Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Milton Friedman’s ‘Capitalism and the Jews’ Revisited

by GILAD ATZMON (a former Israeli Jew)

Given the severity and uncertainty of the economic crisis we are all experiencing, I suggest we look once more at the work of Milton Friedman, the leading economist and a staunch advocate of hard capitalism.
During the 1960s -80s Friedman was regarded by many academics, politicians and world leaders as the most important post- World War Two economist. Friedman was chief economic advisor to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Menachem Begin. He also went on record advising the Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet.
It is far from surprising to note that more and more commentators have realised in recent years that it was Friedman’s ideology and advocacy of free enterprise, zero governmental intervention and privatisation that has led to the current financial turmoil. It was Milton Friedman’s philosophy that also contributed to the transformation of the West into a service economy.
But Friedman wasn’t just an economist: he was also a devout Zionist and a very proud Jew. Friedman was interested in the role of the Jews in world finance and politics. He also attempted to analyse and understand the attitude of Jews towards wealth. In 1972 Friedman spoke to The Mont Pelerin Society about  “Capitalism and the Jews”. In 1978 he repeated the same talk, addressing  Jewish students at the Chicago University’s Hillel institute.
I'd suggest that Friedman deserves our immediate attention, since he contributed to the rise of an ideology and school of thought that bears some responsibility for the rearrangement (some might say dismantling ) of  the West's economy.
The Jewish Paradox
Friedman was, no doubt, a sharp intellect, and could offer sharp and succinct criticism. Yet, Friedman was not entirely 'a cosmopolitan' in every sense of that word, since he was deeply involved in Jewish concerns and Zionist affairs, and he was deliberately open and transparent about being so.
In the talks he gave in 1972 and 1978, Friedman examined a unique Jewish paradox :  “Here are two propositions,” he said. “Each of them are validated by evidence yet they are both incompatible  one with the other.”
The first proposition is that “there are few peoples if any in the world who owe so great a debt to free enterprise and competitive capitalism as the Jews.“
The second proposition is that  “there are few peoples or any in the world who have done so much to undermine the intellectual foundation of capitalism as the Jews.”
How do we reconcile these two contradictory propositions?


(folks, I realize this piece is long but it is terribly important if you're going to understand what the hell is going on; Gilad does know what's he talkin about. Just trust me on that one, ok?)

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