Ideas Lying Around

Milton Friedman was a monster, but he wasn’t wrong about this.

Cory Doctorow
5 min readMay 27


A workbench with a pegboard behind it. from the pegboard hang an array of hand-tools.
btwashburn/CC BY 2.0

Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.

-Milton Friedman, 1972

Milton Friedman was a crank.

The archduke of neoliberalism, chief conspirator to the Chicago School of Economics, cheerleader and enabler of genocidal maniacs like Augusto Pinochet, Friedman had one project: to roll back the widespread postwar prosperity produced by wildly popular programs like the New Deal and the Great Society.

At the moment when excluded groups — racialized people, queer people, women, colonized people — were demanding the benefits of these programs, Friedman and his clutch of Ayn-Rand-pilled economists wanted to throw the whole program in reverse, to go back to Gilded Age inequality and a system of hereditary servitude, where people born to the working class lived short lives of hard work, as did their children, and their children’s children.

This was an implausible project! The ruling class had long cherished their delusion that the forelock-tuggers they relied on actually enjoyed their servitude (this is a recurring folly, one that usually ends up with goggle-eyed startlement when the plebs start building guillotines on the lawn of one’s estate).

The post-war years — what the French call “Les Trente Glorieuses” or “the Thirty Glorious Years” — made it abundantly clear that no one wanted to go back to bending the knee to their social betters. Reinstating hereditary poverty was not a popular idea.

Not popular, that is, among normies. But for America’s richest plutocrats — and the temporarily embarrassed millionaires who fantasized about joining their ranks — Friedman’s project was a beautiful dream. Friedman and his acolytes were showered in cash, which allowed them to pursue this dream in the teeth of popular sentiment.

Friedman’s paymasters had their limits, though. To keep the money flowing, they…



Cory Doctorow

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