Milton Friedman & John Kenneth Galbraith’s Present Their Opposing Economic Philosophies on Two TV Series (1977–1980)

Do Mil­ton Fried­man and John Ken­neth Gal­braith debate in that great eco­nom­ics depart­ment in the sky? Both men died in 2006, after remark­ably long and dis­tin­guished careers as two of the most wide­ly read econ­o­mists of the 20th cen­tu­ry, yet I can only with great dif­fi­cul­ty imag­ine them ever agree­ing. Fried­man, founder of the free mar­ket-ori­ent­ed Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go “school” of eco­nom­ics, scru­ti­nized the world’s economies and found that a only min­i­mum of gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tion makes for a max­i­mum of free­dom. The Cana­di­an-born Gal­braith, who served on Har­vard’s fac­ul­ty as well as under four U.S. Pres­i­dents, saw things dif­fer­ent­ly, believ­ing in the neces­si­ty of a strong state to ensure sta­bil­i­ty, effi­cien­cy, and equal­i­ty. Both spent a great deal of time and ener­gy com­mu­ni­cat­ing direct­ly with the pub­lic, not just with pop­u­lar books and com­men­taries on eco­nom­ic issues of the day, but with tele­vi­sion pro­grams too. You can watch Gal­braith’s The Age of Uncer­tain­ty, which first aired on the BBC in 1977, above. Fried­man’s “response” Free to Choose, broad­cast on PBS in 1980, appears below.

The fif­teen-episode Age of Uncer­tain­ty and the ten-episode Free to Choose both come down to the teach­ings of their star econ­o­mists; you might think of them as extend­ed lec­tures, with quite dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions, on the caus­es and effects of cap­i­tal­ism. But both expand upon this base of con­tent with rich imagery, from a vari­ety of cre­ative visu­al­iza­tions (up to and includ­ing his­tor­i­cal drama­ti­za­tion) of Gal­braith’s words to Fried­man’s trav­els far and wide, from his mon­ey-dri­ven birth­place of New York City to the “haven for peo­ple who sought to make the most of their own abil­i­ties” of Hong Kong in search of real exam­ples of the free mar­ket in action. The styles of dress may look dat­ed, but the pro­duc­tion val­ue holds up, and the eco­nom­ic issues dis­cussed have only grown more rel­e­vant with time. Whether you believe the gov­ern­ment should keep a help­ing hand on the econ­o­my or keep its grub­by mitts off it, both series have a wealth, as it were, of enter­tain­ment and edu­ca­tion in store for you. As bit­ter­ly as Gal­braithi­an sta­tists and Fried­man­ite lib­er­tar­i­ans may argue, sure­ly they can agree on the enjoy­a­bil­i­ty of qual­i­ty tele­vi­sion.

The Age of Uncer­tain­ty

  1. The Prophets and Promise of Clas­si­cal Cap­i­tal­ism
  2. The Man­ners and Morals of High Cap­i­tal­ism
  3. The Dis­sent of Karl Marx
  4. The Colo­nial Idea
  5. Lenin and the Great Unglu­ing
  6. The Rise and Fall of Mon­ey
  7. The Man­darin Rev­o­lu­tion
  8. The Fatal Com­pe­ti­tion
  9. The Big Cor­po­ra­tion
  10. Land and Peo­ple
  11. The Metrop­o­lis
  12. Democ­ra­cy, Lead­er­ship, Com­mit­ment
  13. Week­end in Ver­mont (part one, part two, part three)

Free to Choose

  1. The Pow­er of the Mar­ket
  2. The Tyran­ny of Con­trol
  3. Anato­my of a Cri­sis
  4. From Cra­dle to Grave
  5. Cre­at­ed Equal
  6. What’s Wrong with Our Schools?
  7. Who Pro­tects the Con­sumer?
  8. Who Pro­tects the Work­er?
  9. How to Cure Infla­tion
  10. How to Stay Free

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mil­ton Fried­man on Greed

The His­to­ry of Eco­nom­ics & Eco­nom­ic The­o­ry Explained with Comics, Start­ing with Adam Smith

An Intro­duc­tion to Great Econ­o­mists — Adam Smith, the Phys­iocrats & More — Pre­sent­ed in a Free Online Course

60-Sec­ond Adven­tures in Eco­nom­ics: An Ani­mat­ed Intro to The Invis­i­ble Hand and Oth­er Eco­nom­ic Ideas

Eco­nom­ics: Free Online Cours­es

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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Comments (3)
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  • Jack says:

    Fan­tas­tic post, I look for­ward to work­ing though the links.

  • MF>AS says:

    Thanks for shar­ing this. Amaz­ing post.

  • Vicki Palatas says:

    While my hus­band and I attend­ed Har­vard in 1989/90 as mid-career stu­dents, I had the priv­i­lege of hav­ing a brown bag lunch with Dr. Gal­braith. At that time he was elder­ly and weak. His nurse stood by his chair and he had an oxy­gen tank with him. I don’t remem­ber much of the dis­cus­sion, with one excep­tion that absolute­ly shocked me: he said his eco­nom­ic mod­els were cre­at­ed by and for agri­cul­ture. He regret­ted that it became an eco­nom­ic mod­el for all indus­tries because the para­me­ters of those mar­kets did not align with the vari­able of agri­cul­ture. (para­phrased)

    Watch­ing this video was some­what bit­ter­sweet hav­ing talked with him in his lat­ter years, for this is an inter­est­ing video of fact and emo­tion­al­ism. The premise is cer­tain­ly agree­able in my cal­cu­lus of one rea­son why pover­ty exists. I’m sim­ply sad­dened that he failed to report the whole sto­ry of the South.

    While there is no deny­ing the tremen­dous­ly dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion of the freed slaves in the ante­bel­lum South, it is not right to ignore oth­ers who suf­fered the same expe­ri­ence. “By 1900, 36 per­cent of all white farm­ers in Mis­sis­sip­pi were either ten­ant farm­ers or share­crop­pers (by com­par­i­son, 85 per­cent of all black farm­ers in 1900 did not own the land they farmed).” (Mis­sis­sip­pi His­to­ry Now: Farm­ers With­out Land: The Plight of White Ten­ant Farm­ers and Share­crop­pers)

    If we want to report his­to­ry, we need to tell all of it.

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