Reason magazine’s Brian Doherty (he of Burning Man fame) has written a nice piece looking at the controversial role the late Milton Friedman played in advising economic reforms to the government of the late, and not-very-lamented, Augusto Pinochet of Chile.
The New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis declared in 1975 that “The Chilean junta’s economic policy is based on the ideas of Milton Friedman…and his Chicago School…if the pure Chicago economic theory can be carried out in Chile only at the price of repression, should its authors feel some responsibility?” Such attitudes haunted Friedman to his death and beyond.
The reaction of some of the usual conservative suspects to Pinochet’s death didn’t help debunk this unfortunate association. Since he was a pro-American autocrat, who ultimately honoured a plebiscite and stepped down, portions of the American right have always had an unhealthy affection for the general. National Review ran both a symposium and a stand alone piece by former editor John O’Sullivan marking Pinochet’s passing, neither of which were much outraged about his crimes. O’Sullivan explicitly said , in the sort of bizarre moral prisoner exchange that partisan squabbling generates, that sure, Pinochet should suffer for his villainy – but only if Castro and Allende’s associates do as well.
I agree with pretty much every word of Doherty’s analysis, and his punchline is good:
Undoubtedly, Friedman’s decision to interact with officials of repressive governments creates uncomfortable tensions for his libertarian admirers; I could, and often do, wish he hadn’t done it. But given what it probably meant for economic wealth and liberty in the long term for the people of Chile, that’s a selfish reaction. Pinochet’s economic policies do not ameliorate his crimes, despite what his right-wing admirers say. But Friedman, as an economic advisor to all who’d listen, neither committed his crimes, nor admired the criminal.
Those leftists who nitpick at the late economist for his role in advising the Chilean regime have only the tiniest of legitimate reasons for bashing Friedman, I think. Considering that he was a man who made the case for abolishing the draft, decriminalising drugs, promoting school choice and so forth, his credentials as a pro-liberty guy were pretty much impeccable.