Friedman confirmed free markets work best

Dallas Hansen

November 18, 2006

During the‭ ‬20th century,‭ ‬there was among economists much debate about what role the government should have in shaping economic policy.‭ ‬While interventionists,‭ notably‬ John Maynard Keynes,‭ ‬believed government programs necessary to tackle the problems of unemployment and inflation,‭ ‬Milton Friedman—who died this week at age‭ ‬94‭—‬believed the best thing a government could do to help an economy is get out of the way.

Calling himself a‭ “‬classical liberal,‭” ‬Friedman audaciously dismissed the interventionists,‭ ‬shredding several of Keynes’s theories in the process.‭ ‬Above all,‭ ‬Friedman stood as a champion of not only economic but human freedom,‭ ‬notoriously advocating against compulsory military service,‭ ‬restrictions on foreign trade,‭ ‬and the criminalization of prostitution and drugs.

In‭ ‬1976‭ ‬Friedman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics—one of several distinguished awards he was to receive throughout his lifetime.‭ ‬Yet his humble beginnings in working-class Brooklyn affirmed the axiom that free markets will reward the patient diligence of individuals with the fruits of prosperity.

While free-market philosophies have come to dominate economic thinking as of late,‭ ‬it was only as recently as the‭ ‬1970s that then-president Richard Nixon declared himself a Keynesian.‭ ‬By that point Keynes himself had been dead for decades,‭ ‬but Friedman was around to blame the decade’s stagflation—high unemployment coupled with high inflation—upon Keynesian economic policies.‭ ‬Friedman’s laissez-faire thinking subsequently became valuable currency during the tax-slashing age of Reaganomics.

It could be argued that Friedman’s influence upon the direction of the world’s largest economy in the‭ ‬1980s led to America’s even better economic performance during the‭ ‬1990s.‭ ‬Low inflation,‭ ‬a raging bull market in securities,‭ ‬the widespread gentrification of formerly blighted urban areas—the century’s end was kind to America,‭ ‬a vindication of once-controversial free trade agreements and the monetarist school of economic thought with which Friedman’s name became synonymous.

Friedman’s ideas owe much to the man known as the first economist,‭ ‬Scottish philosopher Adam Smith,‭ ‬whose seminal‭ ‬1776‭ ‬work‭ ‬An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations‭ ‬famously suggested that an‭ “‬invisible hand‭” ‬would guide people toward their own self-interest.‭ ‬Classical economists such as Smith believed that a natural state for free economies was full employment.‭ ‬The United States today,‭ ‬with a population that has recently passed the‭ ‬300‭ ‬million mark,‭ ‬has an unemployment rate of just‭ ‬4.6‭ ‬per cent.‭ ‬With an increasingly mobile workforce delivering labour to where it’s needed,‭ ‬America has work for nearly all of her willing citizens—and even,‭ ‬as has lately been much-reported,‭ ‬her undocumented immigrants.

Milton Friedman 1912-2006

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the American economy is how new entrepreneurs are being made daily,‭ ‬many of them earning a living in ways most unlikely.‭ ‬Only in America could you,‭ ‬for example,‭ ‬make your fortune as a professional harmonica instructor.‭ ‬Or,‭ ‬for that matter,‭ ‬as a Barry White impersonator.

During Friedman’s long life he got to see laissez-faire economics move from unorthodox to mainstream.‭ ‬He observed the failings and the collapses of centrally planned juggernauts in the communist world.‭ ‬Despite his advanced age,‭ ‬he never plunged into senility,‭ ‬opining in‭ ‬2004‭ ‬that even as Russia and China have become freer with their embrace of market capitalism,‭ ‬many western societies were suffering beneath the yoke of increased regulation.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬he did,‭ ‬during that interview,‭ ‬declare himself‭ “‬an optimist,‭” ‬and although he had already won many battles,‭ ‬he would still continue to argue for school vouchers and privatizing Social Security.

“Government today controls something like 40 per cent of the resources of the country,” said Friedman in a March, 2006 interview. “A decent government controls like 10 or 15 per cent.” He then joked, “The virtue is that government is so inefficient, it wastes the great bulk of those resources. If it used those resources efficiently, it could do great damage.”

Keynesianism and governmental attempts to tweak economic demand were in vogue during the 1950s, when Friedman came of age as an academic. This was a time of “galloping socialism,” as Friedman described it, which would later slow down to “creeping socialism.” During, however, the Reagan and Clinton administrations, the U.S. federal government even experienced a contraction. But there is no mistaking that Friedman, a lifelong Republican, felt betrayed at the current Bush administration’s runaway budgets when he said, again in March, “I think it’s really disgraceful that the Republican Party, which preaches holding down the size of government, should have been, and the Bush administration should have been, such a big spender.”

If you believe sound monetary policy, rather than happenstance, to be responsible for today’s prosperous times, do remember Milton Friedman. He may have left this world, but his ideas are here to stay.


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Games of the past

Video arcades were alive with action, sounds… and people

Dallas Hansen

November 4, 2006

Strolling through Winnipeg Square one afternoon this week, I aimed for an oasis of frivolity amid the underground concourse’s sober bustle — RC Amusements, a longstanding video arcade tucked behind the Kernels popcorn stand since before I could remember. So timeless did the place seem that I was stunned when I found it was gone.

Oddly enough, I fell in love with downtown Winnipeg because of video games. Among my early memories is a mid-1980s trip to Long John Silver’s, an arcade on Portage Avenue that seemed, at the time, the most exciting experience of my life. It wasn’t just the games. The sounds, people, voices, lights, and carnival atmosphere provided soothing stimulation to an easily bored, hyperactive child.

By the time I was eight, the Saturday bus ride downtown had for me and my schoolmate, Alan Charbonneau, become a weekly ritual. After a week of waking at six a.m. to deliver newspapers, we rewarded ourselves by leaving our parents behind to wander from Saratoga Amusements to Games on the Avenue — usually stopping at Comic World in-between — battling it out at Karate Champ or Bubble Bobble during the lull in home gaming that existed between the Atari and the Nintendo.

Your correspondent, at the wheel of a Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 3 machine in 2009

There were other places to play. MagicLand offered unlimited gaming by the hour. KK Amusements in Eaton Place featured the newest and the best games, but the staff were particularly keen that you present a signed parental permission form if you were under age 16. Although barely 10, I had grown to be taller than one of the arcade’s employees, who upon snarkily asking, “Are you 16?” received my annoyed reply, “Are you?”

During weekdays, we had to contend with the local Double Dragon machine at St. Anne’s Food Store — invariably surrounded by what today would be the unthinkably politically incorrect spectacle of chain-smoking sixth-graders in full heavy metal attire. These older fellows were prone to shaking you down for your comic book money and most often smelled as nasty as they appeared.

The corner store arcade game was a cornerstone of the youth community even years later. During high school, the 7-Eleven near Glenlawn Collegiate played host to a seemingly incessant Street Fighter II tournament. Among the boys, social rank and popularity within the school’s halls were actually in large part determined by how well you played that game. By this point, heavy metal kids had become nearly extinct, leaving me jostling for status against the jocks, preppies, skaters, and hip-hoppers of the moment.

Arcade culture probably peaked around 1992, with the opening of Lazer Illusions — a giant, futuristic arcade in the east wing of Polo Park Shopping Centre that had a notorious rule forbidding ball caps worn backward. Lazer Illusions lasted just a couple of years, after which the mall no longer seemed to be made for young people.

Downtown, however, always remained the Saturday destination.

My explorations eventually led me off the Portage Avenue strip. Crystal Palace, a 24-hour billiard hall with a significant arcade, appeared on my radar when I was 12. Located at Ellice and Donald, in the basement of the building now occupied by the Giant Tiger discount chain, Crystal Palace’s menacing ambiance lent me a sense of toughness that seemingly pushed me nearer to manhood.

These days, gamers are more likely to be grown-ups than kids. Indeed, according to an poll in May, 40 per cent of U.S. adults play video games. Few, however, do so in the public atmosphere of a video arcade. Opponents are likelier to be across the world via the Internet, each player sitting solitary at home. Or perhaps at a cyber caf , seated at a terminal, matched against someone across the room. Either way, the social component of video gaming has been lost.

Ordinarily, I would count myself among the majority who do not play video games. Sometime in high school my leisurely interests shifted to things more tangible: Girls, skateboarding, billiards, books. About a year ago, however, my girlfriend and I rediscovered Winnipeg Square’s RC Amusements, and we began consciously visiting at least once a month. Somehow we both knew RC’s days were numbered. A combination of sentiment and nostalgia kept us coming back, perhaps hoping our occasional patronage would itself maintain the place. Possibly we were seeking to squeeze out a few more memories before the opportunity disappeared.

Thankfully, there remains one last video game arcade downtown, and it’s open 24 hours daily: Bourbon Street Billiards, at Vaughan St. and Graham Ave. Not that I’m itching to play, but these games are best enjoyed publicly, with strangers and with friends.