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Example 1:  The idea for the assignment was to apply the theories of the economist Milton Friedman to a skit about race in the criminal justice system from the old Chappelle’s Show. Basically, Friedman argues that the government should stay out of regulating the economy, because they don’t know what they’re doing, and having government make the rules will invariably lead to corruption. The Chappelle skit satirizes the justice system by imagining what it would be like if the government treated black crack dealer (his character Tron) like they would a white Wall Street trader. Here’s how a couple of body paragraphs would use examples from the Chappelle skit to illustrate Friedman’s concepts, then in the next paragraph to use the skit to complicate Friedman’s concepts.
Chappelle modifies Friedman’s claim by suggesting that business interests have corrupted government. Friedman argues that the government should enforce ethics enacted by the political process and that anything beyond the “basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom” invites “the iron fist of Government bureaucrats.” Friedman cautions against extending the political process into areas beyond taxation. When Chappelle satirizes the discrepancy between governmental punishment of corporate criminals and street criminals, he is implicitly satirizing the governmental overextension: political control over business practices naturally invites corruption of politics by wealthy business interests. For Friedman, the free market should decide which businesses succeed. When the government gets involved, unnecessary complications occur that pervert the competitive self-interest that forces corporations to act within the ethical boundaries of their customers. Government involvement also perverts the government itself, moreover, by giving corporations incentive to game the system in their favor. The rules that result from this perversion become increasingly subject to the whims of special interests rather than the fair judgments of the free market. In Chappelle’s satire, urban crack dealers get to set the rules in ways that benefit their narrow interest even as their business practices violate the ethics of society at large. Narcotics business are a perfect industry to satirize, since they clearly violate society’s ethical customs; of course, so do Wall Street business practices. Except in real life, it’s the latter that get special exemptions because of their ability to influence an overreaching government. If the government would stay out of business, Friedman believes that situations like Chappelle’s wouldn’t be possible.
Chappelle’s argument, however, also complicates Friedman’s claim by demonstrating the vagueness of his notion of acceptable government intervention. Friedman never specifically defines what the “basic rules . . . embodied in ethical custom” are or where they come from. Since ethical custom would reasonably vary among the 325 million people in America, the basic rules would necessarily benefit some people more than others. Friedman asserts, “The political principle that underlies the political mechanism is conformity. The individual must serve a more general social interest.” His standard is too general to make practical sense of. General society could very well believe that it is serving its interest by regulating business tightly or by requiring businesses to promote social responsibility. In any event, the political promotion of general social interest could not realistically take place without special interests attempting to game the system in their favor. In this regard, Friedman’s problem is with representative democracy itself and the complications that arise when it tries to find a general ethical custom and encode that custom into law. While Friedman glosses over the meaning of “basic rules,” Chappelle’s characters clearly demonstrate that ethical customs vary dramatically from community to community and from individual to individual. Tron Carter is likely just as alien to Wall Street’s customs as corporate executives are to the crack business’s. By neglecting to specify how best to settle on ethics, Friedman’s theory leaves the door open for corruption of the political and criminal justice systems.
Example 2: The idea in this essay was to apply Friedman’s economic theories to a satirical news story by comedian John Oliver about dubious business practices by the for-profit college Corinthian College, which Olive claims has taken advantage of its students by offering poor education at inflated prices. Corinthian went out of business because of widespread complaints.
Oliver’s examples of the questionable tactics of for-profit colleges illustrate Friedman’s claim that the government should stick with what it is good at instead of drifting into overregulation. Friedman notes that corporate executives are adept at their own businesses, “in producing a product or selling it or financing it.” They are not experts at determining what’s good for society at large. The political process, rather, is the place for experts in the latter category. According to Friedman, “private competitive enterprise . . . forces people to be responsible for their own actions and makes it difficult for them to ‘exploit’ other people for either selfish or unselfish purposes.” When businesses take advantage of their customers or offer bad products or services, the free market takes care of it, as Oliver’s example of Corinthian College’s closing illustrates. The government does not need to control Corinthian College’s business practices; the consumers do it themselves by not patronizing the school. Friedman would argue that capitalism is working perfectly here. The school decided to increase its profits and its share price by making more money than their service was worth. That decision proved to be an ineffective one, however, because the free market would not abide by it.
Oliver’s critique unintentionally illustrates the validity of Friedman’s argument about the proper role of government in business. Oliver implies that the government needs to take action to prevent for-profit colleges from taking consumers’ money: “Our leaders have decided that while education is important, it’s not important enough to actually pay for.” Oliver is unclear about why political leaders should force taxpayers to pick up the tab for students who fall for these shady colleges’ shady schemes. He seems to be saying that government would better serve taxpayers by protecting students from their own poor decision-making. This type of intervention would lead exactly to the nanny state that Friedman warns against, wherein “the doctrine of ‘social responsibility’ taken seriously would extend the scope of the political mechanism to every human activity.” These for-profits schools are operating within the law, which indicates that citizens who oppose their practices have failed to convince their fellow voters to enact laws against those practices. The solution, according to Friedman, is not for government to usurp the political system’s judgment in favor of acting from the unelected bureaucracy. The government needs to stick with what it’s good at rather than wasting time and money trying to save citizens from their own poor decisions, as Oliver indicates they should do.

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