post by Paul Kelleher
Milton Friedman (Capitalism and Freedom, ch. 12):
The heart of the [classical] liberal philosophy is a belief in the dignity of the individual, in his freedom to make the most of his capacities and opportunities according to his own lights, subject only to the proviso that he not interfere with the freedom of other individuals to do the same. [...]
[The classical liberal] will regard private charity directed at helping the less fortunate as an example of the proper use of freedom. And he may approve state action toward ameliorating poverty as a more effective way in which the great bulk of the community can achieve a common objective. He will do so with regret, however, at having to subsitute compulsory for voluntary action.
The egalitarian will go this far, too. But he will want to go further. He will defend taking from some to give to others, not as a more effective means whereby the "some" can acheive an objective they want to achieve, but on grounds of "justice." At this point, equality comes sharply into conflict with freedom; one must choose. One cannot be both an egalitarian, in this sense, and a liberal.
Friedman never explains why, on his classical liberal view, I am permitted to take your money if that is required to make my pursuit of private charity "more effective." Nor does he explain why I am permitted to do this if I and others are coercively promoting charity, but not if we are coercively promoting "justice." All we are told is that once the goal becomes justice rather than charity, then "at this point, equality comes sharply into conflict with freedom." Huh?
The same questions arise for someone who believes (1) that the market gives people what they deserve and are entitled to keep, but (2) some "altruistic well-to-do" are too weak-willed to give to charity on their own, so they need to call in goverment to make them give, even if the non-altruistic well-to-do are thereby forced to give up some of their "just deserts." Like Friedman, Greg Mankiw never explains why this is a stable position to hold.