only opportunities they have for earning their part of a livelihood.

O'BANNON: I think the other issue is that you have a whole group of people who are the single, female head of the household; and yes, cut off welfare tomorrow: What will they do? What will be their immediate response? At what price to their small children and to their middle-aged children? Yes, they'll get a job, in fact the statistics show that women, in fact, are the most successful through the employment program. But what has to supplement that typically is the provision of some kind of day care arrangement. Either the individual woman has to earn enough money to be able to pay privately for her day care, or in fact, she is quote "subsidized" through this insidious, corrupting program, set of programs, run by the federal government which, in fact, makes her employable and a taxpayer. It's an interesting notion of trying to get people in a productive mode.

MCKENZIE: Tom Sowell.

SOWELL: It's incredible the way you start the story in the middle as if there's a predestined amount of poverty, a predestined amount of unemployment and that the welfare system is not itself in any way responsible for that __

O'BANNON: There is a predestined 20 percent of the bottom half of the population.

SOWELL: I have never __ well, that's always been true __

(Everyone speaking at once)

O'BANNON: There's going to be 20 percent at the bottom.

SOWELL: It's also true that 20 percent of the bottom population doesn't have to be living on the government and ruled by the government. You mentioned, for example, a female head of household. Many of those, in addition to the grown woman who has all the kids, are teenage pregnancies. There's not a predestined amount of teenaged pregnancies. I grew up in an era when people, and particularly blacks, were a lot poorer than today, faced a lot more discrimination than today, and in which teenage pregnancy rate was a lot lower than today. I don't believe there is a predestined amount of teenage pregnancy. A predestined amount of husband desertion. Gutman has done a study of a black family showing that this whole notion that the black family has always been disintegrating, that is nonsense. His studies go up to 1925, the great bulk of black families were intact two-parent families up to 1925 and going all the way back through the era of slavery, so it is now, only within our own time, that we suddenly see this inevitable tragedy which the welfare system says it's going to rush in to solve.

O'BANNON: We're talking to Tom about __

SOWELL: To which it is itself a point __

O'BANNON: We're talking about a very small group. We're talking about twelve percent of the families are not intact. Are not two-parent families at any one period __

SOWELL: Do you mean __ among welfare recipients __


SOWELL: __ or the public at large?

O'BANNON: Among the public at large. We're talking about twelve percent of the families; twelve percent.

SOWELL: That's right.

O'BANNON: That's a small number. But __

SOWELL: We've got to build on welfare.

O'BANNON: We're still talking about a significant component of the bottom twenty percent that are the bottom twenty percent. Whether they are above the poverty line or below the poverty line; they are still the bottom twenty percent. And the issue is: What is the responsibility of the other eighty percent; if any, towards those others?

SOWELL: There's no program plan to eliminate there being a bottom twenty percent?

O'BANNON: No. But it intends to raise the bottom twenty percent so __

SOWELL: We're raising them by having more __ by having more illegitimacy, more unemployment, by having __

O'BANNON: I'm not making them be __ have illegitimate children. I hope that's clear.

SOWELL: Oh, I_I__ you don't have to do that. You simply subsidize it.

FRIEDMAN: We, as human beings, don't have a responsibility; but I hope we have a compassion and an interest in the bottom twenty percent. And I only want to say to you that the capitalist system, the private enterprise system in the 19th century did a far better job of expressing that sense of compassion than the governmental welfare programs are today. The 19th century, the period which people denigrate as the high tide of capitalism was the period of the greatest outpouring of Ella Mosner in charitable activity that the world has ever known. And one of the things I hold against the welfare system, most seriously, is that it has destroyed private charitable arrangements which are far more effective, far more compassionate, far more person-to-person in helping people who are really, for no fault of their own, in disadvantaged situations.

O'BANNON: I have to disagree with you though, because I think that the whole notion of private property was excluded, whole segments of society were excluded from the notion of private property in the 19th century; namely, women, idiots and imbeciles. And so, I don't go back to the 19th century and hold it up as any paragon that we would want to replicate today.

MCKENZIE: Anyway. I want Milton now to come to your major prescription, which I know you don't say is on the agenda for tomorrow, but it lies ahead; that is, the negative income tax. And I'm not sure people fully understand how it would work. We can't, I think, go to the details of it, but I'd like to get a reaction around the panel first of all, is this a viable approach to the enduring problems of poverty? Negative income tax.

LAMPMAN: I think it's a viable approach to some part of the problems of poverty. It involves, first of all, cash payments rather than in kind payments as I understand it? It involves payments on a non-categorical basis.

MCKENZIE: What do you mean non-categorical?

LAMPMAN: That is to say, it doesn't matter whether you're a female-headed family or a male-headed family or whether you're young or old, you're sick or well.

MCKENZIE: If your income falls below a certain level you __

LAMPMAN: Pay some guaranteed income level for people based on family size and then it has a take-back rate which is modest, I suppose, by definition. Now, the question is: How many things you want to use that program to replace? How many things you want to replace with such a negative income tax program.

MCKENZIE: Would you replace everything with it __ just __ we clear that point up. Would you virtually wipe out the remaining forms of welfare if you got this program going?

FRIEDMAN: Yes, I would not __ I think its purpose is precisely to provide a transition between where we are now and where we would like to go because while __ because I agree with you, that given that we've corrupted the people on welfare and gotten them on there. We do have an obligation not to throw them out in the street and put them in the difficult adjustment you've made. We've got to ease the __

MCKENZIE: Yeah. Okay. Right.

FRIEDMAN: __ ease it off __

MCKENZIE: Sure. Yeah.

FRIEDMAN: __ and so __ but I would want to replace all __

MCKENZIE: Yeah. Okay.

FRIEDMAN: __ present welfare programs.

MCKENZIE: Let's get reactions to this and then we'll come back to you.

SOWELL: Well, I saw some figures recently which said that if you took all the money spent on poverty in the United States and divided it by all the poverty families you'd come out with a figure of $32,000 per family. Now, the average poverty family is apparently not getting the $32,000 and so clearly someone in between the treasury and those families is getting an awful lot of that money and I think if you simply eliminated the middle man, as they say in the commercials, that there'd be an awful lot of benefit both to the poor and to the taxpayers.

DUMPSON: I'm supportive of the negative income tax concept and the objective of it. I'd like to point out, however, that administratively we have another bureaucracy set up. Somebody has to take into account earnings. Someone has to decide when to pay back that which they're entitled to. There's a time lag between the paying back __ the earning and the paying back. There are a variety of problems in there that I will be prepared to accept but I want you to know that government intervention is not going to be eliminated.

O'BANNON: The issue that I have is: Where do children come in? What are their rights under a negative income tax? And are we, by building in a negative income tax, in fact subsidizing the illegitimacy that Tom Sowell is so concerned about?

FRIEDMAN: The major reason it is not feasible today to have a negative income tax is because the present welfare bureaucracy would be out of work. They are the major objectors and as Senator Pat __ he's now a senator, Pat Moynihan demonstrated in his book on the Nixon program, the chief obstacle to getting it enacted was the welfare bureaucracy. So that I don't believe these administrative problems, if you got it enacted, would be at all serious.

O'BANNON: I think the other assumption under the negative income tax, and it's one that I'm not sure I can buy, is that everybody has a minimum level of understanding about how to spend money. In other words, how to use the marketplace to satisfy wishes. And I, as an economist, would say, yes, we do. We __ everybody from age four to a hundred knows how to use money to satisfy wants and that's the __

FRIEDMAN: But they don't. They don't. There are all sorts of problems of people who are not going to be able to. But that's a minority problem. That's a problem for private activity and private charity. One thing is sure: They're spending __ they would be spending their own money and that however knowledgeable you are about money __

O'BANNON: They would be spending my money.

FRIEDMAN: They would be spending my money, but it would be one stage less then. Right now, the welfare worker is spending Mr. A's money to help Mr. C. And there's a big takeoff in the middle as Tom Sowell said.

SOWELL: The question is not whether the people on welfare or low incomes can all spend their money effectively; the question is: How effectively do they spend it as compared to how effectively the bureaucrats spend it for them. Comparing anything to perfection or to some arbitrary standard settles nothing. The same thing is true in the education area. They're saying "Would families be able to spend their __ select schools for their kids under a voucher system," for example. Well, the question is: Could they possibly do much worse than the current bureaucrats are doing in the public school system.


MCKENZIE: We've run on education on another program. Bob Lampman.


LAMPMAN: I want to quibble with something you said, Tom, about half of the money not going to the poor or something. That doesn't __ shouldn't leave the viewer to think that all the money is going to the administrators of programs. A lot of what you are talking about goes to non-poor recipients. For example, social security, as a program, pays a roughly half of its benefits to people who otherwise would not be poor. Unemployment insurance pays about two-thirds of its benefits or so to non-poor persons. And those are, in some definitions, welfare or anti-poverty programs and that's how statisticians come up with this horrendous sounding discrepancy between the total amount of money spent and the total cash benefits that go to the poor.

SOWELL: Well, I think, I think it's a perfectly valid point though, because supposedly we were not setting up unemployment benefits and social security in order to keep the affluent.

LAMPMAN: Well, this goes back to its big philosophy, debate we might have. I think that it's easy to oversimplify things and say that all these programs, including the public schools are there to be a help to the poor and poor only.

FRIEDMAN: Yeah, but I was saying __

LAMPMAN: But let me mention that the negative income tax has some of its impetus in that it would be a way of confining benefit payments to people who are __

SOWELL: Yes. Yes.

LAMPMAN: __ and it would cut out benefits for an awful lot of people who now have expectations that they're going to get them, not in the form of public assistance, but in the form of social insurance as we use the term.

SOWELL: Well, in order to be made for not disappointing the expectations on which people have built their lives for one generation, but not of continuing for eternity in order to avoid one generation of transition.

MCKENZIE: What are the other hurdles toward getting underway. Now, you said, I don't know how seriously, the biggest almost the only hurdle is the welfare bureaucracy.

FRIEDMAN: No. Now, there'd be the biggest immediate group of lobbyists that will lobby against it.


FRIEDMAN: The biggest hurdle in getting it over at the moment is that there is no way of constructing a sensible negative income tax system that will not hurt some people. There will be some people who will get less money than they are now getting under __ particularly those in the upper income groups. Particularly the affluent who are now being subsidized by the welfare and they, will make it politically difficult for the people to put it into effect. The attempt is to put a negative income tax in effect which costs less money, is easier to administer, and yet which doesn't pay anybody in the society one dollar less than he's now getting. There's no way in which you can construct such a program. But, although it's not politically feasible now, the force of history is on its side, it's going to become political __

MCKENZIE: Dr. James Dumpson.

DUMPSON: Let's not say that the __ give the impression that welfare administrators were against negative income tax, the fat program for example, as Moynihan says, because they would lose their jobs, for example. Many of us were opposed to it because of certain features in that program: A $24 __ $2,400 level for a family of four. We were opposed to that. And if one goes down the Congressional record, those who testified, will be shown to be saying, "Yes, we're for it conceptually. But we're against this piece and this piece, if you change that you'll have our support."

FRIEDMAN: I was in the same position. I first proposed the negative income tax twenty-five years ago but I testified against the final version of the Nixon plan. Why? Because the welfare bureaucrats had led them to introduce changes in it which converted it from a decent satisfactory negative income tax to one which would have been just as bad as what you have now. Would have been added on top of everything else.

O'BANNON: Cold reality.

FRIEDMAN: It's political reality __

O'BANNON: That's right.

FRIEDMAN: __ but political reality changes and that's the important thing. I want to say one more thing about this, this whole problem that we've been talking about. And that is, going back to Bob Lampman's comment, there is one thing that can be said in favor on the welfare program. Unaccustomed as I am to saying anything in favor of it; and that is, that it is the only social program I know of which at least, on the average, give money to people who are in lower income classes than those who pay the taxes. Every other welfare program, not only does a lot of money go to the people who are well off, but on the average the poor are taxed and the well-to-do are subsidized. We in the upper income classes have been very clever at conning the poor suckers at the bottom to pay us nice salaries as bureaucrats and to provide us with nice benefits at their expense, and at least the welfare program doesn't do that.

MCKENZIE: And you stated with great confidence that it will come, the negative income tax, even though you recognize the hurdles. Why are you so sure it will come?

FRIEDMAN: Because the present system has within it the seeds of its own destruction. There is no way in which a system constructed like the present, in my opinion, can avoid creating more and more social problems, and something is going to have to be done. Nobody has proposed any alternative, so far as I know, there is no effective alternative to the negative income tax and so it gets knocked down and it keeps rising, it gets knocked down and it keeps rising.

MCKENZIE: He finally raised the question though whether in any modern industrial democracy like this one it's conceivable system to be run without fairly elaborate welfare underpinning of some kind. What do you feel?

O'BANNON: I don't think it can be because I think essentially the welfare __ set of welfare programs reflect the values of this society that if it didn't there would have been revolt long before now. Yes, there are rumblings about its cost, and I think that's primarily a function of rapid rates of inflation eroding real income earning power of the middle-class taxpayer, but I think on one level we wanted to give up the responsibility of caring, the responsibility of day-to-day actual caring and in a technical, modern, industrial society like we have the tax system and the government system is probably __ is a viable alternative. I don't think we're going to get out of it. I don't think you're going to see private charities who can take my money that I'm free to give, or not give, and essentially make a difference in people's lives of any substance on any level.

SOWELL: I don't think it has anything to do with the society being modern, technological or industrial, it has to do with an ideology and particularly an ideology that is very strong among academic intellectuals or in the media, and I think that as time goes on and more and more intelligent ideas replace the kinds of vague visions that dominate today, that the political climate will change and that's the only thing that stands in the way of reform right now.

MCKENZIE: Jim Dumpson.

DUMPSON: I don't think you're going to get rid of the system but I'm interested __ welfare system, I'm interested in Tom's last statement about academicians and theories and so forth, we forgot that we're talking about people and we may sit in the ivory tower and talk about whether this system will work and either logically or illogically why it won't work, at the same time there are masses of people outside who are locked out of the system that you and I are part of and somehow we've got to make sure those people are taken care of and the short of not doing it, of course, means that your safety and my safety and the vitality of this government and of our country is at stake. The Mayor of the city of New York asked me, when we had a strike, what would I do if I couldn't get checks out to people when our workers were on strike and I said to him, "After the first month _ chaos." And he said, "What do you mean?" I said, "No man or woman in this city of New York, you included Mr. Mayor, will be safe if we cannot take care of people..."

MCKENZIE: We leave this discussion and hope you'll join us for the next episode of Free To Choose.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Government
KEYWORDS: biggovernment; freetochoose; friedman; miltonfriedman; nannystate; socialism; sowell; welfare; welfarestate
Transcript of 4th episode in Milton Friedman's landmark 1980 PBS series.

Featuring a VERY young Thomas Sowell.

1 posted on 07/20/2006 12:51:51 PM PDT by Choose Ye This Day
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To: Christian4Bush; true_blue_texican; Zon; Nicholas Conradin; steelyourfaith; jasoncann; ...

"Free to Choose" PING.

(If anyone else would like to be pinged for the next 6 episodes, let me know.)

2 posted on 07/20/2006 12:52:44 PM PDT by Choose Ye This Day (Why does our government "of the people" do things the people don't want--overtax & overregulate us?)
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To: Choose Ye This Day


3 posted on 07/20/2006 12:54:45 PM PDT by Gay State Conservative
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To: Choose Ye This Day
"Trying to do good with other people's money simply has not worked, the welfare system is rotting away the very fabric of society."

Amen to that.

4 posted on 07/20/2006 12:55:59 PM PDT by Choose Ye This Day (Why does our government "of the people" do things the people don't want--overtax & overregulate us?)
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To: Choose Ye This Day

Episode can be viewed here:

5 posted on 07/20/2006 1:33:38 PM PDT by Choose Ye This Day (Why does our government "of the people" do things the people don't want--overtax & overregulate us?)
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To: Choose Ye This Day

I love Prof. Sowell's exchange with the Pennsylvania Welfare Czarette about the bottom 20% of society:

SOWELL: There's no program plan to eliminate there being a bottom twenty percent?

O'BANNON: No. But it intends to raise the bottom twenty percent so--

SOWELL: We're raising them by having more--by having more illegitimacy, more unemployment, by having--

O'BANNON: I'm not making them be--have illegitimate children. I hope that's clear.

SOWELL: Oh, I, I--you don't have to do that. You simply subsidize it.

6 posted on 07/20/2006 1:38:08 PM PDT by Choose Ye This Day (Why does our government "of the people" do things the people don't want--overtax & overregulate us?)
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To: Choose Ye This Day

Reading all that gives one an appreciation for editors.

7 posted on 07/20/2006 1:59:37 PM PDT by Old Professer (The critic writes with rapier pen, dips it twice, and writes again.)
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To: Choose Ye This Day

O'BANNON: When the family fails, when the private sector fails to create jobs at a fast enough rate you find that people are unemployed and drift into needing help in order to exist and the welfare system was created in the '30's to do exactly that. When the private sector, essentially, failed we have the development of a welfare system, and it's not corrupting society, it is taking what society _ institutions have left behind: The family breaking up, the economy not expanding fast enough, the health system failing, the educational system not doing its job. We have untrained, unskilled people looking for jobs in a highly technical society or jobs that pay so low that people cannot in fact live at a decent level of humanity. I see the welfare system not corrupting, but in fact taking the remains and attempting to help people live in dignity.

Again, the mantra of modern Liberalism - It's America's fault. These people on welfare are victims. We have a duty to provide for them however long.

Give me a break. Modern Liberalism essentially has created a class of people who hard-working tax payers pay to stay home, who are subsidized for life. There is no incentive for these people to better their lot, to work, to provide for their families when the system takes care of their every need.

Where does the gov'ts responsiblity end and personal responsibility take over. I was under the belief that the US had defeated Communism.

8 posted on 07/20/2006 2:24:40 PM PDT by Daytyn71 (Today's Illegals are Tomorrow's Democrats!!!)
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To: Daytyn71

Defeated Communism?

Nah, we haven't defeated Communists. We've given them tenure.

9 posted on 07/20/2006 2:38:42 PM PDT by Choose Ye This Day (Why does our government "of the people" do things the people don't want--overtax & overregulate us?)
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To: 2ndreconmarine; Alissa; arthurus; balrog666; beyond the sea; BraveMan; brf1; Brian Allen; bubman; ..
Thomas Sowell *PING*

FRmail me if you want on or off the Thomas Sowell Ping List.

10 posted on 07/20/2006 3:17:06 PM PDT by Gordongekko909 (I know. Let's cut his WHOLE BODY off.)
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To: Choose Ye This Day; Gordongekko909
Featuring a VERY young Thomas Sowell.
I followed the Free to Choose series assiduously back then. We didn't have FR or talk radio, and conservatives were isolated and made to feel like kooks because our views simply were not represented in the media.

They certainly isolated Thomas Sowell back then, too. I believe that I first learned of his existence by seeing him on Free to Choose. At any rate, about then I started reading his books, and got the library to get his earlier books for me on interlibrary loan.

Sigh . . . back in the Carter Administration, when things were going to heck in a handbasket. And then came Reagan. If only Reagan had nominated Thomas Sowell to SCOTUS instead of Sandra Day O'Connor . . .

11 posted on 07/20/2006 4:37:41 PM PDT by conservatism_IS_compassion (The idea around which liberalism coheres is that NOTHING actually matters except PR.)
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To: Choose Ye This Day
THANK YOU for posting this!

Free to Choose has to be just about the clearest defense of free market principles there's ever been!

The Sowell retort is priceless. It reminds me of this discussion of , the Good Samaritan's Paradox

which reminds me of Ronald Reagan's immortal words: The ten scariest words in the English language are 'I'm from the federal (Pennsylvania?) government and I'm here to help.'
12 posted on 07/20/2006 5:37:31 PM PDT by mjolnir ("All great change in America begins at the dinner table.")
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