Monday, July 26, 2010

Milton Friedman on 'Jobs Programs'

A clever anecdote showing that Milton Friedman had his moments, for sure.
About 40 years ago he found himself in an Asian country where the government was extremely eager to show off a public works project of which it was inordinately and excessively fond. It was digging a canal.

They took Milton out to see this, and he was astonished because there were hordes of workers but no heavy equipment.

He remarked on this to his government guide, who replied, "You don't understand, Mr. Friedman. This is a jobs program. That's why we only have men with shovels."

To which Friedman said, "Well, if it's a jobs program, why don't they have spoons instead of shovels?"
That simple bit of Bastian logic*, if adhered to consistently, would eliminate half the Federal government's welfare programs right there.

*(By which I mean, looking only at the immediately visible effects, rather than the whole...)

[Apologies to whomever I got this from for not recording the link, but thanks!]


Anonymous said...

My father, who became a young man during the Great Depression (Round One) told me the story of FDR visiting a public works construction site, and being incensed at the fact that earth moving was being done by bulldozers. When FDR asked the industrialist in charge why he had not employed men with shovels, so more could benefit from the project, the industrialist was reported to have replied with the same infamous retort about teaspoons.

Tim Johnston said...


The Roman emperor Vespasian is said to have destroyed one of the first working steam engines for the very same reason - another story was he set it to work as the world first automatic door!

Jeff Perren said...

Great anecdotes. Thanks, guys!