Owens Mocks Milton Friedman

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Owens Mocks Milton Friedman

by Ari Armstrong, October 30, 2006

During his October 27 press conference against Amendment 44, Governor Bill Owens cut off my question addressed to John Suthers. Then he refused to let me formulate a question for him about the views of economist Milton Friedman, who favors the legalization and regulation of marijuana. But Owens got the gist of my question and offered a flip answer before walking away.

Following is a transcript of our brief conversation:

Me: "Governor, governor, thanks for coming out. Governor, what do you think about Milton Friedman, who is a stalwart of the conservative movement..."

Owens: "How are you."

Me: "I'm doing really well. How are you?"

Owens: "I'm Bill Owens. What do you think about Milton Friedman?"

Me: "I think he's absolutely correct that..."

Owens: "Do you agree with him that he wants to privatize national parks?"

Me: "Do you agree with Milton Friedman..."

Note that, as Owens walked away and refused to offer a substantive answer, one of his sycophants laughed hysterically. Because apparently it's hilarious to make fun of Milton Friedman and refuse to seriously discuss his views. But then Friedman wrote a book called Capitalism and Freedom, values that Owens has persistently eroded.

Apparently Owens's point was that Milton Friedman is wrong about some issues. I agree, and I regularly criticize Friedman for his welfare-statist proposals such as vouchers. But the fact that Friedman is wrong about some issues is no reason to refuse substantive debate about any of his views, particularly his views on marijuana prohibition, particularly when that was the topic of Owens's press conference.

It is odd that, while some Republicans (besides Owens) sometimes claim to support limited government and individual rights, on the issue of marijuana prohibition many Republicans endorse intrusive government. Yet many conservatives, including Friedman and William F. Buckley, oppose marijuana prohibition. Thus, my question was legitimate and interesting.

In the foreword to After Prohibition, Friedman writes of the "social tragedy" of the drug war. He writes of "marijuana, for which there is no recorded case of a human death from overdose in several thousand years of use and which has important medicinal uses..." Friedman argues that the drug war "is being waged in wanton disregard of 'Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness'..." Friedman explains that most violence associated with drugs is actually due to prohibition, which creates illegal markets.

Friedman points out that, because of prohibition, "drug enforcers are driven to warrantless searches, seizures of property without due process," and other "violations of civil liberties." Prohibition results in police corruption. "Law enforcement agencies are major beneficiaries of the drug war at the same time that law enforcement is a major victim."

So Friedman's views on marijuana prohibition certainly are relevant to the debate about Amendment 44, especially for a governor who once pretended to be a conservative.

* * *

For the record, I do favor the privatization of national parks. (Apparently Owens favors socialized wilderness areas.) One direct way to accomplish this is simply to make the agencies that currently run the parks independent, then transfer ownership to them. While I would favor no additional legal restraints, a compromise measure might impose certain restrictions on use.

Has Owens even read Friedman's statements about national parks? Friedman writes in Capitalism and Freedom (page 31):

"[N]eighborhood effects may justify a city park; they do not justify a national park, like Yellowstone National Park or the Grand Canyon. What is the fundamental difference between the two? For the city park, it is extremely difficult to identify the people who benefit from it and to charge them for the benefits which they receive... The entrances to a national park like Yellowstone, on the other hand, are few; most of the people who come stay for a considerable period of time and it is perfectly feasible to set up toll gates and collect admission charges. This is indeed done now, though the charges do not cover the whole costs. If the public wants this kind of an activity enough to pay for it, private enterprises will have every incentive to provide such parks."

Notice that Friedman has provided an argument for his position. Owens, on the other hand, seems to think that mockery and derision suffice.

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