Milton Friedman in Hong Kong in the first episode of Free to Choose. (Free to Choose Network/YouTube) It’s time to remember the legacy of the famous 1980 series amid a rising inflation and growing government déjà vu.
In May, Bob Chitester, producer of Milton Friedman’s famous Free to Choose PBS TV series and Free to Choose Media, died at the age of 83. Last year marked 40 years since the original airing of the series, which was first released in January 1980, toward the end of the Carter administration, in response to liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Age of Uncertainty BBC series released in 1977. Free to Choose, in its original run on PBS, played an important part in making Friedman a household-name economist, and it has since attracted millions of views online.
The series, which defended the virtues and welfare-enhancing abilities of free-market capitalism that helped set the stage for Reaganism, was launched during an era of rising inflation and big government. Indeed, the supply-shock era of the 1970s was a setting that all too eerily bears resemblance to today’s COVID-19 economic environment amid President Biden’s spending binge, the current “transitory” uptick in prices, and gas lines following the Colonial pipeline cyberattack. (The latter, in fairness, pales when compared with the OPEC embargoes of the 1970s and is hardly the fault of the president.) For this reason alone, everyone should consider watching (or rewatching) Free to Choose.
Friedman’s principle message was this: Through the mechanism of unregulated prices agreed upon by buyers and sellers, markets have the ability to align incentives to coordinate resources much more efficiently than any government or central planner can; often the decentralized model involving more freedom leads to much better outcomes for the poor, in the form of more jobs and a greater variety of better, more cheaply available products.
In perhaps one of his most famous arguments shared on the show, Friedman explains how it takes millions of people, largely poor and of varied backgrounds from around the world, voluntarily working in their own economic interest, to produce
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