Thursday, October 2, 2014
11

Recuperando i Friedman

BERKELEY – Proprio in questo momento ci sono sulla mia scrivania il nuovo libro del reporter Timothy Noah, The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It (La grande divergenza: la crisi della crescente disuguaglianza in America e quello che possiamo fare per gestirla, ndt), ed il classico di Rose Friedman Free to Choose: A Personal Statement (Liberi di scegliere: una dichiarazione personale, ndt). Facendo un parallelo, il pensiero dominante è quanto più difficile sarebbe oggi per i Friedman giustificare e sostenere il libertarismo del limited-government rispetto al 1979.

In quegli anni i Friedman sostenevano tre importanti concetti basati su fatti concreti rispetto a come funziona il mondo. In quel contesto tali concetti sembravano veri, o quasi veri o per lo meno presumibilmente veri, ma ora risultano invece evidentemente falsi. Il fondamento della teoria dei Friedman a sostegno del libertarismo del limited-government si basava ampiamente su questi concetti, ed è ora crollato dato che il mondo si è sostanzialmente rivelato in disaccordo sul modo in cui funziona.

Secondo la prima argomentazione le difficoltà macroeconomiche sarebbero determinate dal governo e non dall’instabilità del mercato privato, o meglio, la forma di regolamentazione macroeconomica necessaria per produrre stabilità economica sarebbe facilmente praticabile e ottenibile.

I Friedman hanno quasi sempre usato l’argomentazione nella prima accezione sostenendo che sarebbe stato il governo a “causare” la Grande Depressione. Ma andando a fondo, risulta che ciò che in realtà intendevano era la seconda accezione, ovvero che ogni volta che l’instabilità del mercato privato minacciava di provocare la depressione, il governo avrebbe potuto evitarla o indurre una ripresa rapida semplicemente acquistando un numero sufficiente di obbligazioni in cambio di contanti per inondare l’economia di liquidità.

In altre parole, l’intervento strategico del governo necessario ad assicurare la stabilità macroeconomica non avrebbe dovuto essere solo semplice, ma anche minimo: le autorità  infatti avrebbero dovuto solo mantenere un tasso costante di crescita della massa monetaria. L’intervento aggressivo ed esaustivo sostenuto dai keynesiani per gestire la domanda aggregata e che i sostenitori di Minsky affermavano fosse necessario per gestire il rischio finanziario sarebbe invece stato del tutto ingiustificato.

I veri sostenitori del libertarismo non hanno mai creduto al sostegno dei Friedman ad un regime monetario “neutrale”, libero dal mercato. Ludwig von Mises ha infatti notoriamente definito Milton Friedman ed i suoi seguaci monetaristi un gruppo di socialisti. Ma indipendentemente dalla modalità di presentazione, il concetto secondo cui la stabilità macroeconomica richiederebbe un intervento minimo da parte del governo è fondamentalmente sbagliata. Negli Stati Uniti, il Presidente della Riserva Federale Ben Bernake ha messo in pratica alla lettera le strategie politiche dei Friedman nell’attuale contesto di crisi, ma non è bastato a mantenere o a ripristinare in tempi rapidi una piena occupazione.

In base alla seconda argomentazione, le esternalità sarebbero risultate minime, o per lo meno meglio gestite, attraverso i contratti o il diritto di risarcimento per fatti illeciti piuttosto che tramite la regolamentazione statale, in quanto gli svantaggi della regolamentazione statale avrebbero avuto maggior peso rispetto ai danni comportati dalle esternalità che il sistema legale non era in grado di gestire in modo appropriato. Anche in questo caso, la realtà non sembra aver confermato l’idea espressa nel testo Libero di scegliere. Negli Stati Uniti ciò risulta evidente nel cambio di atteggiamento nei confronti dei processi civili per negligenza medica, rispetto ai quali gli stessi libertari non considerano più il sistema dei tribunali come il luogo migliore per gestire i rischi e gli errori medici.

La terza e più importante argomentazione è l’oggetto del libro di Noah The Great Divergence. Nel 1979 i Friedman erano in grado di sostenere con sicurezza che se non fosse stato per le pratiche di discriminazione autorizzate dal governo (come ad esempio le leggi sulla segregazione razziale nel sud di Jim Crow), l’economia di mercato avrebbe prodotto una distribuzione sufficientemente equa del reddito. Dopotutto, sembra che sia stato effettivamente così, almeno per coloro che non hanno subito alcuna forma di discriminazione legale o eventuali suoi retaggi, per tutto il periodo successivo alla Seconda Guerra Mondiale.

I Friedman sostenevano quindi che una rete di sicurezza, anche minima, per coloro che finivano per essere indigenti a causa di circostanze poco fortuite o per mancanza di prudenza, e l’eliminazione di tutte le barriere legali a favore delle pari opportunità avrebbero portato al più alto grado di equità possibile. I datori di lavoro in cerca di profitto, attraverso l’utilizzo e la promozione del talento umano, ci avrebbero portato il più vicino possibile ad una società libera fatta di produttori associati, per quanto possibile in questa sfera sublunare decaduta. 

Anche in questo caso le speranze di Friedman sono state disilluse. La fine della predominanza americana nel campo dell’istruzione, il crollo dei sindacati del settore privato, l’emergere di un’economia dell’informazione in cui c’è un unico vincitore ed il ritorno dell’alta finanza stile gioventù dorata hanno prodotto una disuguaglianza fuori misura nella distribuzione del reddito al lordo di imposte che peserà sulla prossima generazione ridicolizzando il concetto di pari opportunità.

Sarebbe stato bello se il programma politico delineato una generazione fa nel libro Liberi di scegliere fosse stato all’altezza delle aspettative dei Friedman. Sarebbe stato bello inoltre se si fosse sviluppata una società relativamente equa e prospera con piena occupazione e pari opportunità da un governo che si fosse posto al margine dell’economia fornendo semplicemente una rete di sicurezza, i tribunali ed una massa monetaria costantemente in crescita.

Ma purtroppo questo non sembra essere il mondo in cui viviamo.

Traduzione di Marzia Pecorari

Hide Comments Hide Comments Read Comments (11)

Please login or register to post a comment

  1. CommentedLudwig van den Hauwe

    But note that Milton Friedman (with Anna Schartz) in 1986 published a paper "Has Government Any Role in Money?" in the Journal of Monetary Economics in which he came perhaps as close as he ever did to the viewpoint of the "real libertarians", as you call them, by concluding that "leaving monetary and banking arrangements to the market would have produced a more satisfactory outcome than was actually achieved through governmental involvement." The view of these "real libertarians" is that we are experiencing the present troubles because of credit expansion and interest rate manipulation engineered by the central banks (among other forms of intervention) and that the true solution is to be found not at the level of monetary policy, but at the level of institutional reform, in particular the abolishment of central banks and the establishment of free banking. It is quite understandable that academics at leading universities cannot afford to risk their reputations by discussing such revolutionary proposals, given that these are poltiically totally infeasable in the forseeable future anyway, but I haven´t heard any one good theoretical argument refuting the views of the free bankers. The free banking argument is a particular application of Mises´ more general argument tending to demonstrate the impossibility of socialism; prices are bottom-up social phenomena and when you start manipulating them (or trying to do so) in a top-down fashion, the result can only be chaos and economic discoordination.

  2. CommentedDarko Oracic

    Milton Friedman criticized central banks for creating economic instablity by overreacting. Central bankers tend to overreact because they lack both knowledge and patience. No other theory describes better what has happened in recent years. Both the Fed and the ECB overreacted to high inlation (caused by previous overly expansionary policy), raised interest rates too high and caused the Great Recession. The fact that leading economists don't see the obvious reflects the sorry state of today's macroeconomics. We miss Milton Friedman dearly.

      CommentedCraig Hardt

      Actually, Darko, the great recession happened because of artificially high prices in the U.S. housing market stemming from the financial innovation known as mortgage-backed-securities (MBS). As interest rates were low, investors looked for higher yields both in emerging markets and in bond-like securities created to satisfy demand for these supposedly less risky (relative to equities) assets. Unfortunately, as ratings agencies continued to offer high credit ratings on these MBS, most failed to realize that mortgages were being handed out like candy to home buyers completely incapable of staying on top of their overpriced mortgages. When the inevitable crash in housing prices happened, investors were suddenly left with huge amounts of valueless MBS. Due to another financial innovation (credit-default swaps) they were usually highly leveraged in these untenable investment positions. The result was the collapse of the financial markets around the world, and subsequently, the great recession.

      Central banks raising interest rates had nothing to do with causing the great recession. In fact, had the raised interest rates earlier on during the housing boom, it may have limited exposure in the financial markets to MBS as more investors would have put their money in traditional bonds.

  3. CommentedJonathan Lam

    Gamesmith94134: Re-Capturing the Friedmans

    “Alas, that did not happen. And it did not happen because the world described by the Friedmans is not the world in which we live.”

    Friedman did give credits in the monetarism that small-government libertarianism in stimulating the economy in selling bonds to produce growth and stabilize the social development. The theory on liquidity and sustainability came across the margin of affordability made the resources finite and perpetuity on growth should aligned with its modifications like inflation and deflation to adjust the pace of growth. However, our government sees monetarism as the tool to eliminate inflation and deflation; and the recent social safety net like education and medical shifted to commercialism that broke line; since then, the government attempt to shift its cost to the public. Later, the sub-prime rate lending to house laid a heavy load on the government when the economy was overly stimulated with lesser employment or out-sourced from the factories, which caused the stagnated labor cost and created a downward spiral in the margin of affordability that the most middle class supports and grows on.

    At first, the suppression of recession by cutting interest rate and reality of the support of the margin of affordability, our government lied about the reality of the sub-prime housing debtors which relied on the inflated price of their house to sustain its margin of affordability. The capitalization of the real estate market collapsed after the halt of inflation and stagnated labor cost and job positions were out-sourced.

    Secondly, the cut of the support from the middle class in the financial make most capital market search on the short term investment and commodity market, it made the capital market worse that it went to the emerging market nations for a short term investment and lesser for the local development after the local real estate market turned sour.

    Thirdly, Americans, the consumers of the world, were heavy in debts after the credit exhausted. Then the flight of cash flow toward the emerging market nations took the credits with them when the banks are insoluble and bankrupted. Our government bailed them out with trillions of bonds that FED loaned with low interest. Then, the argument on the sustainability and liquidity is greatly disrupted by the margin of affordability that our government took its liberty to marketing the capitals of social goods like education and medication to fit its budgets.

    Perhaps, what we talk about undercutting the recession or depression, government participates in shifting the cost of social goods to its publics and deforming the nature of the business cycles like inflation, recession that made monetarism works on its own merits. I certainly said we deserve a depression locally and globally if we subjectively let monetarism works to adjust to all claims including government’s too.

    May the Buddha bless you?

  4. CommentedElizabeth Pula

    Here's a link to a super little interview that adds a bit of aspects and in depth perspective to DeLong's super little article:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/how-economists-have-misunderstood-inequality/2012/05/03/gIQAOZf5yT_blog.html

  5. CommentedElizabeth Pula

    Absolutely excellent analytical report, and methodology report on EPI.org.Written by Lawrence Mishel and Natalie Sabadish-05/02/2012
    http://www.epi.org/publication/ib331-ceo-pay-top-1-percent/
    The report is comparison of top 350 CEO salaries and options etc. to production workforce since the 1970's and through 2011- As factual as can be available from as reliable sources as possible.

  6. CommentedElizabeth Pula

    The only problem today is that we are no longer dealing with market economies. There is no egalitarian distribution of income because we are dealing with various systems of organizational rotating exploitation. Economies are only one activity of the systems.

  7. CommentedLanny Arvan

    "But, whatever its packaging, the belief that macroeconomic stability requires only minimal government intervention is simply wrong. In the United States, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has executed the Friedmanite playbook flawlessly in the current downturn, and it has not been enough to preserve or rapidly restore full employment."

    The above seems to be a closed economy analysis. Don't we need as well an open economy perspective and consider what European (and Asian) central bankers have done? Perhaps in the 1930s, a closed economy analysis was sufficient. How can one believe that now? I'm no fan of Milton Friedman, but were he alive today wouldn't he be talking about global monetary policy?

    He would then lose on the point that the right stabilization was straightforward and minimal, but he could still win on the idea that if the central bankers coordinated in the right way they could restore things.

  8. CommentedPaul A. Myers

    What now seems desirable is that government through fiscal and other policy techniques maintain a constant level of growth of demand that would result in a steadily growing employment base. Monetary policy should be a subordinate tool used to attain the overall goal.

    A very overlooked aspect of government regulation and programs is that government is the big instrument of risk reduction. Risk reduction is crucial to stable growth and provides the social framework in which private capital can earn its best rate of return. The striking example of government's role in risk reduction was the great success of postwar government-sponsored mortgage finance, which was possibly the single biggest contributing factor to sustainable, stable economic growth.

    That the Bush administration so recklessly supported the undermining of this pillar of stability still does not get the level of opprobrium that it so richly deserves, probably because so many other failures have crowded this failure to the sidelines.

    The policy architects of the modern Republican party have used Friedmanism as a pretext to undermine the effectiveness of government in what too often is just a cheap arbitrage against public policy and public welfare.

    Everything around us in the economic sphere says that Keynesian demand management works and that over-reliance on monetary policy as a silver bullet doesn't. And way too many Democrats in Washington DC simply don't grasp the Keynesian framework; they think the chairman of the Federal Reserve is the sole official responsible for the prosperity of the American economy. Then of course we could start talking about Europe....

  9. CommentedKonrad Kerridge

    The Author understates his points. Perhaps because he is a product of and immersed in US-based economic thinking and perhaps is targeting US readers. I believe there are few non US educated serious economists (perhaps a few, say in the UK) who would still argue that the points that Friedman made provide the most useful economic framework. To most, this is an old discredited paradigm of economics. To many economists outside of the US, I suspect that the importance and omnipresence of market failures means that they are central to any new paradigm of economics. Additionally, I suspect that the dominant non-US view is that 'laissez faire' economics CREATES inequality and can also create poverty when and where growth is inadequate, which is frequently. Finally I suggest that Freidman's view that economics and politics can be separated and that only minimal government involvement is required in markets is anachronistic. Government failures are acknowledged as are market failures but it perhaps is not useful to think of them as such separate entities in such an interwoven system.

Featured