Friday, February 5, 2016

Why Walter Block Will Not Sign the Milton Friedman "Repeal the Estate Tax" Letter

Walter Block received the email below and then responded to it:

From: Jim Miller
Sent: Thursday, February 04, 2016 6:56 PM
Subject: Call for Signatures: Milton Friedman's Death Tax Repeal Open Letter

Dear Fellow Economist,
Fifteen years ago, the late Milton Friedman published an open letter calling for repeal of the estate tax.  More than 275 economists joined Milton by adding their names to his letter.  Since that time, an additional 261 economists have signed onto his important letter, bringing the total number of signatories to nearly 540 economists.
In honor of the fifteen-year anniversary of that effort, and given the importance of the issue, I am recirculating Milton's letter to give a new generation of economists the opportunity to signal their support for repeal of the estate tax.  I have pasted the letter at the end of this e-mail for your review.  A copy of the letter with all of the signatories can be viewed at
To sign the letter, please e-mail your name and affiliation (e.g., University of Kansas) to xxxxxxx.  If this is the first you have heard of the letter, or if you never got around to signing it in 2001, I urge you to lend your name to it now.      
Affiliations will be listed for identification purposes only; they do not constitute institutional endorsements.  If you are not an economist and I mistakenly contacted you, please excuse the inconvenience and disregard this e-mail. 
Thank you for your time and consideration.
James C. Miller III
Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and
Center for Study of Public Choice, George Mason University


Dear Jim:

Thanks for asking me to sign this letter. I’d be happy to sign it. However, I make it a practice not to sign on to letters unless I agree with them fully. I disagree with two parts of this letter.

First, Milton says this tax encourages wasteful spending, presumably riotous living. But, de gustibus non disputandum: my “wasteful spending” is your core enjoyment, and vice versa. What’s wrong with “riotous living?” Is Milton a puritan? If so, why should we support him in this?

Second he says this: “The estate tax is justified as a means of reducing the concentration of wealth.  However, the truly wealthy and their estate planners avoid the tax.  The low yield of the tax is a testament to the ineffectiveness of the tax as a force for reshaping the distribution of wealth.” But the clear implication is that IF this tax did indeed “reduce the concentration of wealth” Milton would support it. I would indeed like to reduce wealth at the upper end of the income and wealth distribution, but only for crony capitalists, not for those in the 1% who earned their incomes honestly.

Milton called himself a “small L libertarian.” Here are some readings that would tend to undermine this claim of his:

Berliner, 1995, 326; Block, 1969, 1999, 2003A, 2003B, 2006, 2010A, 2010B, 2011, 2013; Block and Barnett, 2012-2013; Freidman and Block, 2006; Friedman, 2000; Kinsella, 2009; Lind, 2012; Long, 2006; Marcus, 2007; McChesney, 1991; North, 2012;  Rothbard, 2002; Friedman and Block, 2006; Friedman and Block, 2006; Kinsella, 2009; Lind, 2012; Machan, 2010; Marcus, 2007; McChesney, 1991; North, 2012; Rand, undated; Rothbard, 2002; Sennholz, 2006; Vance, 1996, 2005; Wapshott, 2012; Wenzel, 2012; Wilcke, 1999

Berliner, Michael S., ed. 1995. Letters of Ayn Rand. New York, N.Y.: Dutton

Block, Walter. 1969. “Against the Volunteer Military,” The Libertarian ForumAugust 15, p. 4;

Block, Walter. 1999. “The Gold Standard: A Critique of Friedman, Mundell, Hayek, Greenspan,” Managerial Finance, Vol. 25, No. 5, pp. 15-33;;

Block, Walter. 2003A. "Private property rights, economic freedom, and Professor Coase: A Critique of Friedman, McCloskey, Medema and Zorn," Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 26, No. 3, Summer, pp. 923-951;

Block, Walter E. 2003B. "Private property rights, economic freedom, and Professor Coase: A Critique of Friedman, McCloskey, Medema and Zorn," Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 26, No. 3, Summer, pp. 923-951;

Block, Walter. 2006. “Milton Friedman, RIP.” November 16.

Block, Walter E. 2010A. “Milton Friedman on Intolerance: A Critique.” Libertarian Papers; Vol. 2, No. 41;

Block, Walter. 2010B. “Is Milton Friedman a libertarian? No.” Laissez-Faire, No. 32, pp. 9-22, March;

Block, Walter E. 2011. "How Not To Defend the Market: A critique of Easton, Miron, Bovard, Friedman and Boudreaux ."Journal of Libertarian Studies; Vol. 22, pp. 581–592

Block, Walter E. 2013. “Was Milton Friedman a socialist” Management Education Science Technology Journal (MEST Journal); Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 11- 26;;

Block, Walter E. and William Barnett II. 2012-2013. “Milton Friedman and the financial crisis,” American Review of Political Economy, Vol. 10, No. 1/2, June, 2012 – June 2013; pp. 2-17; http://www.ARPEJournal.com

Friedman, Milton and Walter E. Block. 2006. “Fanatical, Not Reasonable: A Short Correspondence Between Walter E. Block and Milton Friedman (on Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom).” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 20, No. 3, Summer, pp. 61-80;

Friedman, Milton. 2000. “Interview,” Commanding HeightsOctober 1
States Milton Friedman: “In the middle of a debate on the subject of distribution of income, in which you had people who you would hardly call socialist or egalitarian -- people like Lionel Robbins, like George Stigler, like Frank Knight, like myself -- Mises got up and said, ‘You're all a bunch of socialists,’ and walked right out of the room.”

Long, Roderick T. 2006. “Realism and abstraction in economics: Aristotle and Mises versus Friedman.” The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics Vol. 9, No. 3, Fall, pp. 3–23;

Kinsella, Stephan. 2009. “Milton Friedman on Intolerance, Liberty, Mises, Etc.” November 9;

Lind, Michael. 2012 . « Thank you, Milton Friedman: How conservatives' economic hero helped make the case for big government.” August 7 ;

Machan, Tibor R. 2010. Milton Friedman and the Human Good, June 7

Marcus, B. K. 2007. “The Tepid Movement Before Mises” April 12

McChesney, Fred. 1991. "Antitrust and Regulation: Chicago's Contradictory Views," Cato Journal, Vol. 10, No. 3, Winter, pp. 775-778

North, Gary. 2012. “Detours on the Road to Freedom: Where Milton Friedman Went Wrong.”

Rand, Ayn. Undated. Her view on Friedman, and Stigler, 1946: “‘collectivist propaganda’ and ‘the most pernicious thing ever issued by an avowedly conservative organization’” cited in Skousen, Mark. 2001. The Making of Modern Economics. New York: M. E. Sharpe, p. 387;

Friedman, Milton and George Stigler. 1946. “Roofs or Ceilings?,” September, Irvington-on-Hudson: Foundation for Economic Education,; reprinted as Friedman, Milton, and George Stigler. 1981. "Roofs or Ceilings?" in Rent Control: Myths and Realities, Walter E. Block  and Edgar Olsen, eds., Vancouver: The Fraser Institute.

Rothbard, Murray N. 2002. “Milton Friedman Unraveled.” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 16, No. 4, Fall, pp. 37-54;

Sennholz Hans F. 2006. “Milton Friedman, 1912-2006,” December 16

Vance, Laurence M. 1996. “Friedman’s Mistake.” The Free Market. Vol. 14, No. 11. November.

Vance, Laurence. 2005. “The Curse of the Withholding Tax” April 21;

Wapshott, Nicholas. 2012. “A Lovefest Between Milton Friedman and J.M. Keynes.” July 30; “Libertarians worship Milton Friedman, and liberals lionize John Maynard Keynes. But a long-lost essay shows that the champion of small government admired the prince of the New Deal.”

Wenzel, Robert. 2012. “How Milton Friedman Helped Make the Case for Big Government.” August 9

Wilcke, Richard R. 1999. “An appropriate ethical model for business,
and a critique of Milton Friedman,”

1 comment:

  1. Block should not sign any document he does not agree with. But IMO, the reasons he list are quite pedantic, bordering on petty. Why make everything into Milton Friedman-is-not-libertarian brawl?