Tony D. Senatore
"I'm the spokesman for the OK Boomer generation

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Milton Friedman and I

Photo: Tony Senatore: all rights reserved

What do Arnold Schwarzenegger and I have in common? While I have neither met nor corresponded with Mr. Schwarzenegger, he is someone that I greatly admire. We share a similar outlook on life and have many similar traits. First, we are Republicans who believe in the power of capitalism, the free market system, and limited government. Second, we both believe that equality and liberty are two faces of the same basic value and that every individual should be regarded as an end in himself. Third, we believe in a Jeffersonian-inspired vision of America and are fans of the late, great Nobel Prize-winning economist Dr. Milton Friedman.

In contrast to the rest of the world, America has always aspired to be the land of the individual, individual rights, and individual initiative, but above all, the land of the free. It has always been the destination of those willing to explore the indissoluble link between risk and reward, where nothing was promised or guaranteed except personal liberty and freedom. Dr. Friedman asserted in Capitalism and Freedom that the free man should ask “neither what his country can do for him, nor what he can do for his country but rather what can I and my compatriots do through government to help discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom.” Friedman believed that most citizens of the United States understood equality, as expressed in our Declaration of Independence, as equality of opportunity because arbitrary obstacles should prevent no one from using their capacities to pursue their objectives. Things such as place of birth, nationality, color, religion, sex, or any other irrelevant characteristic should not determine the opportunities open to a person-only their abilities.

As Mr. Schwarzenegger conveys in this 1990 video promoting Friedman’s PBS television series Free to Choose, his eighteen-year-old peers talked about their pensions in his hometown of Thal, Styria, which was a part of allied occupied Austria. He aspired for greatness and wanted to be the best in whatever he chose as a career. Although the province of Styria was governed by a conservative party, the Austrian People’s Party, Thal was a socialist town, and every mayor since WW2 was a social democrat. Arnold realized that his type of individualism was incompatible with socialism. As a result, he moved to the United States, where he could be free to choose his destiny. He defines being free to choose as “being free to make your own decisions and live your own life, assume your own goals, and chase your own rainbow without the government breathing down your neck or standing on your shoes.” Arnold’s conception of the freedom he hoped to find in America aligned with Dr. Friedman’s definition of liberty.

Friedman argued that “ each person is precious in and of himself. He has unalienable rights that no one else is entitled to invade. He is entitled to serve his own purposes, and not be treated simply as an instrument to promote someone else’s purpose. Liberty is part of the definition of equality, not in conflict with it.” Friedman made an analogy between social mobility in America and a race. The goal was for every individual to be in the same position at the starting line.

On the other hand, since individuals have different values and tastes,  success or “winning” the race was not guaranteed for everyone. With liberty comes responsibility. If you decide to be an actress or a musician in America rather than a doctor or lawyer, you are free to do so. If you do not achieve the success you hoped for, there is always time to reinvent yourself. When my music career faltered, I decided to return to college at age 46 rather than blame others for my lack of success.

When I was undergraduate studying sociology at Columbia University, I unveiled my Indianapolis 500 Theory of Social Mobility to my classmates in my Social Theory class. In a race like the Indy 500, the poll position is essential. It is the most favorable position at the start of any automobile race, typically on the front row of competitors. It is a place that must be earned, with the top spots going to the drivers with the fastest qualifying time. I equated the Weberian notion of life chances (lebenschancen) with the concept of pole position and the Indianapolis 500 to describe how in the quest for social mobility, some people are first in line while others are hopelessly thrust to the back of the pack. Life chances represent the opportunities to increase one’s position in the social class structure. Categories that affect life chances include the social class one is born into, geographic location, family ancestry, race, ethnicity, age, and gender. In the republic’s earliest days, the white anglo Saxon heterosexual protestant males had optimal pole position and life chances. Some called them robber barons. I prefer to refer to them as the men who built America and its institutions.

Friedman believed there was no inconsistency between a free market system and the pursuit of broad social and cultural goals and upward mobility. Often this was the result of private charitable activity. Individuals like Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie devoted much of their fortunes to this end via organizations such as the Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie Foundations. These are all examples of the proper use of freedom because they are voluntary. Voluntary action is the bedrock of a free society. Even if based on “justice” or “fairness,” compulsory action is never justifiable in America.

Similarly, clinging to sanitized versions of history which seek to downplay the effects of slavery and our institutionalized system of racial segregation can not be justified either. To be clear, Friedman noted that The Founders often did not practice what they preached. The institution of slavery is indeed a dagger through the heart of America’s illusions about itself. Government programs like affirmative action were necessary. Protest and outrage prompted a joint venture between like-minded Black and white Americans, resulting in the Civil Rights Act of 1960. This legislation ultimately helped our nation become more representative of the words of our Founding Fathers, as expressed in our Declaration of Independence. For much of America’s history, the institutionalized racism of many of our institutions hampered many Black Americans’ efforts toward autonomy and self-sufficiency.  

At the end of the Free to Choose video, Arnold asserted that it was crucial that we all keep moving in the same direction, away from socialism and towards greater opportunity and freedom. He conveyed that Friedman’s Free to Choose series would soon be translated into the Soviet Union and other Eastern European languages. He encouraged us to walk into the 21st Century in freedom, opportunity, and success, using Friedman’s ideas as a blueprint.

Despite Arnold’s warning in 1990, America has deviated from the path set for us by our Founding Fathers and by Dr. Friedman. Equality of opportunity and the idea of equity has supplanted equality of opportunity as our nation’s guiding principle.  Friedman would surely be disappointed, but he would not be surprised. In a lecture at Wabash College on June 20, 1956, he pointed out that the concept of equality of outcome first affected government policy in Great Britain and on the European continent. He argues that in the United States, the desirability of equality of outcome has become an article of religious faith and that everyone must finish the “race” simultaneously. As the Dodo said in Alice in Wonderland, everyone has won, and all must have prizes.

A video used by corporate America explains the difference between equality and equity. Equality is the idea that when we treat two people or two groups equally, we make sure they receive the same things. Equity is not a one size fits all approach. The idea is that we must give everyone precisely what they need to be successful because equality of opportunity assumes that everyone started in the same place. The video depicts three nondescript individuals peering over a fence while watching a baseball game. They are all standing on boxes, but the individual on the right is not tall enough to view that game even with the box. This is supposed to prove that treating people equally does not work. The video ends with the tall individual on the left(who was never in need of a box) standing flat on the ground. The shorter individual on the right ends up having two boxes. All three can enjoy watching the game in the end because of the concept of “fairness.” We are not sure exactly how the boxes got there in the first place or if the taller individual willingly gave his box to the shorter person or was forced to do so. “ But who is to give the prizes?” A chorus of voices asked the Dodo.

Whose responsibility should it be to acquire the box? Should it be the job of the individual or society? Who financed the production of the boxes? If all are to receive fair shares, who is to determine what shares are fair? Moreover, who decides how we define the vague concept of fairness? These are all essential questions that get to the heart of Friedman’s arguments about voluntary or compulsory action and the personal responsibility that an individual has for his fate in life, and they remain unanswered. The video narrator says that the idea of fairness is “tricky for some folks.” She continued, “we often think that being fair means that everyone gets the same thing because that is what we were taught.” Everyone getting the same thing only works when we all are the same. What has not been stated directly in the video are the most salient points in reality. The proponents of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), who are the self-appointed authorities of the fairness dilemma, believe that the only certain measure of “equality” is the outcome, whether educational, social, or occupational. 

Moreover, they claim that Western Civilization was built on a foundation of white supremacy and patriarchal and racial oppression. Any instances or inequality of outcome is proof of this alleged oppression. Differential sexual representation in corporate America or academia is equivalent to systemic oppression. Ultimately, one’s race and gender determine who deserves equity and who must bear the consequences of the administration of equity. I equate William Graham Sumner’s famous example of A and B deciding what C shall do for X when reflecting upon DEI in America. A and B would represent politicians and activists, and X a member of a group that they claim is oppressed. C would represent the individual or institution they allege caused the oppression and is responsible for rectifying it. Sumner referred to C as the Forgotten Man, the “victim of the reformer, social speculator and philanthropist.” 

As a young man growing up in Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger was unfamiliar with Dr. Friedman and what he stood for. When Arnold moved to America in 1968, he studied business administration and marketing and received his bachelor’s degree in 1980. In the process, he became acquainted with Dr. Friedman’s libertarian-inspired free-market ideology. It confirmed all of the things that his life experience taught him. 

Similarly, I was unaware of Milton Friedman until I read his collected works at the Hoover Institute in 2013 while studying at Columbia. Everything he wrote validated my experiences in how my life ultimately unfolded. Unlike the high-minded references and ivory tower abstractions I encountered in academia that fell apart in the real world, his words had validity and authenticity. Friedman’s ability to break complex ideas down so non-academics could understand them was what I admired most about him. He said that “a society that puts equality-in the sense of equality of outcome- ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests. He continued, “on the other hand, a society that puts freedom first will, as a by-product, end up with both greater freedom and greater equality. Freedom means diversity but also mobility. It preserves the opportunity for today’s disadvantaged to become tomorrow’s privileged and, in the process, enables almost everyone to enjoy a fuller and richer life.”

Despite having strong ties and sentiments toward his birthplace in Austria, he knew that he did not fit the collectivist mindset. He knew that America was where he needed to be. If that scenario can exist, it follows that many native-born Americans do not fit the mold of the courageous capitalist seeking fame and fortune. Rather than leave their country and relocate to the socialist utopia of their choice, they have decided to gravitate toward politicians who tell them that their failures are not the result of their shortcomings or wrong decisions but rather a system that is rigged against them. The hope is the creation of an America with all the rewards, with none of the risks. Politicians would accomplish this at the expense of the evil businessman or corporation. As Milton Friedman argued, the egalitarian will defend taking from some to give to others, not as a more effective way whereby “some” can achieve an objective they want to achieve, but on the grounds of “justice.” At this point, equality comes sharply into conflict with freedom; one must choose. One cannot be both an egalitarian, in this sense, and a liberal.

Arnold said that once he learned about Milton Friedman and his Free to Choose series, he became a “big pain in the neck” to his friends and acquaintances. He sent them Dr. Friedman’s books and videos as gifts because he felt that you should not keep it to yourself when encountering something life-changing and inspiring. I agree and do the same in my daily life. A few years ago, I attended a banquet at Columbia University. Seated at my table were 2 or 3 economics majors. Sadly, not one of them had ever heard of Milton Friedman.

For this reason, I find it necessary to proselytize on Dr. Friedman’s behalf whenever possible. I hope my former classmates took my advice to learn more about Dr. Friedman, and anyone reading this blog who has never heard of him will do the same. Don’t fall for the “true lies” of the politicians who claim that capitalism is a system that exploits a large portion of society for a small minority of wealthy capitalists. For anyone interested in social justice, capitalism embodies social justice. Every person gets no more, and no less, than what he gains through voluntary association with other men. It is a system in which an athlete or a high school dropout can earn infinitely more than a doctor or scientist. Each of them deserves what they earn, and their income is a result of how much wealth each of them creates. Since each man has the right to the product of his labor, it is “just” for the disparity in incomes to exist. If injustice does exist, it is in the form of the government taking money from the athlete and the high school dropout and giving it to those who allegedly deserve it based on their “need” or “fairness.” I will not bend the knee to the purveyors of DEI who use the doctrine of equality as a moral weapon. I refuse to sacrifice my convictions for the greater good of the collective. I will continue to uphold the hope of our Founding Fathers, of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Arnold, Milton, and I hope that you will do the same. If you don’t, we’ll be back.

About the Author
I was a sociology major at Columbia University, where i received my B.A in 2017, at age 55. My opinion pieces have appeared in the Columbia Spectator, the Tab at Columbia University, and Merion West.
Related Topics
Related Posts