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Milton Friedman: Advocate for Freedom?

I have been criticized for pointing out that Austrian Economics, particularly Menger, Mises, and Hayek, is not consistent with reason, science, or Natural Rights and therefore not consistent with Capitalism.  In this article I am going to apply the same standards to Milton Friedman, who is also often cited as a great advocate of freedom and capitalism.

Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize in economics and is not part of the Austrian School of Economics.  He is often classified as a monetarist or part of the Chicago School of Economics, I think the latter is more accurate.  Ayn Rand was no fan of Friedman.  She criticized his belief that economics must be morally neutral.   In this video, Rand states that Friedman is not an advocate for Capitalism and an enemy of Objectivism.Friedman

 

Epistemology

Milton Friedman laid out his ideas on epistemology in the essay “The Methodology of Positive Economics” (1953).  Some experts claim that the essay was a big influence on the Chicago School of Economics.  In this article he essentially argues for a pragmatic approach to epistemology, which boils down to if a model (theory) is predictive it is correct.

Friedman’s methodology, which appears to justify the eclectic and pragmatic view that economists should use any model that appears to “work” regardless of how absurd or unreasonable its assumptions might appear, has been deployed in service of a rigid theoretical orthodoxy.

Philosophy of Economics

Friedman argues that economic models are generally judged by the reasonableness of the underlying assumptions/propositions, however he thinks this is incorrect.

In so far as a theory can be said to have “assumptions” at all, and in so far as their “realism” can be judged independently of the validity of predictions, the relation between the significance of a theory and the “realism” of its “assumptions” is almost the opposite of that suggested by the view under criticism. Truly important and significant hypotheses will be found to have “assumptions” that are wildly inaccurate descriptive representations of reality, and, in general, the more significant the theory, the more unrealistic the assumptions (in this sense).

The Methodology of Positive Economics (1953)

It is easy to show Friedman’s pragmatism is mistaken.  Copernican Heliocentrism with its epicycles of the planets was highly predictive, but it was not science.  In science/engineering this is known as a heuristic model.  Heuristic models are often created by curve fitting the observed data.  They predict how a system will work within very narrow circumstance, but do not explain the underlying physics (causes).  As a result, heuristic models cannot be extended or built upon, when people attempt to do so they lead to false conclusions.

Friedman’s epistemology boils down to pragmatic “pure empiricism”, which means he accepts the evidence of his senses, but denies logic and concepts.  Friedman disconnects assumptions/propositions from the results of the model, which is an attack on logic.  An analogy would be that it might make no sense that doing a rain dance causes it to rain, but our empirical evidence says that it is predictive of whether it rains in the next couple of days so it is a good theory.  As a result, we are supposed to ignore that there is no causal relationship between the rain and the rain dance.

Friedman’s epistemology is anti-reason.  In one case Friedman argued that we need freedom because of this epistemological uncertainty.  “I have no right to coerce someone else, because I cannot be sure that I am right and he is wrong.”[1]  This is common position of libertarians and Austrians – lack of knowledge requires freedom.  This position not only undercuts all of science, it removes reason as the foundation of ethics, political philosophy, and law.  It is also unadulterated nonsense.

 

Science

Friedman is not proposing to do science, he is proposing to collect data that never leads to knowledge.  Science is based both on reality and reason/logic.  Friedman wants to ignore the reason/logic side of science.  While Friedman has different reasons for not proposing to do science, he is otherwise consistent with the Menger, Mises, and Hayek in rejecting science in economics.  Ultimately, Friedman’s ideas on science are just a rehash of Karl Popper’s misguided concept of science.

 

Ethics

Friedman is consistent with the Austrians in suggesting that economics must be value free – that is devoid of ethics.  Friedman argues in his paper The Methodology of Positive Economics, that for a discipline to be a science it must be free of moral judgments.  However, Friedman appears to making a finer distinction of where ethics fits in science and particularly in economics.

Positive economics is in principle independent of any particular ethical position or normative judgments. As Keynes says, it deals with “what is,” not with “what ought to be.”

The Methodology of Positive Economics

First, science requires a profound set of ethics that are unique in history.  This ethics requires reporting the data accurately,[2] follow the data to its logical conclusion, and never ascribing non-natural causes to the observations.

Second, imagine taking Friedman’s point of view in the science of medicine.  Medical doctors are not there to deal with ought to be, just to observe what is.  Are doctors biased in their observations, because they bring ethics into their science?

The question of ethics in economics disappears if the correct fundamental questions of economics iare defined and therefore the definition of economics is properly defined.  The most fundamental question of economics is: What is the source of real per capita increase in wealth?  This leads to the correct definition of economics which is the study of how man obtains the things he needs to live.  This puts the focus on human well-being, just like medicine.

Economists who pretend that they are not injecting ethics into economics are really pushing utilitarianism, often summed up as ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’.  This always leads to disaster.  In the short term the greatest good for the greatest number always weighs in favor of taking the property of those who create and giving it to those who do not, for instance.  In fact, many philosophers who push utilitarianism also push socialism.  The counter is usually that stealing people’s property is not good in the long run, but this argument rarely wins over most people.

I searched if Friedman ever mentions Natural Rights or Locke and never found anything.  This is not surprising as he explicitly rejects ethics, at least in economics, and implicitly accepts utilitarianism.

Friedman is inconsistent with the founding principles of the United States, inconsistent with Objectivism, and not an advocate of Capitalism, which is the economic system that occurs when a country protects people’s Natural Rights.

Friedman, in my opinion, is highly influence by the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, which would not be surprising as Adam Smith is in this group and also Jeremy Bentham, one of the big proponents of utilitarianism. [3] The Scottish Enlightenment philosophers were also highly skeptical of the efficacy of reason.

 

Source of Economic Growth

Friedman did not write much about what causes real per capita increases in wealth.  I assume he accepted the standard neo-classical idea that increases in capital were the cause of economic growth.  This does not fit the empirical evidence.  Friedman’s lack of interest in the question is damning.  Although, he did focus his attention on what inhibits economic growth.

Friedman spends almost no time discussing inventions or inventors.  Inventions are the only way to increase real per capita incomes and define the upper bound on the standard of living in any given period of time.  The fact that Friedman ignores them shows incredibly poor judgment.

 

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was the first time in history that real per capita incomes started to grow consistently.  Friedman’s only comments about the most important event in the history of economics was that the idea of robber barons was a myth.  This is not what I would expect of a scientist, however Friedman was clear that he was not doing science.

 

Conclusion

Milton Friedman hardly fares any better than the Austrian Economists.  Personally, I think his writing is much better than the Austrians and he is more likeable, which seemed to be part of his success in spreading his ideas.

Friedman’s ideas are inconsistent with reason, science, or Natural Rights and therefore not consistent with Capitalism.  He is not proposing to do science and undermines reason with his pragmatism.  However, unlike the Austrians, Milton Friedman’s supporters are not actively undermining property rights in his name.

 

 

 

[1] https://mises.org/library/friedman-intolerance-critique

[2] Something the so-called scientists studying Anthropomorphic Global Warming ignore.

[3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/07/31/milton-friedmans-property-rights-legacy/#264b72e06663

August 27, 2016 Posted by | -Economics, Innovation | , , , | 1 Comment

Makeup of the CAFC: Update 4/25/11

I have been wondering about the number judges on the Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit who were practicing patent attorneys.  I was surprised that I could not easily find this information.  Here is what I found (I believe this information is accurate, but if I am mistaken please let me know).  According the CAFC’s website there are 16 judges and five of them are patent attorneys.  Six of the judges have technical backgrounds.  I think this is pitiful.  However, all six of the judges on senior status do not have technical backgrounds and are not patent attorneys.  Thus, among the active judges five of 10 are patent attorneys and six of ten have technical backgrounds.  It appears that the court is moving in the right direction.  The newest judge is Kathleen M. O’Malley who does not have a technical background and is not a patent attorney.  The CAFC website plays up her experience with patent cases, but I am skeptical that this makes up for the right technical background or real experience in patent prosecution for the reasons stated below.

The CAFC has jurisdiction over most patent appeals.  According to the CAFC website 39% of its cases relate to intellectual property – 36% of which are patent cases.  It might be argued that since only 36% of their cases are related to patents, then it makes sense that only 36% (50% of active) of the judges should be patent attorneys.  I would argue this is incorrect.  First of all, we have plenty of federal judges without technical backgrounds.  It is not necessary to populate the CAFC with judges that do not have technical backgrounds to provide balance to the makeup of our federal judges.  In fact, the exact opposite is true.  Second, it is easy for a judge with a technical background to pick up and new area of law, but it is almost impossible for a judge without a technical background to understand the technical concepts associated with genetic engineering, XML, spread spectrum, organic chemistry or numerous other areas of technology.  We perpetuate a myth that the facts are decided at the trial level, so the judges at the appeal level do not have to understand the underlying technology to reach a correct decision.  However the judges on the Supreme Court prove over and over again that their ignorance of basic technology and science results is bad decisions.  See Bilski: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly https://hallingblog.com/2010/06/29/bilski-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/ and KSR: Supreme Ignorance by Supreme Court https://hallingblog.com/2010/01/19/ksr-supreme-ignorance-by-supreme-court-2/.  As a result, I believe that we need significantly more patent attorneys as judges on the CAFC.

Judge Patent Attorney Technical Background
Rader No No
Friedman* No No
Newman Yes Yes – Ph.D
Archer* No No
Mayer* No No
Plager* No No
Lorie Yes Yes – Ph.D
Clevenger* No No
Schall* No No
Bryson No No
Gajarasa Yes Yes – BSEE Patent Examiner
Linn Yes Yes – BEE
Dyk No No
Prost No Yes – BS
Moore Yes Yes – MSEE
O’Malley No No

* Senior status.

The following additional information was provided by stepback.

PAULINE NEWMAN, Circuit Judge: … She served as patent attorney and house counsel of FMC Corp. from 1954 to 1969 and as research scientist, American Cyanamid Co. from 1951 to 1954. Judge Newman received a B.A. from VassarCollegein 1947, an M.A. from ColumbiaUniversityin 1948, a Ph.D. from YaleUniversityin 1952 and an LL.B. from New York University School of Law in 1958.  From http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=126:pauline-newman-circuit-judge&catid=1:judges&Itemid=24.  Not surprisingly I have often believed Judge Newman is the most intelligent judge on the CAFC.

KIMBERLY A. MOORE, Circuit Judge: … was an Associate at Kirkland & Ellis from 1994 to 1995. From 1988 to 1992, Judge Moore was employed in electrical engineering with theNavalSurfaceWarfareCenter. Judge Moore received her B.S.E.E. in 1990, M.S. in 1991, both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and her J.D. (cum laude) from theGeorgetownUniversityLawCenterin 1994.

RICHARD LINN, Circuit Judge: … was a Partner and Practice Group Leader at theWashington,DClaw firm of Foley and Lardner from 1997 to 1999. He was a Partner and head of the intellectual property department at Marks and Murase, L.L.P. from 1977 to 1997. Judge Linn served as Patent Advisor, United States Naval Air Systems Command from 1971 to 1972, was a Patent Agent at the United States Naval Research Laboratory from 1968 to 1969, and served as a Patent Examiner at the United States Patent Office from 1965 to 1968 … He received a B.E.E. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1965, and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 1969.

ARTHUR J. GAJARSA, Circuit Judge: … was a partner in theWashington,DClaw firm of Joseph, Gajarsa, McDermott and Reiner, P.C. from 1987 to 1997. Since 2003, Judge Gajarsa has been an Adjunct Professor at theGeorgetownUniversityLawCenter. From 1980 to 1987, he was a Partner in the law firm of Wender, Murase and White. From 1978 to 1980 he was a Partner in the law firm of Gajarsa, Liss, and Conroy and from 1971 to 1972 … received a B.S.E.E. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1962, an M.A. from Catholic University of America in 1968, and a J.D. fromGeorgetownUniversityLawCenterin 1967.

April 25, 2011 Posted by | -Law, Patents | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments