like Reagan, Milt Friedman would find no home in today’s conservative movement

Michael Lind writes:

Milton Friedman took for granted the legitimacy of the welfare state, in both of its forms — means-tested public assistance for the poor and universal, middle-class social insurance. He believed it was utopian for his fellow libertarians to propose abolishing public assistance and middle-class social insurance programs outright. That is why he proposed the negative income tax, as a substitute for other means-tested programs for the poor. And it is why he proposed voucherizing universal, middle-class social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare, along with public K-12 education.

But as ultra-liberarians have periodically complained, that meant that Friedman supported big government. After all, the negative income tax is government welfare in its purest form — the government writes a check to citizens, whether they work or not. Likewise, a voucher program is just as much a government program as direct public provision of a good or service….

Voucher schemes do not replace “bureaucracy” with “markets.” They merely replace a single public provider — a public K-12 system, say — with a handful of government contractors in a phony, rigged market created by government.

Nor do voucher schemes necessarily reduce government bureaucracy. On the contrary, they may require government to hire new bureaucrats, in order to supervise both the recipients of vouchers and the voucher-funded government contractors, to prevent them from gaming the complicated system.

The ultra-libertarians are right. Milton Friedman engaged in unilateral intellectual surrender to the supporters of a large, generous modern welfare state. He accepted the legitimacy of a welfare state in principle, and merely sought to substitute other government programs, with limited choice among certified government contractors, for existing government monopolies.

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