Understanding Poverty: A Look at Milton Friedman

For some context, I talk a lot about white privilege. If you read this blog, follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook, then you know this already. But given its somewhat polarizing nature, you’re bound to run into those who disagree. One such friend of mine did, in fact, disagree with my narrative about white privilege and especially in relation to poverty and crime. In somewhat of a response to my narrative, he sent me this Milton Friedman video:

Perhaps not so much as a take down of white privilege, but as a way of formulating his own narrative (well, with the help of Friedman) of what causes poverty; it’s not white privilege, but x, y and z. Well, I offered this response, which I wanted to share with you, edited for clarity and cohesiveness:

It should be known that this is one of my favorite Friedman videos and I’ve shared it myself. Friedman is great in these environments. However, none of what he says either negates white privilege nor doesn’t allow for the conception of white privilege. Let’s go over it…

First, we have to preface, when he’s talking about the success of mostly free people operating under mostly free markets in the 18th and 19th centuries (and they aren’t as free as some conservatives/libertarians would like you to believe), that framework does not include African Americas. They were either suffering under slavery in the myriad ways that manifest or having their wealth and property confiscated and/or reduced under the post-Civil War black codes that predominated Southern states. “Those of us in this room are the heirs of that, we benefited from that…” He’s talking about white people and (I’m sure) he knows this.

As for the source of poverty, even among black progressives, within their framework of white privilege, they, too, pinpoint government policy as the culprit (although what they then think the fix for that is differs).

Examples he included are all things I’ve talked about, too. The racist origins of the minimum wage; where, merely because the progressives of today have different intentions (meaning, good) behind the minimum wage, doesn’t change the economic laws of why racists pushed for it to begin with, i.e., the laws don’t change because the intentions do. Government schooling and generally speaking, government welfare are also to blame, indeed.

He’s also correct that it’s on a relative scale. Poverty is bad in America, but relative to the rest of the world, it’s not that bad. That context is important, sure.

Acknowledging all of this — which I have in previous spaces — does not negate or refute white privilege nor is a response to white privilege; it’s merely another component to the overall narrative of white privilege and white supremacy.

So in shorter terms; Friedman is correct about the reason for poverty in America (and that the free market is by far the greatest engine for eliminating poverty, bar none); his formulation doesn’t go as far as it could have, however. For one example, while mentioning a litany of bad government policies, he could have mentioned government policies that wouldn’t let blacks own homes from the 1930s to the 1960s, which has a huge effect on the ability to accumulate generational wealth, i.e., get out of poverty.

[Also in his posting of the video, my friend took issue with the phrase white privilege itself and suggested it wasn’t the way to get the “moderates” on board, to which I said the following.] As for the side bar point about how to get the “white moderate” to join in and that perhaps evoking “white privilege” is a poor marketing strategy, I do think that’s a fair critique and I have some things to say on that at some other point.

And I do. But this suffices for now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s