Tonight St. Louis TV Channel 9-3, one of the set of PBS channels now available, will run an update of the free-market propaganda series, Free to Choose, created by Chicago School economist and Nobel prize winner, Milton Friedman and his wife Rose in the 1980s. According to tonight’s program description, Cato Institute scholar, Johan Norberg, will attempt to interpret recent events such as economic globalization and the 2008 financial crises from the point of view of Friedman’s radical free market ideology.
In case you think I’m up in arms about this program given its conservative economic bias, I most emphatically am not. Anyone who would watch a program on economic theory at 7:00 p.m. on a lovely labor day weekend, is either already a true believer or more than capable of evaluating the content all by themselves. I intend to watch because I expect I will enjoy parsing the claims Norberg will put forward and I wish more people would do the same. The only unregulated markeplace I do unequivocally approve of is the one referred to (ad nauseaum perhaps) as the marketplace of ideas, and I assume that that is where this program will be located.
What I am doing, though, is asking if there is any parallel effort to present popular expositions of other economic theories that perhaps counter the free-market religion that Friedman promulgated in his later years, and that his acolytes, such as Norberg, continue to promote. To illustrate how overdue such an effort is, some time ago, I put up on this blog a short YouTube video in which random folks attending a political rally are asked if the president is a Keynesian. To a person, they all protested that no, indeed, the president was certainly born in the U.S.!
I do wonder, of course, if there will be any effort to demonstrate balance in this program? Friedman was a great economist whose mathematical approach to the behavior of consumers rightly earned him his Nobel. But as Paul Krugman, also a Nobel prize winner, observes (in an essay that has driven several on the right to apoplexy) that:
There was Friedman the economist’s economist, who wrote technical, more or less apolitical analyses of consumer behavior and inflation. There was Friedman the policy entrepreneur, who spent decades campaigning on behalf of the policy known as monetarism-finally seeing the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England adopt his doctrine at the end of the 1970s, only to abandon it as unworkable a few years later. Finally, there was Friedman the ideologue, the great popularizer of free-market doctrine.
On the topic of these diverse aspects of the economist, he adds:
… there’s an important difference between the rigor of his work as a professional economist and the looser, sometimes questionable logic of his pronouncements as a public intellectual. While Friedman’s theoretical work is universally admired by professional economists, there’s much more ambivalence about his policy pronouncements and especially his popularizing. And it must be said that there were some serious questions about his intellectual honesty when he was speaking to the mass public.
I haven’t seen tonight’s program yet, but, given the little I know about Norberg, I doubt that there will be much balance in the presentation. I am sure that the distinctions that Krugman makes will probably be ignored. I may be pleasantly surprised, but whether I am or not, I would just love to learn that there is a good popular explanation of Keynes’ theories out there that could also be broadcast, a corrective to the Friedmanesque ideology with which we are now saturated. If it exists, please let me know, but if it doesn’t, isn’t there some foundation or something somewhere that could address the need to present economic education, from all points of view, in a popular, easily accessible format?