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Government Matters

Aug 4, 2011 • Economic Debates, Economic Thinkers, Government, Households, Regulation, Thinking Economically • 164 Views    No Comments

Which do you prefer, “free” or “fair?”

We have free speech, a free press, freedom of religion. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights refer to “free” but never “fair.” Explaining that our founding fathers perceived government as an umpire and a policeman, Nobel laureate Milton Friedman (1912-2006) concludes that they wanted us freely to pursue our individual lives.

Being “fair” to one group, according to Friedman, means less fairness to others. If government is more equitable to consumers, then it is less fair to businesses. Require a fair and balanced press to all political candidates and you limit the freedom of the press.

I wonder, though, what is “fair?” Does a fair society have health care for all? Is having a minimum wage a fair policy? If fair is the key criteria, then who should be taxed and how much? Does a fair society mandate maximum earnings?  Fair trade? Fair prices? Affirmative action?

Your opinion?

The Economic Lesson

Adam Smith (1723-1790) has said that less government results in a more virtuous society because a small group of people cannot possibly know what is best or fair or good for a diverse populace.

To see the logic of an economist who sought the “fairness” role for government, here, you will enjoy reading about Harvard’s John Kenneth Galbraith.

An Economic Question: Although Dr. Friedman would disagree, there is no right or wrong answer to “Fair versus Free.” Which do you support? Why?

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