October 02, 2003

Luck, Justice, and Bowdlerization

The other day Julian Sanchez looked at a piece by Matt Miller in the Boston Globe. Sanchez's post, and the comments, are well worth a look; Sanchez deploys the great Robert Nozick against Miller's Rawlsian conclusions on political philosophy.

The Globe piece is drawn directly from Miller's book, which I just reviewed, and I must say I'm somewhat bothered by the editorial choices. The article seems to imply that Milton Friedman repudiates his 1953 paper "Chance Choice, and the Distribution of Income" with the line "Friedman chuckled as he recalled the article." -- but in the book, he's chuckling not at the essay but at the passing of years:

Friedman brought up his early article where he tried to think some of this through. He chuckled at the thought. It must have been sixty years ago, he said. (It was fifty, but who's counting?)

Also contrary to the implications of the Globe piece, Friedman does not reject free will. Here's the rest of the conversation after "I glanced at my tape recorder...":

I said, "I guess I feel there's a certain amount of luck and things that put you in a certain position and you're taking that and building on it--"

"But what gives you the characteristics that leads you to take that--?"

"You're right," I said, "because you can keep going back."

"You can keep going back," he agreed. "There's no first cause. Nobody has ever solved the argument of determinism versus free will. And you and I aren't going to do so either."

"So do you believe it's just an open question?"

"No, I believe, well..." He paused. "I believe that there's free will but I'm not sure. We're just not smart enough to be able to comprehend all of the infinite little steps that brought us here."

Hard to say whether it was Miller or the Globe editors who made the decisions on what to cut (I suspect a little of both), but some of the comments on Sanchez's post suggest that people really were misled.

Posted by John Tabin at October 2, 2003 03:49 PM