Sunday, November 19, 2006

All the obituaries of Milton Friedman relate this little anecdote:

In 1962, Mr. Friedman took on President John F. Kennedy's popular inaugural exhortation: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." In an introduction to "Capitalism and Freedom," a collection of his writings and lectures, he said President Kennedy had got it wrong: You should ask neither.

"What your country can do for you," Mr. Friedman said, implies that the government is the patron, the citizen the ward; and "what you can do for your country" assumes that the government is the master, the citizen the servant. Rather, he said, you should ask, "What I and my compatriots can do through government to help discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all protect our freedom."

Milton Friedman forgot that John F. Kennedy was Irish Catholic in background, and hence knew that more often than not, the question: 'What can I do for my country?' should be answered: 'Shoot the landlord, and take to the hills with a rifle.'

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