There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

By Milton Friedman | Go to book overview

Chapter Twelve
Government and Education

Some years ago, when Charles E. Wilson, former head of General Motors, was testifying before Congress in connection with confirmation for a high government post, he remarked, "What is good for General Motors is good for the United States." My colleagues in the universities sneered at this remark, pointed to it as showing how small-minded, how self-interested, how blind our business leaders are. Simultaneously, they and their colleagues were trooping down to Washington testifying in favor of "federal aid" to higher education, i.e., government subsidies. One after another in effect said, "What's good for higher education is good for the country." Never did I see one even smile when he said it, or recognize in any way any inconsistency between his sneers at Mr. Wilson and his testimony in Washington.

All of us--you and I not excepted--are far more aware of our own interests than that of other people's. We all know that what is good for us is good for the country. That is why the "devil" theory of special-interest legislation is wrong. The men who urge Congress to pass laws that you and I regard as benefiting their special interests seldom do so out of devil motives. They are generally completely sincere when they urge that the measure is in the public interest. As the Bible says, we see the mote in the other man's eye, not the beam in our own.

As you have read my animadversions against special interests in prior chapters, you have probably been sympathetic to my view in most cases because the special interests I have been inveighing against are not yours. In this chapter, I come closer to home for many readers, particularly those who are college students or on college faculties.

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