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Friday, February 25, 2011

Free To Choose: A Personal Statement (audiobook) by Milton and Rose Friedman

A prototype of the current crop of approachable books on economics

12.5 hours
10 CDs
Read by James Adams

Free To Choose: A Personal Statement is the manifesto on the power of capitalism and freedom (and how they go hand in hand) that was designed to be read, digested and discussed by the common man, not the economist. In fact, this is the book that was designed as a follow-up companion to a 10 part PBS mini-series that fleshed out the ideas in the series and addressed issues and further questions that came up in the making of the television program.

Listening to Free to Choose as an audiobook is sort of ironic since the Friedman's mention that the book is a superior form for deep thinking on these topics because the reader is able to re-read passages, turn down pages and compare passages at will. Try that with an audiobook, especially with the relatively unsophisticated CD player in my car!

Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1976 (he always credited his wife for helping develop his theories so I would imagine he considered it a shared prize).

The audiobook follows the lead of the mini-series and has 10 broad areas that it covers, including:

-The Power of the Market;
-The Anatomy of a Crisis (an in-depth study of the Great Depression);
-Created Equal:
-What's Wrong With Our Schools;
-Who Protects the Consumer;
-Who Protects the Worker;
-How to Stay Free

Friedman is very much an advocate of the free market. For example, in a topic not discussed in the book, Friedman is famous for advocating the all-volunteer army we have now. It uses incentives rather than the draft to get people to join and that seems to have worked out quite well.

Rose Friedman (1910/11-2009)
and
Milton Friedman (1912-2006)
I will comment in detail on the only topic that they discuss that I know intimately: Education. I have been a teacher for 21 years in tiny rural schools and large urban systems and now I am in a suburban system that is becoming more urban every day.

The Friedmans rightly decry the gigantic bureaucracy that sucks money right of the system, all of the way from the Secretary of Education to his 50 counterparts in the various states and all of their myriad ways of creating even more positions to look over the shoulder of school corporations, school boards, superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals, department heads and all of their office assistants. You would be amazed how many people it takes to make sure I have chalk and staples in my class. Actually, I have almost always had to buy them for myself.

So, just what do these people do anyway?

I take great issue with the Friedmans' assertion that bad schools create bad neighborhoods and crime rather than bad neighborhoods and crime creating bad schools.

The Friedmans also too quickly dismiss the costs of private schools and parochial schools. They claim that they are cheaper for any number of reasons than public schools. They blithely comment that they are cheaper because they have to compete and they move on. But, are they cheaper? My church has a new school. It was built at a cost of several million dollars, almost none of which is passed on to the consumer because this is looked upon as a mission for the church. We also provide absolutely no tranportation in any way - not to and from school, not for field trips, not for sporting events. That is a cost borne by the parents and not typically figured into the bill (but public schools MUST provide transportation to and from school). My church's school has contracted with a caterer to provide meals, but the costs are not subsidized. Subsidized meals are part of the cost you always see when you hear how expensive public schools are. Private and parochial schools also rarely deal with severely mentally or physically handicapped students. That is an expensive part of any school and public schools are required to educate all students, even those who have little or no hope of ever learning how to write their names and require aides to help them do the simplest of tasks.

Anyway, I have done a lot of complaining about what was a pretty solid economics book. Some of it is dated, some is a little arcane and jargon-filled but most of it is presented in plain, easy to understand English.. This is the grandfather of more recent and more accessible books like Naked Economics and Freakonomics, and for that it has to be respected.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on February 25, 2011.

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