FLASHBACK: Milton Friedman Schools a Young David Brooks on Free College

This old video seemed quite appropriate to dust off with the resurgence of "free college" demands from the Left.

Back in 1985, a young David Brooks, now a New York Times columnist, sat across from economist Milton Friedman and was schooled on why government-subsidized higher education is a bad idea. The video is courtesy of Liberty Pen.

Friedman set the stage for the debate involving Brooks and the other panelists:

The question I want to raise is whether those higher education expenditures are a justifiable activity of government and what there consequences are and whether they really are a desirable element of a welfare state.

Friedman said his answer is a simple, "No." He expounded by saying that the students that would typically benefit from government-subsidized college are middle and upper income groups while the burden to pay falls on everyone, but especially hard on the lower income groups that won't see the same benefits from the program.

Brooks agreed that the subsidies are "regressive and the wrong people are paying for it," but he went on to say that private entities should stay out of education because that puts a "price tag on knowledge."

"What are you so angry about?" Friedman interjected. "You mean to say that the graduates of colleges and universities don't use their capacities in the direction which is influenced by the incomes they can earn?"

Friedman wanted to know what Brooks has in mind with thinking that somehow a student's incentives will be different if the government is funding their education.

Brooks said:

People would, in effect, invest in me if I went to college. Somebody would say, "He's probably going to do well, so we'll pay him to go to college and then as he makes money, he'll pay us back." And it's a good investment.

The progressives of that time were much the same as they are today in that they didn't listen to reason either. Friedman asked them to think about Silicon Valley's private contributions to society, or Henry Ford's contributions to society with his Model-T vehicle. Should the public have been the ones to pay for Mr. Ford's invention, he asked them? Again, it was the same answer as it would be today, "Yes, of course!" They also believed that government can provide security for all instead of a wealthy businessman lining his own pockets.

"The question is," Friedman continued. "If you want to go to college, who should pay for it: you or somebody who isn't going to go to college?"

A young black man, Gary Jenkins, offered his opinion:

It is in the interest of every black individual, regardless of their station in life, to make sure that more blacks go to college and become professionals. Therefore, by using your logic, you would say that one black person living in Harlem, who does not have the funds available, he should not be made to give a dollar of his paycheck to go to a person who is going to college.

Sound familiar? It should, we still hear its echo. This young man believed in 1985 that people should be forced to give money to someone else because he has a strong belief in education. 

Has anything changed in the liberal mindset? Not in the slightest. And certainly not in David Brooks's bent for big government projects.

What they didn't realize was that Friedman was giving them a free education as they sat there. Unfortunately, it wasn't the education they wanted.