Government Is Only a Tool: Milton Friedman on Responsibility to the Poor

Mark J. Perry recently posted a classic video of Milton Friedman on our responsibility to the poor. The video somewhat ties into yesterday’s discussion on using forced taxation and wealth redistribution as a means to accomplish widespread “charity” and “economic justice.”

The student in the video begins by asking this question: If we are a government of the people and by the people, why shouldn’t we, as a people, take action through government to help those in need?

Friedman’s answer is spot on:

The government doesn’t have any responsibility. People have responsibility. This building doesn’t have responsibility. You and I have responsibility. People have responsibility.

Friedman’s argument is simply that government is a tool of the people. Although people may choose to use that tool as a means to eradicate poverty, it is we as individuals who are actually responsible, and pretending that the government will or can assume all of our problems and responsibilities will not help anything.

Friedman then moves on to explaining why government is an awful tool to use in the first place. Even if we as a free people decide to use government as a means to eradicate poverty, we are making a terrible community decision, both because we are moving responsibility further from the individual and because government redistribution simply does not work to alleviate poverty.

As Friedman notes:

If you look at the real problems of poverty and denial of freedom to people in this country, almost every single one of them is a result of government action and would be eliminated if you eliminated the bad government failures.

Friedman then points to poor government schooling, minimum wage laws, and welfare as examples.

Yesterday I talked a little bit about how government cannot and should not assume our responsibility to give. However, Friedman does well to emphasize that even if it does try to take that responsibility, there is more than a lapse in societal responsibility. Indeed, we as individuals miss out on the opportunity to give to others, but the getters of government giveaways and programs miss out on living freely in a free society.

In the society that cedes both giving and getting to the government, who is left to claim responsibility for anything?


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  • Remnant Culture

    Can government assume our responsibility to the poor? New video posted of Milton Friedman: #tcot (via @Mark_J_Perry)

  • Olka Puzyrewska

    A classic Friedman video…

  • Vladimir G. Diaz

    Government Is Only a Tool: Milton Friedman on Responsibility to the Poor «Remnant Culture