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What Did Milton Friedman Ever Do to Ginia Bellafante?

The TV critic accuses a PBS series host of being "in thrall to the Chicago School's free-market philosophy" and blasts the "collaboration between the dictator Augusto Pinochet and Milton Friedman and his conservative economist acolytes."

What did Milton Friedman ever do to Ginia Bellafante?



Occasional television critic Bellafante often lets her liberal politics (and historical ignorance) fly while reviewing PBS documentaries, including her Wednesday review of the four-part series "The Ascent of Money," hosted by the popularizinghistorian Niall Ferguson. Bellafante doesn't approve of Ferguson's free-market leanings and gets in her second jab at the late Nobel Prize economist:


One of Mr. Ferguson's hallmarks is the statement made ex cathedra, delivered as if no counterargument could exist to upend it. In thrall to the Chicago School's free-market philosophy, he blames the welfare state in Britain and much of the Western world in the 1970s for the stagflation of the time. The state-supported system had removed the incentives to entrepreneurship without which the capitalist economy cannot function, he declares - "the carrot of serious money for those who strive, the stick of hardship for those who are idle." In this version of history the energy crisis, monetary policy and other factors played little role in the development of debilitating inflation and slow growth.


In Chile he indulges in a similar whitewashing, tracing the origins of the country's impressive economic expansion during the '80s and '90s almost entirely to its privatization of retirement accounts in 1981, a system criticized in recent years for high management fees and low participation rates. The reforms came about through collaboration between the dictatorAugusto PinochetandMilton Friedmanand his conservative economist acolytes. Mr. Ferguson's relativism leaves him with little to condemn in the union.


He also glosses over, for instance, the fact that in 2005 - before the global financial crisis - unemployment in Chile stood at 8.6 percent, with the figure nearly three times higher among people under 24. And while the poverty rate has plummeted, the gap in social equality (as measured by factors like gains in education and family income) remains wide.


More vigilant academics driven by finding nuance - those whose names are not attached to DVDs available on Netflix - are typically repelled by the brash assertion the medium of television often requires. Mr. Ferguson isn't; he thrives on it, comporting himself as someone unambivalently enjoying his celebrity. Where others might cower ultimately, he calls wardrobe.


Yes, all those "nuanced" Marxist academics!



Bellafante has a long-standing grudge against Milton Friedman, thelegendary free-market economist. In a January 2007 review of another PBS documentary, a favorable oneon Friedman, she actually criticized Friedman for opposing the military draft, an issue with universal liberal appeal.



Though Mr. Friedman's free-choice doctrine contributed to ending the draft in the 1970s, the film takes virtually no note of the cultural and political climate in which he was making his opinions known. Nor does it address one result of the draft's elimination: a military not well represented by affluent men and women who have many choices, but dominated by comparatively disadvantaged ones with far fewer options."