Thu, 19 Aug 2004 15:40:49 GMT

The correct way to argue with Milton Friedman.

I’m pretty sure that it was JK Galbraith (with an outside chance that it was Bhagwati) who noted that there is one and only one successful tactic to use, should you happen to get into an argument with Milton Friedman about economics. That is, you listen out for the words “Let us assume” or “Let’s suppose” and immediately jump in and say “No, let’s not assume that”. The point being that if you give away the starting assumptions, Friedman’s reasoning will almost always carry you away to the conclusion he wants to reach with no further opportunities to object, but that if you examine the assumptions carefully, there’s usually one of them which provides the function of a great big rug under which all the points you might want to make have been pre-swept.

A few CT mates appear to be floundering badly over this Law & Economics post at Marginal Revolution on the subject of why it’s a bad idea to have minimum standards for rented accommodation. (Atrios is doing a bit better). So I thought I’d use it as an object lesson in applying the Milton Friedman technique.

[Crooked Timber]


actually, i've found that denying any economists first principles and/or assumptions pretty much ends the conversation. if you can't agree with their assumptions about human nature or society, then everything they've modeled based on those, or argued based on those, fail miserably, as they generally do in the face of the broad body of empirical evidence in the world except in the most general cases.