Milton Friedman: What’s Wrong with Welfare?

Published December 17, 2012

In this video, Nobel-Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman examines the modern welfare state and discusses why it doesn’t work in the long run. As we’re now seeing, the long run appears to be catching up with America.

Friedman outlines in detail — in a lecture at the University of Rochester in 1980 — how the modern welfare state is, in essence, the imposition of the aims and interests of the “elite” over the natural needs and desires of the “ordinary man.”

Friedman predicted more than 30 years ago that the welfare states of Europe would eventually collapse, and we are seeing that today.

But the defenders of the welfare state say: Government welfare is the public expression of compassion? How could that be bad? How could such noble objectives by government result in such disappointing results?

Friedman rebuts: Using government to achieve these objectives involves using other people’s money, taken by force — and that is a fatal flaw that leads to “fiscal catastrophe.” In a sentence: “The badness of means will corrupt the goodness of objectives.” You want to be sure to pay attention to the inevitable government “rent-seeking” section at around the halfway mark, though Friedman doesn’t use that term. It hadn’t yet entered our common lexicon.

In a welfare state, Friedman says, we all lose freedom — and we lose much of it without realizing what we’ve lost until it’s too late. Friedman makes obvious in this brilliant lecture that individual liberty, broad economic freedom, and less government is to be desired if one aims to improve the “national welfare.”

The video lasts an hour — and you could hardly spend an hour more valuably. Please leave any of your thoughts on this excellent lecture in the comments below. Sign in via Facebook for easy commenting.