Oct

10

Milton FriedmanWhen he visited the West Coast in the 70s and 80s, I was my Dad's on-call chauffeur. Besides getting the benefit of parental lectures about my dissolute, self-employed ways, I also got to listen to his discussions with authors. One of the conversations that I remember vividly was a discussion with Milton Friedman about his "school voucher" initiative. Dad agreed with Friedman that education should not be a government monopoly, but he urged the Professor not to present his case to the voters in terms of "vouchers." The word had a terrible connotation, he said. It suggested that people were getting education Food Stamps. If Friedman wanted to allow Californians to be free to choose, he should structure it in terms of changing California's Education Code so that parents had the right to send their children to any school they wanted to or to homeschool them. I remember Dad's saying, "If you make it about money, Milton, you will organize your enemies. The parents in the rich suburban districts and the people who have no economic choices about where their kids go to school will both vote against it." They did; and they still do. Vouchers remain a stone political loser, for all of their seeming intellectual merit.

Back then I was still young enough to assume that Professor Friedman would appreciate getting free political advice from someone who had become a multi-millionaire by navigating the shoals and rapids of 50 State Boards of Education, thousands of local school boards, and the recently created Federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare and had made Friedman himself a millionaire from book royalties. Wrong! The Professor lectured Dad about the absolute necessity of vouchers as part of the initiative. If there were no vouchers, then giving people the legal right to find alternate paths would be meaningless. Dad's reply was "Milton, if people have the right to pursue alternatives, they will find the money. Hell, the money will find them." That comment effectively ended the conversation. It left Professor Friedman literally sputtering with incomprehension. He simply could not conceive of the idea that capital would flow to a new and better idea for education — simply because it was a better idea. The Professor was, for all his wisdom, as completely bound by his academic horizons as any of his more liberal colleagues. He assumed that the government had to pay for schooling — one way or another.


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