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on 7 January 2004
This book makes great reading for the non-economist who simply finds the subject of economics interesting. Milton Friedman speaks from the heart without going into too much jargon that only economists understand.
Since the book is a 'personal statement' he often expresses himself philosophically, as opposed to writing with sound facts to back up his arguments. Whether facts are used or not in the text, he tends to promote his deep capitalist persuasion, whilst making little reference to the often justified, opposing arguments.
Having read the socialist-economist: Noreena Hertz's 'Silent Takover', which is written with a bias to the oposite end of the spectrum, reading 'Free to Choose' gave a very different & thought provoking perspective of economic & polical idealogy.
Andrew, Doncaster UK
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on 12 June 2011
Every once in a while a book crystallises a world view. Free To Choose has a good claim in this respect arriving as it did in 1980 . It's a clear exposition of the free market economics that influenced Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, leading to one of the greatest economic booms in history and arguably spelling the end of communist power.

Milton Friedman is a Nobel prize-winning economist, winning the prize in recognition of his work on the money supply and inflation. However the main (and more important) theme of Free To Choose is a critical look at the road that the free market idea has travelled since it's first clear presentation in 1776 by Adam Smith in the remarkable book, The Wealth of Nations.

To quote Friedman on the power of the free market idea, "if an exchange between two parties is voluntary, it will not take place unless both believe that they will benefit from it" or "the price system is the mechanism that performs this task without central direction, without requiring people to speak to one another or to like one another. When you buy your pencil or your daily bread, you don't know whether the pencil was made or the wheat was grown by a white man or a black man, by a Chinese or an Indian. As a result, the price system enables people to co-operate peacefully in one phase of their life while each one goes about his business in respect of everything else."

When this concept is repeated millions of times one has a flexible evolving system that can meet peoples needs in a way that no top-down planned price and production system can hope to match. Is this stating the obvious? - Well it seems not . Friedman uses the greater part of the book to show how the free market idea has been under attack, often in the places where it has generated the greatest wealth in the past.

One way or another government comes into the picture and the reader enters a strange Orwellian world of double-talk where "for your own good" means "for our own good" and "we" are "you".

As democratic governments respond to the question "What are you going to do about it?" without having a clear idea about what is their responsibility, and what isn't , the need for government departments, institutions, committees, etc. continues to grow, adding more leaves and branches to the tree. If one doubts the reality of the growth of government, a good survey of the world economy ( by Clive Crook in The Economist 20th Sept.97) gives figures that support Friedmans observations:
U.S.Government spending as % of GNP

1913 3%
1937 9%
1960 28%
1996 33%

Crook notes that this is after the pro-market anti-big government rhetoric of Thatcher and Reagan. In the U.S. government spending remained unchanged, in the UK it only fell 1% as a result the new philosophy and everywhere else it continues to rise reaching for example 55% in France last year and 65% in Sweden.

The unstated assumption is that somehow governments can undertake activities more successfully than individuals in the new areas that they enter - an idea that Friedman comprehensively shows to be false.

At the end of the book he offers an interesting set of suggestions based around an "economic constitution" and highlights market solutions to government only areas. Nevertheless his own solutions seem to create a problem of their own that he doesn't address at all, namely - "pay enough and you can do what you want" whether this is polluting a lake or limiting quality of education to what you can pay for.

Even if the reader isn't particularly interested in economics this is an exceptionally worthwhile book.

UPDATE: US government spending is now (2011)40% of GNP.
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on 21 March 2007
Much of what is said in Free to Choose is essentially unassailable. Free markets work wonderfully well for many things, and governments are blunt instruments that often give the wrong incentives. One cannot argue.

However, there are a couple of areas where he pushes too far, into regions where it is not at all clear if free market capitalism will work as well as the book promises. Education doesn't simply fit into the free market mold because it's not clear who is buying the education. Is it the parent or the student? Is it the student before education or the student after education? It's also very different from buying shoes, because most people only buy one education; one doesn't get a chance to learn from failed purchases. So, it doesn't quite fit Adam Smith's model of two people, each rationally deciding if the transaction will be beneficial to him/her self.

Thus the book is missing something important: a discussion of how far one can apply the free market model. Friedman assumes it applies to everything, and maybe it does, but there are a lot of important cases where it's not at all clear.

But, really, I shouldn't complain too much. Every book has to stop somewhere, and there is much sense and very little confusion here. It's a readable book, and still relevant, even though history has moved on a bit.
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on 19 April 2012
The book embodied the best of mainstream economies. All economic activities are indiscernible, same carriers of economic development, perfect and instant information hit everyone at the same time - hence the equality assumption. It follows that government should stay out of the market pharmaceuticals, education e.t.c the equality assumption replays over again; people should choose . . who can disagree?

If you need precision, equilibrium, and simple logic this is the best read but in reality things don't work that way. Hardly will any country play to these policies. He talks about abolishing minimum wage to create employment and more profit for entrepreneurs - i wonder why he refused to make the call for free immigration by logic of his argument. Why free trade in all factors of production but labor - immigration restriction is the single biggest protection and YES free immigration will drive down wage faster and create more employment . . Adam Smith treated free immigration as a prerequisite for free-trade and this is the only way factor price equalization is ever possible.

Milton Friedman is a wasted talent searching for equilibrium and precision instead of economic development. His theory is devoid from reality so is Hayek . . . David Ricardo's theory is where is all went wrong . .

My views.
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on 27 May 2011
In a democratic country every voter can influence the scope and style of Government in their country by participating in elections. This book provides the definitive explanation of the relative advantages of the Free Market compared to Government Intervention. In essence, the argument for more or less Government intervention into the lives of citizens. This is the fundamental issue facing society today. Anybody intending to vote and especially everybody who has been or expects to be elected to public office should read this book and understand the arguments presented.

Milton Friedman, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, wrote this book with his wife Rose and created a companion TV series. His essential thesis is that while Free Markets and Capitalism have obvious problems, no other system yet invented offers a better solution. In particular he offers compelling arguments that the poor and less fortunate are far better off in a free society with free markets than they are under a system of Government control such as Socialism even when those in favour of Government intervention have good intentions. The brilliance of Milton's intellect shines on almost every page and makes this book a great read.

Milton will challenge many opinions you hold and will open your mind to new ways at looking at problems. I read a lot and this book is the most valuable I have read so far. Milton's earlier book "Capitalism and Freedom" is very valuable too. It is probably best to read it before "Free to Choose."
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on 15 June 2015
After watching a Youtube clip of Friedman on the 4 ways to spend money I was intrigued by his arguments. this takes it a step further. As someone who has always been fairly economically illiterate I thought it was high time I confronted this 'deficit' in my wisdom.
Simple ideas that mostly stand the test of time
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This book is not difficult to read and its arguments are practical sounding and convincing. Economics and economists seem to exist either side of a political divide or, at least, between those who are wholeheartedly capitalist and those who are not. Milton Friedman is unashamedly of the former persuasion and he makes the case well, but not without including a social dimension that many could do well to examine; that is, without wealth and wealth creation, there can be no welfare that does anybody any good; you've got to make the money before you can spend it - however it is that you choose to do so, which is a political question. Friedman makes this case well, but also is quite clear that the role of Government is necessary to help keep a balance between greed and need. As he sees it, Government performs an essential role, but it should not try to act like a wealth creator, simply because it is both inefficient and inexpert in this role. His arguments are difficult to counter and one soon realises that his argument is valid and, essentially, practical. We could all benefit, as a nation, if we had a better grasp of economics and this book could well be a standard by which we receive that education: excellent book!
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on 24 September 2013
Obviously a great book, especially for an entry level into free market thinking. If this book was mandatory to read in schools democracy would work :D Though you can get free audio tapes around the internet a lot of the time you will want to reread some pages, in which case a book works better.
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on 19 October 2015
I was lucky enough to get a copy signed by both Milton & Rose Friedman, and the book was still in perfect condition (seemingly never opened).
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on 13 May 2016
If someone closed down the US universities' economics departments (please?) because they were no longer in demand then, and in Friedman's own words, all that would happen is that there would be a reallocation of resources. Full stop. End of chapter. Move on.
What then happened to Mr Friedman and his colleagues would be of no concern to him. They are just 'reallocated'. A bit like miners get 'reallocated' - except that they don't because they don't end up working at the call centres that get built on the then abandoned coal mines.
Economists such as this are the very reason why economics began as political economy and (hopefully) is returning to that. It is inextricably linked with politics, psychology and moral philosophy (with some statistics and probability thrown in). A bit like the moral sciences degree that JM Keynes studied.
On the up side, I was able to name something after him: the Friedman Fallacy: he says if you control the money supply you control inflation. No: if you control the money supply (not that there is such a thing - there are many) then something you are not measuring starts misbehaving. All you've done is squash one bit of the amoeba - and when you that another part spurts out. Just because you observe that if A changes then B changes doesn't mean that if you change A then B changes in the observed manner.
This remains the only book I've bought and thrown away in disgust - even Dan Brown didn't get that treatment. Mind you, I couldn't do that with 'Anarchy State and Utopia' because it was a library book ...
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