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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