Monday, June 17, 2019

Orval Watts On Dealing With Milton Friedman On the Question of Equality

Milton Friedman
Vernon Orval Watts (1898-1993) was a leading free-market economist of the World War II era and the former Editorial Director of the Foundation for Economic Education. 

In the mid 1970s, Watts was interviewed by Dall Wilson, a young features writer and photographer.The interview, which was never published, took place in Watts's office at Campbell College in Buies Creek, North Carolina. In 2019, Wilson shared with FEE a transcript of the interview. Below is Watts discussing his interaction with Milton Friedman.

DALL WILSON: How did you meet economist Milton Friedman?

WATTS: I was editing a piece that Friedman had submitted to the Foundation For Economic Education where I was in charge of the editing and writing publications. His piece done with Stigler when they were both fresh out of graduate school was called "roofs" or "ceilings" and it was on rent control. It was very good except for a few dead rats or "give-aways." I got all of them changed or eliminated. Stigler at least was quite cooperative. All of them except one. This one ran something like this, "equality is a very desirable goal but there are better ways of achieving it than by rent control." I wanted to eliminate that passage.

Friedman refused, wouldn't budge an inch.

So I added an editor's footnote, signed my name to it so that he'd know and said that at least some economists regard equality of opportunity as a desirable goal and one of the ways of achieving it is to eliminate special privileges such as protective tariffs, subsidies and I mentioned some other things. When it came out in print he hit the roof because that wasn't what he meant at the time. He meant progressive income taxes. And I was pretty sure he did, taxes on profits, that sort of thing. He was pretty much full of, at least he had some of the New Deal bugs clinging to him, and I was a good deal freer of them than he was then. I met him again when he talked to students at the Freedom School in Colorado Springs.

Bob Lefevre was operating the Freedom School and he had me there as Dean in '63 and '64. He had men like Friedman come for a week to give lectures, oh about six hours a day. They worked hard for their thousand dollars apiece a week [laughs]. I brought this matter up somehow or other in conversation with Friedman, and he was sore as ever. "That was the lousiest trick, the dirtiest trick," he said, adding that he ought to sue me [laughs] for altering his manuscript. Well, I didn't alter his manuscript, I didn't alter a comma without their permission. This was an editor's footnote. As far as I know, the publisher's entitled to do such things.

I think he has changed enough so that now he would modify this statement and change it to "equality of opportunity" instead of what he put previously. I knew at the time he was thinking "equality of results" through progressive income taxes, that sort of thing.

(via FEE)


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