Paul Samuelson on Freedom
Some economists are good at political philosophy as well. Mises and Rothbard of course come to mind, but the good philosophers aren’t confined to Austrian school economists. Amartya Sen and Kenneth Arrow know what they are talking about when it comes to philosophy, agree with them or not. But some eminent economists don’t, and, judging by Nicholas Wapshott’s new book, Samuelson Friedman (Norton, 2021), the most famous American economist of the twentieth century, Paul Samuelson, was not a philosophical giant. The book is a study of the Newsweek columns of Samuelson and Milton Friedman, and Samuelson doesn’t appear to have thought through philosophical issues very deeply. Friedman does much better, but I’m going to be talking only about Samuelson.
One of the clichés of anti–free market thought is the claim that human rights are more important than property rights. This is nonsense; property rights are rights of human beings to property. Samuelson accepts an extreme version of this cliché:
“The rights of property shrink as the rights of man expand,” he wrote. While some suffered because the government intervened in the market, an unfettered market had winners and losers, too, he argued. While the free market suggested that everyone was free to buy what they wanted, there was such a thing as rationing by price, which put many items well beyond the reach of those without the means. The children of those who could not afford good education, for instance, were deprived by the market setting too high a
Article from Mises Wire