Watch: Milton Friedman on The Role of Government in a Free Society

What is the true nature of government? What role does it play in a free society? Milton Friedman explains.

John Stuart Mill said, in effect, that self-protection is the only legitimate reason for people to interfere with the freedom of others. If we are to define the role of government in a free society, we must first specify what we mean by self-protection. Defense from foreign enemies and protection of property, including the enforcement of private contracts, are clearly legitimate functions of government. But when we come to two other functions of government–providing a substitute for voluntary cooperation when it appears impossible to achieve, and providing for irresponsible individuals–the justification is much less clear-cut, because in a free society people should be able to take risks but should not be able to force others to pay the consequences. If the proper limitations of government action were observed, the government would not do many things it now does. We should not resort to government regulations until we have adequately explored the possibilities for coordinating our activities through voluntary means. If we understood the implications of our own values, we would not allow ourselves to be “front men” for values we oppose, merely because we are confused about the meaning of freedom and the legitimate role of government in a free society. Recorded at Stanford University ©1978

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Chris Spangle is the publisher and editor of We Are Libertarians, a news site and podcast that covers national and Indiana politics from the libertarian perspective. Spangle previously worked in marketing for the Englehart Group on behalf of the Advocates for Self-Government. He also served as the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Indiana and producer of the Abdul in the Morning Show. He now works as the web director of a nationally syndicated morning show.

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