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Ep. 4 - From Cradle to Grave [2/7]. Milton Friedman's Free to Choose (1980)

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Published on May 23, 2010

Since the Depression years of the 1930s, there has been almost continuous expansion of governmental efforts to provide for people's welfare. First, there was a tremendous expansion of public works. The Social Security Act followed close behind. Soon other efforts extended governmental activities in all areas of the welfare sector. Growth of governmental welfare activity continued unabated, and today it has reached truly staggering proportions.

Traveling in both Britain and the U.S., Milton Friedman points out that though many government welfare programs are well intentioned, they tend to have pernicious side effects. In Dr. Friedman's view, perhaps the most serious shortcoming of governmental welfare activities is their tendency to strip away individual independence and dignity. This is because bureaucrats in welfare agencies are placed in positions of tremendous power over welfare recipients, exercising great influence over their lives. Because people never spend someone else's money as carefully as they spend their own, inefficiency, waste, abuse, theft, and corruption are inevitable. In addition, welfare programs tend to be self-perpetuating because they destroy work incentives. Indeed, it is often in the welfare recipients' best interests to remain unemployed.

Dr. Friedman suggests a negative income tax as a way of helping the poor. The government would pay money to people falling below a certain income level. As they obtained jobs and earned money, they would continue to receive some payments from the government until their outside income reached a certain ceiling. This system would make people better off who sought work and earned income. This contrasts with many of today's programs where one dollar earned means nearly one dollar lost in welfare payments.

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