There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

By Milton Friedman | Go to book overview

Preface

In a book published in 1891, John Neville Keynes, the father of the more famous John Maynard Keynes, wrote: ". . . People think themselves competent to reason about economic problems, however complex, without any such preparatory scientific training as would be universally considered essential in other departments of enquiry. This temptation to discuss economic questions without adequate scientific preparation is all the greater because economic conditions exert so powerful an influence upon men's material interests. 'Few men,' says General Walker [a famous American economist of the nineteenth century], 'are presumptuous enough to dispute with the chemist or mechanician upon points connected with the studies and labours of his life; but almost any man who can read and write feels himself at liberty to form and maintain opinions of his own upon trade and money.' The economic literature of every succeeding year embraces works conceived in the true scientific spirit, and works exhibiting the most vulgar ignorance of economic history, and the most flagrant contempt for the conditions of economic investigation. It is much as if astrology were being pursued side by side with astronomy, or alchemy with chemistry."

I often send this quotation as part of a response to letters from earnest, sincere, well-intentioned, but economically illiterate, correspondents offering their own economic panaceas, or criticising my views, who display an utter lack of comprehension that economics is a serious subject with a hard core of sophisticated analysis that is widely accepted by professional economists of every political persuasion and that the chances against a rank amateur stumbling on a profound--and true--law are millions to one.

-ix-

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