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NPR Smears Howard Zinn

Mytwords's picture

[Welcome, C&L readers! And please consider returning tomorrow, Thursday, Feb. 4, 1:00PM EST, for a live blog with Dr. Margaret Flowers of PNHP, member of the Baucus 8, who's been practicing civil disobedience for single payer. -- lambert]

[UPDATE Since Dr. Flowers will be taping a show with Bill Moyers at the previously scheduled time, we're rescheduling, hopefully to this weekend. --lambert]

[cross posted at NPR Check]

When I heard that historian and activist Howard Zinn died on Wednesday, I wondered how (or even if) NPR would cover his death. They have quite a track record of glorifying some of the vilest characters of the right (e.g. torture apologist and dictator loving Jeanne Kirkpatrick, economist Milton Friedman, and Jerry Falwell) when their lives come to an end, so I wondered how an avowedly leftist person such as Zinn would fare.

When I searched the NPR site the next morning, the only piece was there at the time was from the AP feed that NPR now features on its website. Though the AP article featured Arthur Schlesinger's snide remark - "I don't take him very seriously. He's a polemicist, not a historian" - it did give a fair bit of substance regarding Zinn's WWII service, his academic background, his profound influence, and his consistent bravery in taking on various injustices as an activist. But...

Then came the NPR "remembrance" on ATC, cooked up by NPR history distorter, Allison Keyes. Keyes must have some seriously limited research abilities because for comments about Zinn, she could only come up with Noam Chomsky (makes sense), Julian Bond (okay), and David Horowitz...seriously, Keyes turns to the extremist, right-wing Horowitz, sleazy polemicist "with no...actual occupation" and "no academic credentials" so he can weigh in on the scholarship and character of Howard Zinn. The result ain't pretty. Keyes, dignifying Horowitz with the title of a "conservative pundit and author," tells us that he "calls A People's History of the United States a travesty." She also includes sound bites of Horowitz saying,

"There is absolutely nothing in Howard Zinn's intellectual output that is worthy of any kind of respect," and "Zinn represents a fringe mentality which has unfortunately seduced millions of people at this point in time. So he did certainly alter the consciousness of millions of younger people for the worse."

I'm not of the belief that nothing contrary should be said about the recently deceased. It would be great if NPR's coverage of important figures who die featured honest assessments of their deeds - think Ford, Reagan, Oral Roberts, William F. Buckley, etc. If a person of renown dies, why not mention their accomplishments and their failings. If Howard Zinn were a historian who was inaccurate and dishonest or plagiarized that would be important. Of course, since there is nothing erroneous or false in the histories that Zinn wrote, NPR has to use character assassination to smear his reputation - and that is frankly inexcusable.

Fortunately, FAIR noticed this hatchet job by NPR and launched an action alert, and NPR obviously has heard from many disgusted listeners - judging from its Thursday ATC letters segment.

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Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

I think it's pretty gutsy to call Milton Friedman "one of the vilest figures of the right." I would highly recommend you checking out some videos of his on Youtube.

There's a difference between people who claim to be implementing his ideas and Friedman himself.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Naomi Klein has Mytword's:

I’m here to discuss what happens in the messy real world when Milton Friedman’s ideas are put into practice, what happens to freedom, what happens to democracy, what happens to the size of government, what happens to the social structure, what happens to the relationship between politicians and big corporate players, because I think we do see patterns.

Now, the Friedmanites in this room will object to my methodology, I assure you, and I look forward to that. They will tell you, when I speak of Chile under Pinochet, Russia under Yeltsin and the Chicago Boys, China under Deng Xiaoping, or America under George W. Bush, or Iraq under Paul Bremer, that these were all distortions of Milton Friedman’s theories, that none of these actually count, when you talk about the repression and the surveillance and the expanding size of government and the intervention in the system, which is really much more like crony capitalism or corporatism than the elegant, perfectly balanced free market that came to life in those basement workshops. We’ll hear that Milton Friedman hated government interventions, that he stood up for human rights, that he was against all wars. And some of these claims, though not all of them, will be true.

But here’s the thing. Ideas have consequences. And when you leave the safety of academia and start actually issuing policy prescriptions, which was Milton Friedman’s other life—he wasn’t just an academic. He was a popular writer. He met with world leaders around the world—China, Chile, everywhere, the United States. His memoirs are a “who’s who.” So, when you leave that safety and you start issuing policy prescriptions, when you start advising heads of state, you no longer have the luxury of only being judged on how you think your ideas will affect the world. You begin having to contend with how they actually affect the world, even when that reality contradicts all of your utopian theories. So, to quote Friedman’s great intellectual nemesis, John Kenneth Galbraith, “Milton Friedman’s misfortune is that his policies have been tried.”

"I would highly recommend you checking out some videos of [hers] on Youtube."

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Submitted by CMike on

Instead of "vile," maybe you two can agree that "malignant" is the fairer descriptive to use when characterizing Friedman.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Trust me, CMike, I'm familiar with Naomi Klein's work. I'm not sure I can say the same thing of the majority of people who criticize Milton Friedman.

Here's an interesting thing Naomi Klein says in that quote:

You begin having to contend with how they [the ideas] actually affect the world

This, of course, is right after she says that there are many people who have distorted Friedman's ideas, deliberately used them or pretended that they were using them when doing nothing of the sort, simply to further their own ends. So, it's not the ideas. Ideas themselves don't have an effect on the world. It's the people who "use" them.

I don't know about all this Chile stuff, but I think you can probably find about 1 million people who probably had a much larger role in that than Milton Friedman. He might have supported the free market over a socialistic market, but I don't think that's wrong, and I have a feeling that where it ended. I think you'll have a very hard time finding some place where he supported death squads or anything like that.

Milton Friedman supported a full reserve currency, something essential that you never hear about. He was against the police state. He was for legalization of drugs, prostitution, et al. I hardly think you could call this guy your typical "right winger."

Submitted by lambert on

I'd consider reading further into Klein. That may also answer your implicit question of how ideas get propagated from the hallowed halls of academe and have real-life consequences, as of course they do.

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Submitted by okanogen on

Hello!

That was only last week!

I'm not the moderator here, Lambert is, but since you thought I was taking it personally last time (and needed an adult to bail me out), that is why I bring it up again here, when you are doing the same thing to CMike.

Arguments, evidence, not personalities. If you can't make the argument without calling people out by name, you must not have a very good argument, or any evidence, yeah?

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Dude, why don't you chill out? I'm not "calling people out." I'm just typing in comments and occasionally a name comes up in there. ...It's not addressed to anyone, and it's not really going after anyone personally.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

It's all good!

And I understand, you don't mean it wrong, but it sucks seeing your name called out like that, (if you see what I mean by the example) and it's unnecessary.

It's kind of also just part of the culture of this blog to not do it. That developed after over a year's worth of nastiness during "The Primariez".

Update: Har!

On a meta note, it would be good to be able to edit comments after somebody comments on them. At least some times.

Submitted by lambert on

here, Josh, as well as Okanagen, since -- snort -- two wrongs don't make a right.

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Submitted by okanogen on

Know I should chill out: trying to find my happy place......

>;-)

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Submitted by CMike on

But I should "trust" you when you say you're familiar with Naomi Klein's work. All righty then.

Here's Paul Krugman:

These are anxious days at the lunch table. For all you know, there may be E. coli on your spinach, salmonella in your peanut butter and melamine in your pet’s food and, because it was in the feed, in your chicken sandwich.

Who’s responsible for the new fear of eating? Some blame globalization; some blame food-producing corporations; some blame the Bush administration. But I blame Milton Friedman. ...

Without question, America’s food safety system has degenerated over the past six years. We don’t know how many times concerns raised by F.D.A. employees were ignored or soft-pedaled by their superiors. What we do know is that since 2001 the F.D.A. has introduced no significant new food safety regulations except those mandated by Congress. ...

The economic case for having the government enforce rules on food safety seems overwhelming. Consumers have no way of knowing whether the food they eat is contaminated, and in this case what you don’t know can hurt or even kill you. But there are some people who refuse to accept that case, because it’s ideologically inconvenient.

That’s why I blame the food safety crisis on Milton Friedman, who called for the abolition of both the food and the drug sides of the F.D.A. What would protect the public from dangerous or ineffective drugs? “It’s in the self-interest of pharmaceutical companies not to have these bad things,” he insisted in a 1999 interview. He would presumably have applied the same logic to food safety (as he did to airline safety): regardless of circumstances, you can always trust the private sector to police itself.

O.K., I’m not saying that Mr. Friedman directly caused tainted spinach and poisonous peanut butter. But he did help to make our food less safe, by legitimizing what the historian Rick Perlstein calls “E. coli conservatives”: ideologues who won’t accept even the most compelling case for government regulation.

Currency insight did you say? Margaret Thatcher bought into his one size fits all prescriptions in the 80s. Here's how that looked in 2003:

Hold on to your hats and prepare to be amazed: Milton Friedman has changed his mind. "The use of quantity of money as a target has not been a success," concedes the grand old man of conservative economics. "I'm not sure I would as of today push it as hard as I once did." Granted, this is hardly a conversion of Damascene significance. But, heck, it's a start. It also shows that, at the age of 91, Friedman still has his critical faculties intact. The man once described as "the most consequential public intellectual of the post-war era" is still engaged - and engaging. ...

His mild recantation on monetary targeting would have caused a sensation - and perhaps saved a lot of grief - had it been uttered 20 years ago. In the early 1980s, both the US and the UK set interest rates according to Friedman-style targets for money-supply growth. The common aim was to bring down inflation without the pain of recession.

The common outcome, however, was partial success. Inflation fell, but at enormous cost in terms of unemployment. The fact that central banks the world over have given up trying to "fine-tune" economies to an imaginary perfect pitch is a measure of his wider influence. Money-supply targets may have been replaced by inflation targets - but the Friedman influence remains strong. If this was not enough for one lifetime, Milton Friedman the polemicist has been at least as influential as Milton Friedman the economist. His championing of small government, low taxes and market forces helped set the terms of public policy debate through the 1980s and beyond. ...

Listening to him it is easy to understand why his formula appealed to political leaders - think Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan - who craved black-and-white answers to complex questions. As well as turning out academic papers and polemics, Friedman in his prime was also a prolific producer of newspaper articles. One of his most influential appeared in The New York

Times Magazine circa 1970, arguing that business should keep its nose out of social affairs and concentrate on maximising returns to shareholders. "The only responsibility of companies is to make a profit," he wrote - providing thousands of future MBA students with an easy starting point for essays on the topic of corporate purpose. This is one area, I suggest, in which the tide of opinion has surely turned against him. Recent scandals involving Enron, WorldCom and others have added to the interest in "business ethics" started in the late 1990s amid growing concern about environmental degradation and globalisation. ...

"The only responsibility of companies is to make a profit" and governments should deregulate and stand aside -- what could go wrong?

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Dude, I'm trying to show people what he actually said, not just what Paul Krugman (uch) or Naomi Klein said he said.

I mean, this stuff is ridiculous. Why doesn't everyone just watch his interviews, or his "Free to Choose" series, and see if they still think these accusations hold up?

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Submitted by CMike on

Back in October of 2008 Toby Sanger wrote:

Friedman himself visited Iceland in 1984 and participated in what was described as a "lively television debate" with leading Socialists. This inspired a generation of young conservatives who came to power through the Independence Party in 1991 and have run its government through different coalitions since then. ...

Iceland is now essentially bankrupt after the government took over its three major banks to prevent them from failing. It owes more than $60 billion overseas, about six times the value of its annual economic output. As a professor at London School of Economics said, "No Western country in peacetime has crashed so quickly and so badly.

But he meant well -- that's the important thing.

[The debate is conducted in English beginning at 1 minute and 14 second mark following the opening remarks which were in, what I guess, is Icelandic.]

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Milton Friedman's ideas inspired these young "conservatives?"

That's why Kaupthing was rife with fraud. Come on. It's absurd to blame Iceland's collapse on Milton Friedman. Nowhere does he say it's ok to steal, lie, etc. That was the exact opposite of what he talked about. ...He was for full currency reserve, so although I don't know this guy's work inside and out, I can only imagine he'd be against all this leverage that we saw in Iceland.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/...

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

It's never been tried. Is that your final answer?

Here's Ben Bernanke ring kissing his way to the top:

On Milton Friedman's Ninetieth Birthday [in 2002]

I can think of no greater honor than being invited to speak on the occasion of Milton Friedman's ninetieth birthday. Among economic scholars, Friedman has no peer. His seminal contributions to economics are legion, including his development of the permanent-income theory of consumer spending, his paradigm-shifting research in monetary economics, and his stimulating and original essays on economic history and methodology. Generations of graduate students, at the University of Chicago and elsewhere, have benefited from his insight; and many of these intellectual children and grandchildren continue to this day to extend the sway of Friedman's ideas in economics.

What is more, Milton Friedman's influence on broader public opinion, exercised through his popular writings, speaking, and television appearances, has been at least as important and enduring as his impact on academic thought. In his humane and engaging way, Milton Friedman has conveyed to millions an understanding of the economic benefits of free, competitive markets, as well as the close connection that economic freedoms such as property rights and freedom of contract bear to other types of liberty. ...

The brilliance of Friedman and Schwartz's work on the Great Depression is not simply the texture of the discussion or the coherence of the point of view. Their work was among the first to use history to address seriously the issues of cause and effect in a complex economic system, the problem of identification. Perhaps no single one of their "natural experiments" alone is convincing; but together, and enhanced by the subsequent research of dozens of scholars, they make a powerful case indeed.

For practical central bankers, among which I now count myself, Friedman and Schwartz's analysis leaves many lessons. What I take from their work is the idea that monetary forces, particularly if unleashed in a destabilizing direction, can be extremely powerful. The best thing that central bankers can do for the world is to avoid such crises by providing the economy with, in Milton Friedman's words, a "stable monetary background"--for example as reflected in low and stable inflation.

Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You're right, we did it. We're very sorry. But thanks to you, we won't do it again.

Best wishes for your next ninety years.

Guess Bernanke must have lapsed back into a New Deal mindset shortly thereafter. How else would you explain our ending up back where we started?

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Submitted by okanogen on

Thank you Cmike for that video link.

I especially like it when people are out of their comfort zone and when they let their guard down. That is where their true self shows. Some of the shit Friedman says "I don't know about Iceland", "your culture", "monolithic culture", were all very instructive. He continually says he "doesn't know about the example they state" in Iceland (though he is in Iceland and pretends at 68:10 to tell them false facts that he is shot down on), takeaway is his theories are not negated by any contrary evidence they provide. In other words, the theory is sound, the evidence is in error.

Is it not possible to admit the obvious? Milton Friedman was a con man. The con he was selling was his "intellect". I've met lots of smooth talkers in my life, and when I watch this video, I see a world-class bullshit artist at work. Very impressive, but proof that fine bullshit can be deadly.

Evidence, not linguistic (or otherwise) gymnastics: Friedman had none.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Well, I don't know 100% about Milton Friedman's ideas. Apparently, he was a monetarist, and I don't think that's the end all be all of economic theory. As you might be able to tell, you simply can't pump money (or pump money in the wrong way) into a situation and expect it to clear up magically.

As far as I know about Milton Friedman's other ideas, I can't think of any country that doesn't give major subsidies away to some groups, or favors one group over another in some way, so I'd say no. They haven't been tried.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Well I don't know 100% about John Maynard Keynes' ideas. Apparently, he was a Keynesian.

That would make sense. Along those lines Wikipedia says:

Monetarism today is mainly associated with the work of Milton Friedman, who was among the generation of economists to accept Keynesian economics and then criticize it on his own terms.

It's not so much that I "might be able to tell, you simply can't pump money (or pump money in the wrong way) into a situation and expect it to clear up magically." Keynes explained when interest rates are zero bound expansionary monetary policy is like trying to push on a string.

Of course, that would leave fiscal policy, specifically deficit government spending, as the option for policy makers to employ to deal with depressions. But free-marketeers are wedded to the belief that government can do no right hence we needed Friedman's explanation that the Fed was to blame for the Great Depression. (See Paul Krugman's Peddling Prosperity)

You write:

As far as I know about Milton Friedman's other ideas, I can't think of any country that doesn't give major subsidies away to some groups, or favors one group over another in some way, so I'd say no. They haven't been tried.

Now we're getting somewhere. They haven't been tried because they'll never be tried past the Stage 1 phase of weakening the government of a society that is at all egalitarian. As the role of a government recedes in a society the influence of the moneyed class advances.

That's what people from the center to the left believe; be they New Deal/Great Society liberals, European democratic socialists, or dyed in the wool socialists.

That last link is to a YouTube clip. It runs for 5 minutes and 20 seconds and, therein, is a clearly stated refutation of Friedmanism.

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Submitted by okanogen on

..... you know the rest.

But scroll forward to 28:00 (or 38:10) in that video for a revealing take on Friedman's view on how his theories are implemented!

Anyway, here is one more reason why searching for links is helpful. Sometimes you accidentally stumble on something that really resonates. Something you would never have read if you hadn't gone on a search for links.

Here is one, from (of course) Arthur Silber, that I found while searching his site for references to Friedman, Rand, etc..

Arthur, circa 2003:

"I have occasionally mentioned that I very frequently challenge myself with regard to the validity of my own views. I think anyone who is seriously concerned with ideas, as I endeavor to be, must do this, at least to some extent. As new evidence accumulates, we need to ask ourselves: do my ideas account for these developments -- or do new events call into question what I had previously thought? Is this recent occurrence explained by ideas I have discussed before, or does this represent some new phenomenon? Do my previously-held views explain this development sufficiently, or do they need to be modified in some way? That's just a sample of some of the questions that come up as I continually examine and re-examine my ideas and theories; there are usually considerably more."

One wonders if Friedman ever did that, the evidence I've seen is no, his own koolaid was working hard.* Plus, isn't that a wonderful goal or methodology to work with here?

Anyway. So, how about that Howard Zinn?

*and having worked and dealt with people in a professional setting who, although clearly very educated and fluent, use English as their second language, I would describe this as a playfield clearly slanted towards a seasoned argumentalist like Friedman. I recognize some very clear instances of using techniques of "overwhelming with goobledygook" (though he sometimes gets slapped down ex. 37:00ish). Like most "public" academics, he was a master at linquistic argument, if not substance (see the Chile subject at 38:10).

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Submitted by CMike on

I missed reading this comment before I posted something similar above.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

We is just riffin' on the same melody. Friedmanism can't fail, it can only be failed. Plus, you always bring good quotes/links to the fray so I bow.

Mytwords's picture
Submitted by Mytwords on

Zoinks! I had no idea. Well, dang I'll just let the man speak for himself and you decide whether it's vile or no. Heeeerrrrrrreeeessss Milton [regarding Chile]

"...the Chilean episode, when Allende was thrown out in Chile, and a new government came in that was headed by Pinochet. At that time, for an accidental reason, the only economists in Chile who were not tainted with the connection to Allende were a group that had been trained at the University of Chicago, who got to be known as the Chicago Boys. And at one stage I went down to Chile and spent five days there with another group -- there were three or four of us from Chicago -- giving a series of lectures on the Chilean problem, particularly the problem of inflation and how they should proceed to do something about it. The communists were determined to overthrow Pinochet. It was very important to them, because Allende's regime, they thought, was going to bring a communist state in through regular political channels, not by revolution. And here, Pinochet overthrew that. They were determined to discredit Pinochet. As a result, they were going to discredit anybody who had anything to do with him. And in that connection, I was subject to abuse."

AND

"Here [Pinochet dictatorship] was the first case in which you had a movement toward communism that was replaced by a movement toward free markets. See, the really extraordinary thing about the Chilean case was that a military government followed the opposite of military policies. The military is distinguished from the ordinary economy by the fact that it's a top-down organization...whereas a market is a bottom-up organization. The customer goes into the store and tells the retailer what he wants; the retailer sends it back up the line to the manufacturer and so on. So the basic organizational principles in the military are almost the opposite of the basic organizational principles of a free market and a free society. And the really remarkable thing about Chile is that the military adopted the free-market arrangements instead of the military arrangements."

Thanks Milt

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