Today is the 96th anniversary of Milton Friedman’s birth.

If Dr. Friedman stood for anything, it was freedom. In his book, Free to Choose, Friedman points out that if we are to wisely choose between the “road to serfdom” and “voluntary cooperation between free individuals, “we must … understand the intimate connection between political freedom and economic freedom.”

That connection is too often overlooked today. Economic regulation today-from consumer protection laws to price controls-is based on the ignorance of this principle: “[I]f an exchange between two parties is voluntary, it will not take place unless both believe they will benefit from it. Most economic fallacies derive from the neglect of this simple insight, from the tendency to assume there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only from the expense of the other.”

Friedman continues, “If we continue down this path, there is no doubt where it will end. … If it is appropriate for the government to protect us from using dangerous bicycles and cap guns, the logic calls for prohibiting still more dangerous activities such as hang-gliding, motorcycling, and skiing.”

Back in 1980, Friedman was optimistic that we would ultimately choose another path: “Fortunately, we are waking up. We are again recognizing the dangers of an over-governed society, coming to understand that good objectives can be perverted by bad means, that reliance on the freedom of people to control their own lives in accordance with their own values is the surest way to achieve the full potential of a great society.”

For supporters of limited government today, 1980 and the Reagan wave of economic freedom sure seem a distant memory, and President Clinton’s proclamation that “the era of big government is over” seems in doubt.

But we must not forget that we still have a choice and should hold fast to Milton Friedman’s optimistic vision for the future.

– Bill Peacock