Milton Friedman Speaks: Free Trade: Producer vs Consumer (B1232) – Full Video

Milton Friedman Speaks: Free Trade: Producer vs Consumer (B1232) – Full Video


Music Reality – captured in user friendly symbols and processed for understanding. Music The Idea Channel There’s a standard cliche which I am sure you have all heard, that if you have two economists in one room you are bound to have at least three opinions. (Laughter) The subject I am going to talk about today, however, is one subject with respect to which that is not true. With respect to the area of international trade, with respect to the question of whether it is desirable for a country to have free trade or to have tariffs and other restrictions on imports and exports, in that particular area economists have spoken with almost one voice for some two hundred years. Ever since the father of modern economics, Adam Smith, published his great book, The Wealth of Nations, in 1776, the same year in which the Declaration of Independence was issued in this country; ever since then the economics profession has been almost unanimous on the subject of the desirability of free trade. Of course, complete unanimity is hardly ever possible, and every once in a while there have been some deviations from the straight and narrow path. Almost always those deviations have reflected not a disagreement with the fundamental message of Adam Smith, not a disagreement that in the good world free trade would be the best of all possible courses, but they have tended to reflect special circumstances of the time. Perhaps the most famous such deviation was by the most noted and some would say notorious of the modern economists, John Maynard Keynes, the English economist who gave his name to the Keynesian Revolution. In 1931 in the course of the depression, John Maynard Keynes who had been a free trader all his life came out in some articles in Britain in favor of departing from free trade and of introducing tariffs. He did so not because he thought that was in and of itself the best policy, but because he thought that the best policy was politically unfeasible. In his view, the right policy for Britain at that time was to go off the gold standard, end a fixed exchange rate, allow the pound sterling to be a free market currency whose price would be determined in the market, as it now is, of course, in a world of floating exchange rates today. But Keynes, an economist, made the political judgment that it was not politically feasible for Britain to go off the gold standard. Tariffs are a step…are an alternative to devaluation. After all, it comes roughly to the same thing. If, on the one hand, the price of the pound sterling was changed from the four dollars and eighty some cents, which then was the price, to let’s say four dollars, that would make British goods cheaper to foreigners; it would make foreign goods more expensive to Britain’s, and in that way, it would redress the problem of the balance of payments they were facing. That’s one way to do it and the best way. But he thought that was politically unfeasible and it comes to the same thing, to introduce a tariff on imports and a subsidy to exports. That’s an indirect and concealed form of devaluation. And so Keynes came out for that concealed form. His political judgment was like that of many economists, flawed. And about three weeks after he came out for a tariff on these grounds, Britain went off the gold standard. I may say that this is not an isolated story. Time and again, economists in my opinion have erred when they have proposed second best solutions in the area where they are experts, namely economics, because of predictions they make about political feasibility in an area where they are not experts. At any rate, Keynes had a very flexible mind, and one week after Britain went off the gold standard- he retracted his support for tariffs. He published an article saying, now that we have gone off the gold standard, there’s no longer any point to tariffs; I return to my free trade principles. But later, when he retracted…when he reprinted that retraction in a book of essays, he appended a footnote, which is a very revealing footnote because it shows how much damage can be done by the tendency for people to preach the second-best solutions. He said in his footnote, and I quote, “Not all my free trade friends proved to be as prejudiced as I had thought, for after a tariff was no longer necessary many of them were found voting for it.” In other words, it’s often easier to turn people in the wrong direction- than it is to reverse that and get them back on the right line. Now, it’s often argued that the reason we have bad economic policy is because the experts disagree; that if only the experts would agree, if only all economists were of the same mind, then we would have an excellent and fine economic policy. The case of free trade and the tariff is a clear counter-example. Here is one case where economists have all agreed, or essentially so. As I say, you have the very minor deviations like Keynes, but very few others. And yet, except for the case of Great Britain from the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 to the First World War when, for nearly a century, Britain had complete free trade with no tariffs whatsoever on anything, except for that case tariffs have been widespread. The United States had tariffs throughout the nineteenth century. In 1929, one of these measures, the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff Bill, which raised tariffs sharply, has been given some of the responsibility for the subsequent difficulties in the United States and the world. Today, we have a widespread move for protection: pressures from the steel industry, I am sorry to say successful, to have the government take measures to restrict the imports of steel; so-called voluntary agreements to restrict the imports of TV sets from Japan, and of textiles from Hong Kong and Korea, and I know not where else…and of shoes from Italy. We have a growing pressure for quotas on imports of oil and of other products. We have widespread concern that somehow or other a weakening dollar, the decline in the price of the dollar in terms of the mark or in terms of the Swiss franc or the yen, that a weakening dollar in that respect, requires the government to impose restrictions on imports or to subsidize exports. And the interesting question, and the question I want to explore with you today, is why is it that protection… interference with international trade has been so widespread, despite the almost uniform condemnation of such measures by economists? Why is it that you have the professional agreement on the one side, and observe practice on the other, which departs so sharply from that agreement? The political reason is fairly straightforward. The political reason is that the interests that press for protection are concentrated. The people who are harmed by protection are spread and diffused. Indeed the very language shows the political pressure. We call a tariff a protective measure. It does protect; it protects the consumer very well against one thing. It protects the consumer against low prices. And yet we call it protection. Each of us tends to produce a single product. We tend to buy a thousand and one products. If we impose a tariff on steel, or restrict imports of steel in other ways, the people who benefit are visible and clear and available and apparent. They have a very strong interest to press for restraints in that respect. The interests of the rest of us is very diffuse. Each of us will pay a few pennies more. We don’t have the same interest to oppose it. If I may take a much more extreme case which you may think does not come under the heading of protection, but yet it does. We have a program of subsidizing the merchant marine, the maritime industry. That is really protection because what we are doing is taking measures to prevent the use of foreign ships, that is, of importing the services of transporting goods. Those measures to benefit the merchant marine through shipbuilding subsidies, through operating subsidies and so on, involve a total expenditure each year of roughly $600 million. That amounts to about $15,000 per year for each of the 25,000 people who is affected. You may be sure that they have every incentive to spend a lot of money on lobbying, on giving contributions to political candidates, and so on to see that continued. But $600 million with a population of two hundred million people, that’s three dollars apiece for each of us. Which one of us is going to go to Washington and lobby our congressman to avoid that extra three dollars of taxes? However, while on a superficial level, it’s very easy to see why we have had tariffs and other restrictive measures such as the maritime subsidies, such as the recent import quotas, because producer interest is concentrated and consumer interest is diffused, that alone is not really a fully satisfactory answer. Let me take another example of exactly the same thing. Why have we had price supports of farm products–to take up a subject of special interest here, and where there are special interests here concerned with that. We’re all of us special interests; it’s only the other fellow who’s a special interest. Why have we had farm price supports? It’s exactly the same argument. Farm price supports are again a measure that you will find it very, very hard to find any economists, except a small number of agricultural economists, schools in farm belt you will find it very hard to find any economist who will support farm price supports. They are another case in which the consumer is simply being protected against low prices. Why do we have them? Because the agricultural interest has been concentrated and the consumer interest diffused and widespread. Because you have a relatively small group of people who regard themselves as having much at stake and therefore they are able to be more effective politically than the diffused consumer interest. We often think that this is a country in which we have majority rule. That’s true, it is a democracy. We do elect people to congress. We do have majority rule. But it is a very special kind of majority. It’s a majority that is formed by a coalition of minorities. If you want to get elected to congress the way to do it is to find 3 percent of the people who will say to you, “If you vote for this, we’ll vote for you whatever else you do.” Then you find another 3 percent and another 3 percent, and you build up a 51 percent majority consisting of a coalition of special interests. And yet, that overstates the case. Because it’s also true that special concentrated groups of that kind have never been able to get their way, unless they could make a plausible case that it was in the general interest of the country as a whole to promote their special interest. The mercantile interest could not have gotten their way unless they had been able to persuade at least a large fraction of the public that there was a genuine national security reason for maintaining a merchant marine. The agricultural interest, the farm price support proponents could never have gotten their way unless they had been able to establish a case that appeared plausible to a large fraction of the people that there was a national interest in preserving a family farm, or in some other aspect of agriculture. So the question in some ways- if we go below this superficial level to a deeper level, the question is: why is it that the economists have not been able to persuade the public of the virtues of a free trade policy? After all, the argument for free trade is basically a very, very simple argument. Let me give you the argument which Adam Smith made two hundred years ago. It’s as persuasive now as it was then. And I quote, “In every country it always is and must be in the interest of the great body of the people to buy whatever they want of those who sell it cheapest. The proposition is so very manifest that it seems ridiculous to take any pains to prove it. Nor could it ever have been called in question had not the interested sophistry of merchants and manufacturers confounded the common sense of mankind. Their interest is in this respect, directly opposite to that of the great body of the people.” That was the argument as he put it two hundred years ago. And there is very little that needs to be added to it. The basic reason I believe why economists have not been able to persuade the public is the one that I have already alluded to. It is suggested by the title of a famous essay, which was written many years ago by a great economist, Wesley Mitchell. The title of his essay was “The Backward Art of Spending Money.” And he asked, “Why is it that we are all of us so sophisticated about the activities in which we earn our living and tend to be so unsophisticated and backwards in the ways in which we spend our money?” And his answer was the one I have already mentioned: that each of us tends to be involved generally in only one kind of productive activity. We spend our working life, forty hours a week or sixty hours a week, whatever it may be, as a worker producing a product, as a merchant distributing a good, as a professor–well, forty hours a week teaching is a little long, but we’re supposed to be putting in some time on related ancillary activities…and most of us do. On the other hand, we each of us buy a thousand and one things, and it’s perfectly understandable therefore that we devote far more attention and far more interest to the way we get our income than to the measures that affect how we spend it. But unfortunately, this backward art of spending money leads to erroneous views in many directions and not only in the area of the tariff and of protection. For example, public discourse tends to be carried out in terms of jobs as if a great objective was to create jobs. Now that’s not our objective at all. There’s no problem about creating jobs. You can create any number of jobs in having people dig holes and fill them up again. Do we want jobs like that? No. Jobs are a price; we have to work to live, whereas if you listen to the terminology you would think that we live to work. Now some of us do. There are workaholics, as there are alcoholics, and some of us do live to work. But in the main what we want are not jobs; we want productive jobs. We want jobs which will enable us to produce the goods and services we consume at a minimum expenditure of effort. In a way, the appropriate national objective is to have the fewest possible jobs, that is to say, the least amount of work for the greatest amount of product. In the international trade area, the language is almost always about how we must export and what’s really good is an industry that produces exports. If we buy from abroad and import, that’s bad. But surely that’s just upside down as well. What we send abroad we can’t eat, we can’t wear, we can’t use for our houses. The goods and services we send abroad are goods and services not available to us. On the other hand, the goods and services we import, they provide us with TV sets we can watch, with automobiles we can drive, with all sorts of nice things for us to use. The gain from foreign trade is what we import. What we export is the cost of getting those imports. And the proper objective for a nation, as Adam Smith put it, is to arrange things so we get as large a volume of imports as possible for as small a volume of exports as possible. This carries over to the terminology we use. I have already referred to the misleading terminology of protection. But when people talk about a favorable balance of trade, what is that term taken to mean? It’s taken to mean that we export more than we import. But from the point of view of our well-being that’s an unfavorable balance. That means we are sending out more goods and getting fewer in. Each of you in your private household would know better than that. You don’t regard it as a favorable balance when you have to send out more goods to get less coming in. It’s favorable when you can get more by sending out less. This tendency to concentrate on the productive side of our lives and to neglect the side of consumption is reinforced by the fact that even for the productive side of our lives the visible effects of tariffs are good; the invisible effects of tariffs are bad, even on the productive side. I have already referred to the steel case. It’s perfectly clear that if you restrict the imports of steel, there are some workers in the steel industry who will have jobs they otherwise would not have. The beneficial effects for them of a tariff is perfectly clear. But if we import less steel, foreigners earn fewer dollars. They have fewer dollars to spend in this country. There are people around the country who will not have jobs, not have productive jobs because exports do not develop. I should not have to spell this out in great detail here in Kansas. This is a great agricultural state. Agricultural products are one of our major exports. The harmful effects of steel imports are to reduce jobs in agriculture. But that’s invisible. The people who might have been producing goods to sell abroad don’t know they might have had that job, so out of sight, out of mind. And as a result, on both the side of consumption and the side of producers you have the concentrated special interests versus the diffused general interests. But then you will say to me, what’s wrong with all these fine arguments I hear? What’s wrong with the arguments by George Meany at the AFL-CIO convention: that the high-wage American workers are being unfairly competed against by the low-wage foreign workers; that we have to protect our American workers and their standard of living from the competition of foreigners in Japan, or Korea, or somewhere else who are willing to work for much less than the American worker? What’s wrong with that argument? Well in the first place, what does a high wage and a low wage mean? The Japanese worker is paid in yen; the American worker is paid in dollars. How do I know how many dollars equal how many yen? Let me go at this a little more indirectly. You can see the fallacy in this argument I think most clearly by taking a very, very extreme case. Let’s take the most extreme case of all. Let’s suppose that at the existing exchange rate, whatever it is, Japan, to take the example which is a favorite “whipping boy,” could undersell us in everything, that the Japanese can produce whatever you name across the board- from wheat and soybeans, to television sets and automobiles more cheaply than we can. And let’s see what would happen. We’d rush to buy them. The Japanese sellers would be paid for them in dollars. What would they do with the dollars? Nothing for them to buy in the United States, because by assumption everything is cheaper in Japan. What then would they do with the dollars? If they would be willing to burn them up or to bury them in the Pacific Ocean, ah, that would be wonderful. After all, there is no product we can produce more cheaply than green pieces of paper. (Laughter and applause) But of course, the Japanese are not going to do that. They are not going to work and produce goods and send them over here in order to get pieces of paper which they are going to burn up. They want to get goods and services and when they discover that there are no American goods and services that are cheaper than those in Japan, they will say, “Well, gee, I had better convert these dollars back into yen.” But who is going to sell them yen? Why would anybody sell them yen? Because if I have yen I can buy the Japanese goods, by assumption, more cheaply, so nobody would be willing to sell yen. Let’s suppose, to begin with, that the rate of exchange between the dollar and the yen was, as it was for a long time, 360 yen to the dollar or one dollar would buy 360 yen. Well then these people who had all these dollars that were useless to them would say, “If you’ll sell me some yen, I’ll give you a dollar for 300 yen.” “No,” says the owner of the yen, “even at 300 yen to the dollar American goods are too expensive. They’re not worth it.” “Okay, I’ll give you a dollar for 200 yen.” And you can see what would happen. The price of the yen would be bid up until what? Well, the fewer yen you get for a dollar, the more expensive Japanese goods are to Americans. The more dollars you get for a yen, the cheaper American goods are to Japanese. And so the effect of this would have to be the yen would rise in price until it was no longer true that all U.S. goods were more expensive than all Japanese goods. Because as the yen became more expensive, Japanese goods would become more expensive to U.S. citizens in dollars and American goods would become cheaper to Japanese in yen. And that would continue until roughly on the average the dollar value of the goods that the Japanese would buy in the United States would be roughly equal to the dollar value of the goods that the U.S. would sell. And at that point, the price of the yen in terms of the dollar would be at an appropriate level. Now I’ve simplified the story because over and above these bilateral transactions between the United States and Japan, of course, these flows of trade will take roundabout directions. The Japanese will spend some of their dollars in Brazil, and the Brazilians in turn will spend their dollars in the U.S., and the dollars may flow in very roundabout circles. But the principle is the same. People want dollars not in order to have pieces of paper but in order to have U.S. or other goods. And again, the actual situation is complicated by the fact that in addition to the flows of goods and services, there are also capital flows, also investments abroad. The United States throughout the nineteenth century, throughout the period when we were building up and getting to be the economically most developed country in the world, the United States had a balance of payments trade deficit every single year almost. Why? Because the U.S. was a country in which foreigners wanted to invest capital. The British were producing goods and sending them over to us in return for pieces of paper, not those green pieces of paper but different pieces of paper, bonds, promising to pay back a sum of money at a later time plus interest on it. And the British regarded that as a good investment, and they regarded it therefore as worth their while to send us goods in order to get those pieces of paper. There was nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, we benefited by having foreign investment here that enabled us to develop more rapidly, and the British benefited by getting a higher yield on their savings than they could have gotten any other way. In the twentieth century that was reversed. We had what was called a favorable balance of trade because the U.S. citizens were finding that they could get a higher return for their money by investing abroad than they could at home, and as a result we were sending goods abroad in return for those pieces of paper. Again, in the post-World War II world under American foreign aid and Marshall Plan programs we were making gifts abroad. We were sending goods and services abroad as an expression…our belief that that was a contribution to a peaceful world. So the situation is more complicated, but the fundamental point is the same. So long as you have a free exchange rate, which is free to determine in the market the price of the dollar in terms of the yen, there is no balance of payments problem. There is no sense in which American industry is in danger of being undercut by foreign industries and destroyed. Let me put the matter to you a little differently. Suppose on the average an American worker is roughly twice as productive as the average Japanese worker. That’s roughly what the situation is. On the average the American worker takes home from his work as pay for his activities a sum of money which will buy about twice as large a basket of goods as his Japanese counterpart can buy. If that’s the case, we cannot afford–well that’s a little exaggeration, we should not afford–we should not use any American worker in an activity in which he is less than twice as efficient. This is what was dubbed 150 years ago, in the jargon of economics, the principle of comparative advantage. We may be more efficient in everything than the Japanese. That doesn’t mean it pays us to produce everything at home. We should concentrate our efforts on those activities in which we are the most efficient. Let me put it to you in a simple way. In a domestic illustration, I have a lawyer who is a very good typist. Does that mean he should dispense with his secretary and type his own letters? He may be a better typist than his secretary but if he’s only one and one-half times as good a typist but five times as good a lawyer, both he and his secretary are better off if he concentrates on doing the law and she concentrates on typing the letters — or in this day and age I should say she concentrates on doing the law and he concentrates on typing the letters. (Applause) As it happens, I have a daughter who is an attorney, so that’s personal as well as general. In the light of all this analysis, let us consider some current issues. Take the case of steel. What about the argument of steel that we need a steel industry for our national defense? Well, you know there was a famous statement by- I think it was Emerson, that patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel. I don’t want to call the steel people scoundrels, they’re not. They’re perfectly decent human beings. They’re like you and me and like you and me they know very well that what’s good for them is good for the country. (Laughter) And we’re all sincere about that. It’s the greatest human capacity we have is not to reason but to rationalize. (Laughter) But what of the validity of that argument? Well, there are two things to be said about it. Have complete free trade in steel, there is not the slightest chance in the world that the U.S. steel industry would disappear. The advantages of being close to sources of supply, to sources of fuel, to market- would certainly guarantee that we would have a very large steel industry. It might be that foreign imports would amount to 15, 20, 30 percent of the total. But so far as our national defense needs are concerned, insofar as we cannot satisfy them by importing steel from abroad, we would always have a domestic steel industry. But second, ask a steel man whether before he builds a factory he gets estimates of the cost of building it. He’ll look at you as if you’re mad and say, “Of course, of course I get estimates.” And I will say to him, well now tell me do you get estimates of building it just one way? “Oh no, we get estimates of building it in a variety of alternative ways and then pick the best.” And my standard answer to the steel man who gives the national defense argument is to say that when the steel industry presents to this country cost estimates of alternative ways of providing for our national security I will believe that your argument is sincere and not simply an excuse for self-interest. Because there are many ways. If the problem is of steel, you can stockpile steel. It’s the easiest thing in the world to stockpile. Some of it may rust but that’s not a very serious problem. Aside from stockpiling it, you can maintain some steel plants in mothballs the way we maintain ships in mothballs, and so on. There are lots of alternatives. Have you ever seen a cost estimate by the steel industry of how much it would cost to protect our national security one way or the other? The same thing has been true over the years of the continuous argument by the oil interests that we ought to have, at one point, it was an oil import quota, or percentage depletion, or all sorts of other things on national security grounds. I believe it is an excuse and not a reason. What about this argument of unfair competition? What about the argument that the Japanese dump their goods below cost? Well as a consumer, all I can say is the more dumping the better. (Laughter and applause) If the Japanese government is so ill-advised as to tax its taxpayers in order to send us, at below cost, TV sets and other things, why should we as a nation refuse reverse foreign aid? (Laughter) What about the problem of the price of the U.S. dollar, the weakening of the dollar abroad? It is an artificial problem to which we should pay no attention. The market will set a price, let it. So far as we as a nation are concerned, the important thing is to get our internal house in order. If we followed policies at home which would eliminate inflation, and provide the basis for sound and healthy economic growth, the price of the dollar in foreign exchange markets would take care of itself. And if we follow policies as we have been of steadily rising inflation, or unsteadily rising inflation, I should say, ups and downs, well then, of course, the dollar is going to become worth less at home and it will be worth less abroad than it otherwise would be. It is not a problem. I come again to the problem of farm policy here, agricultural policy. That is an area which has been very intimately related to foreign trade. You will remember some years back when there was a great scandal about the extent to which the American taxpayers subsidized the Soviet Union by selling agricultural products at a price below the domestic price. But take the problem of farm policy. I have already expressed the view that there is no national interest whatsoever in farm price supports, or in government attempts to manipulate the price of farm products- any more than there is in government attempts to manipulate the price of steel, or of any other product. But it’s much more fundamental than that; agriculture is one of our major export industries. It is an area in which we have been incredibly efficient, in which we can produce goods and out-compete almost everybody in the rest of the world. There is nothing that would be in the greater self-interest of the agricultural producer than for the U.S. to have complete free trade. That would generate a greater supply of dollars abroad to produce a better market for U.S. products. I submit to you that the movement toward having farm price supports is a very shortsighted movement. What will be its results? It can only have the effect of either destroying export markets or requiring the government once again to subsidize exports. If we have a high artificial price at home, which is above the world price, nobody in the world is going to buy American products unless somebody or other sells these to them at the world price. Hence, a system of artificially high domestic agricultural prices necessarily requires a system of government subsidies for the export of wheat abroad. I submit to you that that’s not in the interest of the American consumer, it’s not in the interest of the American taxpayer, and in the longer run it is not in the interest of the American farmer. What do we do from here? What’s the answer? Suppose we could be as successful as the British were in the 1820s and ’30s, and get a national crusade going to move toward free trade. What should we do? Many people say that what we should do is to try to engage in reciprocal tariff reductions. True enough, they will say, our tariffs hurt us. But look at what those foreign countries are doing. Japan has tariffs on imports. How can we compete without tariffs, while they restrict trade with tariffs? The answer to that is very straightforward. The Japanese by imposing tariffs and other restraints on their international trade hurt themselves; but they hurt us, too. No doubt…they diminish the efficiency of the international division of labor–they hurt us and themselves. But if we impose tariffs in return we only hurt them and ourselves still further. It’s hard for me to see any justification in harming ourselves in order to harm somebody else. That’s not a very sensible policy. Moreover it doesn’t work. We have been trying for many years to engage in reciprocal tariff reductions. Every now and then one comes through. But on the whole, it has been a very unsuccessful policy. I believe that we should- the right policy for us, I’m not saying we’ll do it, but the right policy for us would be to act like the great nation we are, to say we are not going to determine what we do on the basis of what Hong Kong and Korea and Japan do. We are a great nation and we are unilaterally and on our own going to move to remove every barrier to international trade. We’re not going to do it overnight. People have made plans on the basis of existing tariffs. Let’s take a five-year period, or a ten-year period, that’s less important. But let’s each year reduce by one-fifth every tariff barrier, eliminate every subsidy to exports by one-fifth, and over a five-year period get to a period at which we have no tariffs and no subsidies to exports. We should do that and we should also completely stay out of the market of foreign exchange. Your government on your behalf has been speculating in the foreign exchange markets for the last seven years and has cost you, up until last year and not counting the speculation of this year, $550 million of losses on those transactions. Money down the drain. Let’s stop that. What is the chance that we shall follow these measures? Well…candidly, I think the chance is zero… (Laughter) …and yet hope springs eternal. If we know the ultimate direction we want to go in, then that will improve the chances that the separate steps we take will move in that direction rather than away from it. Moreover I go back to my mentor, Adam Smith. In 1776, when he wrote his great book, The Wealth of Nations, he wrote and I quote, “To expect, indeed, that the freedom of trade should ever be restored in Great Britain, is as absurd as to expect that an Oceania or Utopia should ever be established in it. Not only the prejudices of the public, but what is even more unconquerable, the private interests of many individuals, irresistibly oppose it.” He wrote that in 1776, seventy years later Britain had complete free trade. What he had said was impossible and absurd had been accomplished, one of the few places in which he was wrong. That move toward complete free trade ushered in the great period of Britain’s prosperity and glory. And ever since Britain has departed from free trade she has been declining in prosperity and glory. I don’t mean to say that that’s the only source of her decline; it certainly is not. But it is not an unimportant source. In the same way, the U.S. has been a great nation and we have prospered despite the tariffs and despite the restrictions on trade. But we could set a great example to the world and benefit the world as a whole, contribute not only to prosperity but to peace around the world, by moving in the direction of free trade. Because once again, go back to the British experience, the century of free trade was also the century of the greatest international peace. Why? Because if you eliminate government from these matters you enable individuals to deal with one another. If you introduce protection, tariffs, restrictions on trade, they become matters for government to government wrangling and they are an enormous source of division. So in the name of both prosperity and world peace, there are few steps that we could take which would contribute more than a complete move toward free trade. Thank you. Yes sir? My question is about oil from the North Slope of Alaska. Why don’t we sell it to Japan, and what would be the implications of doing that? The only reason we don’t sell it to Japan is the same reason why we have had tariffs and protection and farm price supports, because of the nationalistic, protectionist interests. From an economic point of view it is absolutely absurd for oil from the North Slope to be shipped down to California to be sent over by expensive land transportation to the Middle West, and at the same time for Japan to be importing oil from the Middle East. If you allowed the markets to work there would be no problem; there is no question that oil from the North Slope would go to Japan. But this is another case in which what is sensible is being prevented by erroneous governmental policy. Governmental policy has nowhere in my opinion in recent years done more harm than in the area of energy, in which we have been saying, “It’s unpatriotic to produce oil, and if you produce oil you’re going to get hit with a heavy tax. It’s patriotic to import oil, and we’re going to subsidize the import of oil from abroad.” It’s absolutely absurd. The U.S. government has the unique capacity for getting things upside down. In the days of Mr. Eisenhower–he was our greatest postwar president in my opinion, even though he did come from Kansas… (Laughter) …it is still a very fascinating fact that the oil interests in this country and the people in this country were concerned about the competition from cheap foreign oil, so they induced President Eisenhower to impose an import quota on the production of cheap foreign oil. So when foreign oil was cheap, we insisted that we use scarce domestic expensive oil and not use cheap foreign oil. Now in the past three years the situation has been reversed. Foreign oil is expensive and difficult, and U.S. oil is cheaper and more readily available. So what do we do? In our great wisdom we restrict the production of domestic oil and we subsidize the import of foreign oil. How silly can you be? Yes sir? We read about the dollar being weak on the dollar exchange. How did it become politically feasible to unpeg the dollar, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of an unpegged foreign currency versus a pegged foreign currency? It became politically feasible…let me put that in a different way. The one thing that makes anything politically feasible is a real crisis in which you have to do something. We are all of us stick in the muds; none of us likes to change our ways unless he has to. Why did Britain’s going off the gold standard in 1931 become politically feasible? Because there was nothing else you could do. It was in a desperate state and it no longer could hold it. Why did the unpegging of the dollar in 1971 become politically feasible? Because there was nothing else you could do about it, because there was a world crisis and you had to do something. And what you had to do…the only alternative would have been either far-reaching exchange control over every aspect of international transactions, which wouldn’t have worked for very long either, because human beings are too ingenious in finding ways around such controls, and so you either had to do that, or you had to unpeg the dollar. That’s what made it politically feasible. Why was it desirable to do so? For reasons I think that have already become clear in what I said, because the most efficient way to make sure that flows of trade between different countries are appropriate is to have a free market exchange rate for currencies. The case for unpegging the dollar is identical with the case for not having wage and price controls at home. There is no difference in principle between freezing the dollar’s price and freezing the price of oil or any other product. Indeed it’s fascinating, when you come to political feasibility, when President Nixon on August 15, 1971 unpegged the dollar he established a free market in the dollar. He simultaneously went in the opposite direction by freezing domestic prices and wages. His left hand did not know what his right hand was doing. Yes sir? My question was on economists have been speculating on the issue of reestablishing price and wage controls, but I guess you just commented on that. Would you like to elaborate on that a little further? I am afraid that the chances that we shall have price and wage controls are unfortunately not negligible. It is a device that governments have repeatedly resorted to, to try to cover up the effects of their own policies. It is offered as a cure for inflation. It is not a cure for inflation; it has never been a cure for inflation. It is an alleged cure that is far worse than the disease because its effect is to repress the symptoms, to repress the consequences of the more basic force. I always say that if you want to analyze wage and price controls, the simplest analogy that brings it home is to think of a kettle on your stove in which there is water, and the water is boiling. It has got a cover on it and the boiling water is threatening to throw the cover off. Now the obvious sensible thing to do is to turn down the heat under the kettle. Another thing you can do is to take a brick and put it on top on the kettle and at the same time turn up the heat. (Laughter) That is precisely what President Nixon did in 1971 when he simultaneously put a brick on top of the kettle by freezing prices and wages, and at the same time launched on a more expansive monetary and fiscal policy, which turned up the heat under the kettle. And what happened? The lid of the kettle blew off. You held it down for a little while and then you had a 12 percent…13 percent inflation. That has been the experience every time not simply over the past 20-30 years but for two thousand years. Emperor Diocletian tried the same thing in Rome two thousand years ago with identically the same results. So I have nothing but a negative opinion about wage and price controls. Yes sir? Well, I have seen that the free trade ideal has remained mostly an ideal we are striving for. We have seen that in continental Europe they are leaving it aside every time some of their economic advantages are involved. I am very concerned with what happens to the farmer here in Kansas, I have been a longtime resident, and I have been thinking the following: last year we exported a lot of grain, it went to Europe, and I think two-thirds went to Russia, to the Soviets. Now what happened in those countries…the purchasing countries? They had to pay in their currency about 15 percent less than what they paid a year before. This was due to the dollar devaluation. By that situation I figure that the Russians have received a bonus of maybe a billion and a half dollars which inflation has paid for, in other words the American taxpayer. So what would you think, Dr. Friedman, if somebody came up with an innovation, with an idea, to establish an offset, an equalization for this bonus of the dollar devaluation to people that buy in Rotterdam, to people that buy in Russia? I think it would be a very bad idea. I would say, Dr. Friedman, it would require no bureaucracy whatsoever. It would be handled by the bank that receives the payment drafts and then this money could genuinely be given to the farmer out of whose hide it was taken in the first place. It was not taken out of the hide of the farmer, I beg your pardon. A market is a market. You know I did not hear any complaints from farmers at the time that farm prices were abnormally high, did you? What is this? Are we going to have a game of heads I win, tails you lose? Agriculture is an industry like every other industry. The farmer is an entrepreneur and a businessman. He is in a business which has a characteristic feature of having a fluctuating income. Obviously, in going into that business, he takes into account the fact that some years his income will be high and some years his income will be low. I do not believe it is true, as you say that anything has been taken out of the hide of the farmer. On the contrary, if we take the experience of the United States over the past 20 years we have had enormous governmental subsidies to the farmer. Now the farmer hasn’t benefited from that. Let me go slowly. You see the problem with all of these things like you are describing is that they never have the results that the well-intentioned people who propose them intend them to have. What is the effect of spending a lot of money trying to help the farmer? The effect of it is, first of all, to encourage more people to be farmers than otherwise would; second of all, to make costs of producing agricultural products higher than they otherwise would be because the counterpart of this is that you take land out of cultivation. It has a lot of side effects which eat up a large fraction of the gain, but that doesn’t reduce the cost to the taxpayer. The taxpayer has paid twice. He has paid in the form of higher prices for his food than he needed to pay and he has paid, second, in the form of the taxes. Now so far as the Russian case is concerned, I believe you have to be very careful here. I think we should allow the Russians freely to buy all the agricultural products they want- provided they pay for it with their own money, out of their own pockets and we don’t subsidize them. The real problem with the Russian purchases is that in large part it has been subsidized by loans from Western countries. Insofar as those loans are made by private people, that’s their business; they are risking their money. Insofar, however, as they have been government-guaranteed, as they often have, I am opposed to that. I do not believe that we ought to guarantee loans to the Russians. But then I think we ought to say, “Okay, if the Russians want to buy wheat, fine.” So far as the common market is concerned, they have engaged in agricultural protectionism on a large scale as you say. They are making a mistake in doing that. They are already suffering by paying a higher price for their agricultural products than they need to. We ought to encourage them to reduce their barriers of course on trade. But I think…how many times have you and I heard the story that here is a particular government reform which will not require a bureaucracy? I’m sorry, sir, there is no such animal. I stand corrected, with pleasure. Thank you. Yes sir? Dr. Friedman, there are people in agriculture who feel that farm programs work to the disadvantage of the American farmer, but perhaps for a different reason than you cited in the formal portion of your lecture. What would you say to the argument that someone in agriculture may make that farm price support programs for agriculture are a disadvantage to the farmer, because an urban-oriented congress has learned how to use farm subsidies to increase domestic farm production far and above what the free market itself would have dictated? Well there are…you are raising, as you realize, an extremely complex question which does not admit of a one- or two-sentence answer. I realize, and I did not mean and I do not mean to suggest that all farmers or all farm organizations are in the same class; they are not. The Farm Bureau Federation has over most of its existence been a staunch supporter of free markets in agriculture. It has in general been opposed to the kind of restrictive measures and price supports and so on that have been followed. And I believe that the argument you make is a valid one. That is why I said earlier that although the taxpayer has paid heavy sums, it is not clear that the farmer has benefited. But also it is not clear that the consumer has benefited, because what we have done in large part over past periods is to dispose of those artificially produced surpluses not by selling them at home at low prices, but by giving them away abroad at low prices. So that it is not in my opinion the urban-oriented legislator who has been benefiting his constituents in this way. It’s a very complicated question. There is no doubt that resistance to high farm price supports has been increased by the presence of a larger and larger urban population and a larger representation. I think what you are describing is a much more general proposition. Almost every government policy may have short-term benefits to small groups, but in the long run it tends to help nobody but simply wastes the money. And the reason for that in general is the kind of thing you are describing here, because if government is going to give away a billion dollars, it pays people to spend a billion dollars to get it. Now the people who get it aren’t always the ones who spend the money. Some people are disappointed. They engage in a lottery, they spend money in the hope of getting a government measure which will benefit them, and they lose. Other people win the prizes. But on the average, the group as a whole is likely to lose. Why does it lose? Because in addition to the money that is taken from the taxpayers, a commission is taken off the top by the bureaucrats who collect it and the bureaucrats who distribute it. So you take a dollar out of the right hand pocket of people in order to put 75 cents back in the left hand pocket. And that’s the kind of thing you have in the case of agricultural subsidies in my opinion. Yes? In a recent interview in U.S. News & World Report, Secretary of Treasury Blumenthal blamed our current rising inflation in large part on our foreign trade and unions. He did, however, say that the government was little to blame. Would you like to comment on that? Yes… (Laughter) Unfortunately it is one of the defects of our political system that we always put a secretary of the treasury and other high government officials into a position in which when they make public statements they are almost driven to–well, what’s the word I want to use? I want to use a polite word–equivocate. Secretary Blumenthal knows as well as you and I do that inflation does not come from trade unions. That doesn’t mean that trade unions aren’t grasping, of course they are, but they don’t produce inflation for one simple reason. They do not own a printing press on which you can turn out green pieces of paper. The only such printing press is in Washington. I say printing press, but of course in the modern age we do it in a more sophisticated way. We use bookkeepers and accountants, and computers, but it comes down to the same thing. Inflation is made in Washington because only Washington can create money, and any other attribution of inflation to other groups is wrong. Consumers don’t produce it, producers don’t produce it, the trade unions don’t produce it, foreign sheiks don’t produce it, oil imports don’t produce it. What produces it- is too much government spending and too much government creation of money, and nothing else. (Laughter) Before you clap, let me point out that the reason why we have too much spending and too much printing of money is because you people want it. You and I, we’re citizens, we run this country. If Congress has been voting higher and higher spending, why? Because it has been politically profitable for them to do it. If they have been voting higher spending and not voting the higher taxes to pay for it, why? Because it has been politically profitable to do it. We would all like to get something for nothing, and so the political process has been leading to Congress increasing spending, not increasing taxes, and financing the difference by the hidden tax of inflation. I think we are unwise, but let’s not blame the others. The problem…you know in that famous statement of the cartoonist, “We have met the enemy and they is us.” (Laughter and applause) Yes sir? If we lower our government’s tariffs, what will happen to our unions? Which unions? Those unions which are in export industries will benefit; those unions which are in industries which at the moment could be substituted for by imports would lose. There is no single statement that can be made about unions any more than there is about any other organization. What is true is that free trade… Let’s broaden your question because we ought not to look only at unions. We have unions that are labor monopolies. We also have producer monopolies. We also have restrictions on free competition on the side of producers. There is no more effective way in my opinion of promoting competition than free trade. If you want to cut down monopoly power in this country, the way to do it is not to double the budget of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division and have more twenty-year suits against IBM. The way to do it…the most effective single way to do it would be to enact free trade, so that competition worldwide would come to bear and that would undermine monopoly powers all over of unions on the one hand, and of industrial monopolies on the other. Yes ma’am. From what I’ve read and have learned I seem to feel more sympathy for your policies and your opinions than the others. I wondered what books or writers, besides Adam Smith, whom you mentioned, influenced you more towards the positions you hold? What facts, you know…what learnings and things? Well, that’s a very interesting and a very difficult question to answer, because I really can’t answer you in terms of a single book, or a single one or two books. I was trained as an economist at the University of Chicago in an excellent Department of Economics–I think the greatest in the country, even before I was there. (Laughter) It’s an interesting thing that professional economists in general, in their professional work, are led by a study of the way in which a market operates to be far more sympathetic to the use of the market than are most other groups. The great books in this tradition after Adam Smith are, of course: the works of David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Alfred Marshall, and, coming down to the present day, Frank Knight, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises–and you have a great series of books; in Britain, Lionel Robbins…John Jewkes. It’s very hard to name just one or two. I think one of the most important of all the books that influenced a lot of people, myself included, was Friedrich Hayek’s book, The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944; and it remains a powerful and compelling book on what I think is in not so much the area of free trade as in the broader problem, the major problem of our time. Yes? In your formal lecture you mentioned the dollars and the yen and how they should try to equal. How long will this take? And what about the steel worker who is now being laid off? What will happen to this person? Well, in the first place, it takes a very short period of time. The foreign exchange market is a very free and volatile market. With respect to the steel worker that is laid off, that is a problem that should not be related to international trade. We want to have an economy and a society in which you have flexibility, in which people shift from producing one product to producing another as demand changes–if the public at large suddenly decides that they would like to buy one kind of clothing instead of another kind of clothing. If people decide they don’t want to have their hair cut, what should be done about the unemployed barbers? And so on down the line. And the answer I believe there is, in the first place, we now have mechanisms, in my opinion an unduly complex and extensive set of mechanisms, to take care of people who are temporarily displaced on this ground. In my opinion our present mechanisms are unwise, and what we should have from this point of view is a general provision all over to make sure that nobody is in distress. One steel worker may be a real problem; another may have immediate other sources of income which displace it. We ought not to have any program for steel workers; we ought not to have any program for barbers. If we are going to have a program, we ought to have a program to help anybody who is in distress. I have discussed this at some length in connection with proposals for a negative income tax elsewhere, and in my opinion, that would be an effective and ample solution to the problem. Yes sir? Dr. Friedman, we recently had a guest convocation speaker… I just realized this will be our last question because we’ll run out of time. …we recently had a guest convocation speaker by the name of Jane Fonda who spoke to an over-capacity and, I might say, enthusiastic crowd regarding the fear of big business influencing government decisions and running the world virtually, and I would say that she influenced a lot of people here. Although her speech might have been alarmist, there seemed to be quite a bit of credibility to it. Could you have some comments as far as what you feel? Sure. There is a great deal of merit in the position she was taking. One of the reasons…you must distinguish sharply between being pro-free enterprise, which I am, and being pro-business, which I am not. Those are two different things. The reason I am pro-free enterprise, the reason I am for a free market on a political level, is primarily because I believe the problem in this world is to avoid a concentration of power–to have a dispersal of power; that unless we have a dispersal of power, we will not be able to maintain a free society. Now Jane Fonda is right that if we have a system under which government is in a position to give- and does give large favors it is human nature to try to get those favors, whether those people are large enterprises such as the oil industry or the automobile industry or the steel industry, or whether they are small people like the farmers who were driving tractors around Washington, or whether they are representatives of other special groups. And in my opinion, the only way you can prevent that and make sure that businesses operate in the public interest is to force them to engage in competition one with the other. So that she is right insofar as she says there is a great danger of having large, small, and in-between corporations exert undue influence on government. Where people like Jane Fonda go wrong is in not recognizing what the answer is. They think that the cure to big government is to have bigger government–except with them running it instead of the people who now run it. (Laughter and applause) But in my opinion the only effective cure is to reduce the scope of government, to get government out of the business. If government is prohibited from engaging in activities, which can benefit special groups, then those special groups will not have any incentive to go to Washington. For example, to dream an ideal, suppose we could have a constitutional amendment prohibiting congress from making any laws imposing tariffs. Well, there would be a lot of lobbyists in Washington who would lose their jobs overnight. That would reduce the incentive for corporations to try to affect government, and similarly down the line. So we must separate diagnosis and problem from cure, and I believe that that’s the area in which she is likely to mislead the public. I want to say one more thing. If you’ve got a choice between big government and big business, there is one important difference. No big business, whether it be General Motors or U.S. Steel or any other, can get a dollar from you unless you voluntarily pay it off and think you are getting your dollar’s worth in return. General Motors cannot send a policeman to take money out of your pocket; it can only get money from you insofar as it can produce a product that you think worth buying. It may indirectly get money out of your pocket by operating on government to impose tariffs on foreign cars; that’s why we ought not to do that. But in the market no business however big can get money from you except by providing you with something you value in return. That’s hardly the case with government. Big government can send a policeman and take money out of your pocket whether you believe you’re getting your money’s worth or not. That’s an enormous difference. It’s the difference between freedom and coercion, and it’s a difference that we can only maintain if we keep down the size and scope and role of government. Thank you.

6 thoughts on “Milton Friedman Speaks: Free Trade: Producer vs Consumer (B1232) – Full Video

  1. In every issue, there is two sides of it, pros and cons. Both arguments should be considered and weighted unless there is an existing tangible events that would prove the advantage of one side or argument

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