Commentary: A Helping Hand, Not Just An Invisible Hand

For capitalism to prevail, the widening gap between rich and poor must be addressed

Thirty-five years ago, University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman wrote Capitalism & Freedom, a spirited defense of free markets and small government. In the years since, the book became a manifesto for unchaining economies. New generations of economists, at Chicago and elsewhere, embraced its tenets as they fashioned groundbreaking theories to explain human behavior or how financial markets work. Free trade, fiscal discipline, deregulation, and competition became the watchwords of executives and conservative politicians in the U.S. A new orthodoxy--actually a late 20th century brand of an orthodoxy first set forth by Adam Smith--took root in boardrooms across America. The planned economies of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe collapsed, and new governments unleashed a brash capitalism on their citizens. Emerging nations just entering the global marketplace became fresh converts to the belief that "free is good"--free markets, free trade, free competition, and the free flow of technology and ideas--even if, often, these nations were hardly free politically.

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