Business Day column: How can Friedman be so obtuse about free market group?

Steven Friedman’s tirade against Herman Mashaba and the Free Market Foundation is all essentially nonsense, writes Leon Louw

If you hang us, hang us for crimes we committed, is my response to Prof Steven Friedman’s diatribe against Herman Mashaba and the Free Market Foundation (FMF). It is virtually all nonsense.

His column is about what "free-marketeers" (libertarians) supposedly advocate regarding rich, poor and migrant people. A single call or a fleeting visit to a recognised free market website would have spared him — an academic — the self-inflicted
humiliation of comprehensive error.

Mashaba’s remarks, he writes, "deserve attention because he is a former chairman of the ... FMF". Really? Not because he is Johannesburg’s mayor? In a deluge of detritus that impugns the FMF and kindred spirits, Friedman misrepresents Mashaba then attributes the misrepresentation to an organisation Mashaba once chaired.

He says, for instance, that the FMF "went to court to prevent bargaining agreements being extended to employers who were not party to wage negotiations". Is such nonsense a deliberate lie?

Does Friedman really not know the difference between Mashaba (a) endorsing legal immigrants and (b) observing the criminality of illegal immigration? Does he not comprehend the difference between legal and illegal migration, or between migrants and refugees? Mashaba’s line, which Friedman knows yet conceals, is that laws should be enforced. Public office requires Mashaba to promote reform, not criminality. Do Friedman’s confabulations imply endorsement of criminality?

What does he want Mashaba to advocate? The abolition of borders? Discriminatory policing?

He presumably knows and conceals the fact that the FMF espouses both liberty and the rule of law, lobbies and litigates against illiberal law, and wants liberty for all, not just rich citizens. Is his misrepresentation a deliberate lie?

He says the FMF advocates liberty "only for the wealthy ... if they do not look different or come from somewhere else". Is this another deliberate lie?

He knows — it would be reprehensible for him not to — that virtually everything the FMF does and writes is pro-poor. Where was he when the FMF, Black Sash, Legal Resources Centre and others defended the human rights of illegal immigrants?

He knows yet conceals the fact that the FMF pre-eminently defends informal business. He should know that it organised an interdict against the Johannesburg council’s decision to clear vendors illegally from the streets.

He knows the FMF’s multimillion-rand Khaya Lam project promotes land rights for the poor. Why his denialism? Does his loony allegation that we oppose liberty for people who "look different" amount to accusing us of racism?

Stripped of Friedman’s flimflam, and contrary to his mangled musings, he knows, or should as a social science professor, that no one debates the right to migrate more vigorously and rigorously than libertarians.

While his column creates phony straw men for him to shoot down, his most dubious nondisclosure concerns himself. What does he advocate? What does he want Mashaba to advocate? The abolition of borders? Discriminatory policing? Does he want zero
migration control – the universal right of everyone everywhere to go anywhere anytime? If not, what does he want Mashaba to do about illegal immigrants? If so, should he advocate reform or crime?

Instead of "the credibility of the free market lobby" being harmed by the inconsistency he fabricates, reputational harm might be entirely his.

If he truly cares about the poor, the unemployed and illegal immigrants, he would endorse, not denounce,
the FMF.

Louw is executive director of the Free Market Foundation.

This article was first published in Business Day on 18 January 2017

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