Friedman – The Marketplace of Ideas
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Friedman – The Marketplace of Ideas

Speaker: My question deals with the point
of using Madison Avenue tactics to ram programs through people’s throats. Surely, Dr. Friedman,
those who claim no knowledge of economics and indeed many economists, too, listen to
you. Why do they listen? Well, because there is faith in your knowledge and ability to
analyze economic problems and launch an academic campaign. Suppose in the future, God forbid,
you are found to be wrong? Surely, Dr. Friedman, does not the fault lay in our faith than in
the decision makers? Does not the myth then grow out of the faith, the same faith we use
to believe in you now? Prof. Friedman: Yes, it does, but there’s
big difference–quite a difference. I don’t have any objections to Madison Avenue tactics.
I think advertising serves a very useful function so long as it’s competitive. I think it’s
fine for me to be able to talk to you, as long as other people can talk to you and you
can hear other views, and you can make up your mind. The thing I object to about government
use of Madison Avenue tactics is that it is unrestrained and it doesn’t have effective
competition; that it is financed not voluntarily, not by the people who buy the product; that
you and I have to pay taxes to hire people to persuade us to pay still more taxes. That’s
the feature of it that I object to. I have no objection to individuals in their private
capacity getting up on platforms, as I’m getting up on this one, to try to persuade
people to one view or another. But should the people you and I pay with taxes be in
that position? Should we have employees of the Social Security Board sending around propaganda
for extending Social Security? Is that an appropriate use of governmental money? I don’t
think so, and that’s what I object to. Speaker (same): Granted it is not, but aren’t
the people supposed to be intelligent enough to know deceit from truth? Prof. Friedman: No. They’re supposed to
be intelligent enough to choose among alternative purveyors of supposed truth. The problem is
a one-sidedness. We believe the whole justification for free press, for free speech, for our whole
system of adversary justice–the whole justification–is that people will be best able to distinguish
truth from falsity if they have an opportunity to hear a variety of different opinions. If
you only have one opinion spoken, to shift grounds, if we go to the Soviet Union, the
people in the Soviet Union are enormously skeptical about what they hear from their
government but they cannot know the truth because they don’t hear it. They have to
conjecture what is the truth because they only hear one side. They don’t believe that,
don’t misunderstand me. They become experts at reading between the lines. But they still
don’t have access to the full variety of opinion which would enable them to choose
and decide intelligently and reasonably about what’s right. So let’s by all means have
a clash of opinions. Let different beliefs clash in the marketplace of ideas, but let’s
not have a monopoly or subsidization of one brand of ideas versus another.

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4 thoughts on “Friedman – The Marketplace of Ideas

  1. ask people from the departments of physics : what is information ? Most of them would say… we don't have a clue, but it might be something totally different than matter-energy. Prigogine shows how dissipative structures emerge from matter. Well, why wouldn't information be one of these dissipative structures?

  2. treating information as the way we treat other "goods" is… impossible. It is radically different from all that we usually exchange on a marketplace …. : it is a non-rival good (you're not deprived of it after you gave it) and it is impossible to separte from "human attention". With the arousal of the internet : the marketplace of ideas, it is a marketplace of human attention… (cf. Herbert Simon). Well… and this is highly problematic

  3. Everything is cool provided certain ideas are sanctioned by powerful authorities and instilled by rigidly structured institutions. Milton got to spend a lot of time explaining the beauty and efficacy of an economic theory that rests on the assurance of a certain class of people showing up daily to produce for a subsistence wage because his credentials and his corporate benefactors created the opportunity. This reminds me of how Bill Gates succeeded in foisting his junk Windows operating system on computer manufacturers. 

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