Monday, November 27, 2006

Personal Asides: The Simon Mystique…Milton Friedman’s Revolutionary (for the time) Economics.


Simon Mystique.

Saturday, the “Tribune” had a laudatory front-page article on how Sheila Simon, who is running for mayor of Carbondale, Illinois, is prepping to carry on her father’s name. The article fairly sang with hosannas to her father and his honesty. I suppose that’s right. I knew Paul Simon beginning when he was in the state House. He was honest. That’s all. Maybe that’s enough, I don’t know. Looking at his bio in here is what they say about him. Or rather what Simon’s idolaters wrote about him as Wikipedia prints what you write without revision.

He wore a bow-tie and horn-rimmed glasses. He was a crusading newspaperman in Troy, Illinois and fought the Madison county gambling interests. There: that’s doing something. That got him an invitation to testify before the Kefauver committee. That’s doing something as well.

He went to the army in the Korean War, came out, got elected as a state Rep. Then as a state Rep he wrote an article in “Harper’s” that said many of his colleagues were corrupt. They probably were; Paul wasn’t. But it accomplished what he wanted: got him press. He ran for the State Senate and got more press. Didn’t accomplish anything in either house but--. Ran for lieutenant governor and got elected with Dick Ogilvie as governor. Cooperated with Ogilvie to pass the state income tax. Then he ran against Ogilvie anyhow. Lost to Dan Walker.

Ran for the U. S. House and got in. Did nothing there but issue press releases. Ran for the Senate and got in. His record of accomplishment is very sparse. As a Senator, he said he was proud…as he once told me…to have voted against the Reagan tax cuts which spurred the economy, rejecting the theory that a growing economy can cut the deficit—as it has…economists telling us that as a percentage of the GDP the deficit is well within our ability to manage. Most economists would say he was wrong about that—but right as an ideologist of the Left. Something else he told me at a Quaker cocktail party in Washington after he had been elected rocked me on my heels—but more about that later.

What else did Paul do? He ran for president in his first Senate term—the very thing he berated Chuck Percy for doing. No policy ever attached to his name. As Senator, he “overhauled the college student loan program to allow students and their families to borrow directly from the federal government thus saving money by not using private banks to disperse the loans.” That figures; he always came down on direct payments from the government rather than the private sector playing a role. He promoted the military response to Somalia during the presidency of George H. W. Bush. That got headlines. Whether it propelled Bush to do what he did, no one knows. He was an outspoken critic of Bill Clinton’s timid response to Rwandan genocide resulting in the deaths of up to one million people (which Clinton himself called his biggest mistake as president). That got headlines. He joined with Bill Jeffords in actively lobbying Clinton into mounting a humanitarian mission to Rwanda during the genocide. No one knows whether that was instrumental in changing Clinton or not. But it got headlines.

What else? He co-authored the Balanced Budget Amendment with Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. That amendment didn’t make it out of the Congress but he co-authored it. And it got headlines. A non-lawyer member of Senate Judiciary, he voted against all Reagan and G. H. W. Bush nominees to the Supreme Court. He supported all dove proposals in foreign policy…nuclear freeze etc….during the Cold War. Then he decided not to run for the Senate again.

He became director of the Southern Illinois University Public Policy Institute. In that capacity he denounced the death penalty, tried to end trade restrictions with Cuba, promoted an amendment to the Constitution to end the Electoral College. Another amendment to limit the president to one six-year term. Then the Wikipedia says he advocated “fostering political courage among his students.” Hmmm. I guess that refers to Simon’s own liberal concept of courage…and not his sudden change from pro-life as a U. S. Congressman where he represented a conservative southern Illinois district…overnight to pro-choice in running for the Senate. That looks like squaring your principles to fit the views of the populace at a particular moment. I don’t think Paul would put it that way. He would say…as his successor Dick Durbin does…that he “grew” and his concept “evolved.”

That’s all in the Wikipedia, folks—and the Simon people wrote it themselves. The “Tribune” reporter didn’t even write the record up, just assumed we all know Simon was great. Lazy journalism. Although he was smart enough to disown conservative social views to help him move from a conservative downstate district to the U. S. Senate…it could be said he never accomplished a definable thing in the legislature, U. S. House or Senate for which he can be remembered—or in his short-range run for the presidency. This isn’t in Wikipedia but he kept an beaten up portable typewriter at his Senate office desk to symbolize his old-fashioned small town heritage. but beyond imagery achieved nothing of substance. He was wrong on foreign policy, wrong on economic policy (having voted against the crucial Reagan tax cuts), wrong on social policy. On Judiciary he is remembered for asking a nominee to the Supreme Court if he had ever been to an Indian reservation…saying that he should because “you’ll be a better man for it.” Which caused the entire panel to sit in stunned disbelief.

Compare Saint Paul Simon with Billy Stratton about whom I write below. Not so idealistic was Billy Stratton: no saint, surely; honest in that he wasn’t on the take. And a very effective governor…I even say a great one. He was a good friend of mine; he was a guest lecturer for my college courses a number of times and gave me insights such as I would never have had without his guidance. RIP Billy. You belong with Richard Yates, Richard Oglesby, John Peter Altgeld, Frank O. Lowden and Henry Horner…that’s all…in the pantheon of fine Illinois chief executives. Paul Simon, you were a different kind of cat. Rest in peace, too.

Oh, I was going to tell you his remark made to me in Washington at a Quaker Oats cocktail party we threw to welcome newly elected lawmakers. Reagan had just defeated Fritz Mondale. Senator-elect Simon said this to me: “Roeser, think a minute. It would be impossible to do this but just consider for a minute. If you gave all of Reagan’s views to Mondale and had Mondale say them, and all of Mondale’s views to Reagan and had Reagan say them, who do you think would be elected?” I knew what his answer would be so I pretended I didn’t know. I asked him: who? He said, “Reagan!” Someone interrupted him at that point but I got him to explain. “Simple,” he said. “Reagan is a master communicator and Mondale was not. It’s all in communication.”

I don’t believe that for a moment. Was Reagan that good that he could sell what Mondale was talking about…a tax increase…nuclear freeze…and Mondale that bad that he couldn’t sell conservatism? That was Paul Simon’s view of how Reagan won. Now you tell me in Reader’s Comments.


The great angst about the Iraq War…the public furor that George W. Bush is wrong to stick with it…reminds me of another time when the great liberal public was convinced a president was wrong—only it was on economic policy…and the great liberal talking heads and writing heads were shaking their heads in agreement: conventional wisdom told them that Reagan’s economy…meaning Milton Friedman’s…was wrong. Friedman got the Nobel Prize in 1976 for arguing that the money supply was determinate in economic and inflation fluctuations. By managing the amount of money coursing through a financial system, he said, central banks can control inflation without making costly mistakes. It was an idea he had advocated since the 1950s which repelled central bankers who believed inflation arose from other factors including the influence of unions, corporations or oil-producing countries. A major defender of that view was none other than Friedman’s early mentor, Arthur Burns, Fed chairman from 1970 to 1978. Friedman zinged Burns’ monetary policy which, he said, produced stagflation—a hike in inflation and unemployment. By the time Friedman got the Prize, U. S. unemployment was more than 7% and inflation was spiraling to double-digits.

People began listening to Friedman more after that as he also maintained that policy-makers can’t maintain low unemployment by permitting higher inflation. The test came when Paul Volcker, who became Fed chairman in 1979 (by Carter’s appointment) put the monetarist theory into practice. He adopted money-supply targets that drove interest rates to double-digits, sent the economy into recession but wrung the inflation out of the economy. It proved Friedman right that there was no tradeoff…none at all…between unemployment and inflation. I had the non-opportunity to make a speech at, of all things, a Cedar Rapids Rotary (where we had a plant) and when the question came up on the economy there was a light sprinkle of boos and some hisses when, as an economic amateur, I defended the Reagan economic policies. Just gritting our teeth and waiting for the thing to come around was very unpopular. Those same people today would probably forget or not want to remember that they were hissing a program of a man they have grown to admire.

I am no more a military expert than an economic one—but I tell you the time will come when people will have forgotten…or want to forget…that Bush was so unpopular. Your comments.


  1. He was against the Iraq War, and thought it was the issue that cost Republicans power.

    From an interview in July 2006, Friedman said:

    "What's really killed the Republican Party isn't spending, it's Iraq. As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression." Mrs. Friedman--listening to her husband with an ear cocked--was now muttering darkly.

    Milton: "Huh? What?" Rose: "This was not aggression!" Milton (exasperatedly): "It was aggression. Of course it was!"

    Read it and weep, Tom.

    Source: (

  2. I admire Friedman for extending his libertarian views to the commercialization of marijuana. The Illinois GOP should consider adopting those views.


    Paige: What scares you the most about the notion of drugs being legal?

    Friedman: Nothing scares me about the notion of drugs being legal....What scares me is the notion of continuing on the path we're on now, which will destroy our free society, making it an uncivilized place. There's only one way you can really enforce the drug laws currently. The only way to do that is to adopt the policies of Saudi Arabia, Singapore, which some other countries adopt, in which a drug addict is subject to capital punishment or, at the very least, having his hand chopped off. If we were willing to have penalties like that--but would that be a society you'd want to live in?

    Paige: Do these notions seem obvious to you?

    Friedman: Yes. I have thought about them for a long time. I have observed behavior in this country and in other countries for a long time. And I find it almost incredible how people can support the present system of drug prohibition. It does so much more harm than good.

    Paige: If it is obvious, why is it that you're in such a minority, particularly among...?

    Friedman: Of course. Very good question. And the answer is because there are so many vested interests that have been built up behind the present drug war. Who are the people who are listened to about drugs? The people who have the obligation to enforce drug laws. They think they're doing the right thing. They're good human beings. Everybody thinks what he's doing is worth doing. Nobody is doing it for evil motives. But it's the same thing all over the government.

  3. Another little-mentioned legacy of Perfect Paul (little-mentioned by the liberal establishment media, that is), is that he probably did more than anyone else in the history of the U.S. Senate to undermine the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech--and yes, that includes Joseph McCarthy. Not only was Simon a walking, talking personification of Maoist-style Political Correctness, he was also one of the two leakers in the Anita Hill Scandal during Justice Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991. The end result of that episode was that virtually every workplace and school in America was suddenly saddled with "anti-harassment" speech codes, adopted out of universal fear that not having one could result in ruinous lawsuits being filed against the "offending" institutions by paranoid people working in league with predatory left-wing lawyers. So if you're one of the millions of Americans who feel less free to speak your mind than you used to, thank Paul the crusading journalist.