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Economics Unveiled: A Comparative Analysis of Free to Choose and The Working Poor

——Free to choose by Milton Friedman & The Working Poor by David K. Shipler

The complex nature of economics has always captivated thinkers, policymakers, and the general public alike. In an era dominated by the interplay of globalization, wealth disparity, and the constant struggle for economic stability, understanding the dynamics of socio-economic systems becomes paramount. Milton Friedman and David K. Shipler, two prominent authors and economists, explore the intricacies of economic principles and their impact on individuals in their respective works, “Free to Choose” and “The Working Poor.” These influential books provide insightful commentary on economic policies and challenges faced by societies, but take divergent approaches in their understanding and proposed solutions.

1. Context and Purpose:

To delve into the topics of individual freedom, poverty, and socioeconomic inequality, both “Free to Choose” and “The Working Poor” offer unique perspectives. Published in 1980, “Free to Choose” is an ideological work by Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, advocating for free-market capitalism as a means to maximize individual liberty and economic prosperity. On the other hand, David K. Shipler’s “The Working Poor,” published in 2004, takes a more sociological and narrative approach, scrutinizing the plight of low-wage workers in America and arguing for systemic changes to bridge the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor.

2. Overview of the Books:

Friedman’s “Free to Choose” analyzes the role of the state in the economy, critiquing government intervention and championing the virtues of free markets and limited government. He argues that individual freedom can only flourish in a system that recognizes the power of voluntary exchanges between individuals, unrestricted by excessive regulation or bureaucracy. Through a series of persuasive essays, Friedman outlines his vision of a society where market forces drive prosperity and personal freedom.

In contrast, Shipler’s “The Working Poor” paints a vivid picture of the daily struggles faced by millions of Americans forced to live at or below the poverty line. Employing a blend of meticulous research and personal narratives, Shipler meticulously examines the interconnected barriers that prevent upward mobility, including inadequate education, health care, and employment opportunities. He advocates for comprehensive social safety nets and systematic reforms that address the root causes of poverty, encouraging policymakers and society at large to prioritize the well-being and dignity of low-wage workers.

3. Comparative Analysis:

Although both Friedman and Shipler tackle similar subjects, their approaches and perspectives diverge significantly. While Friedman emphasizes the efficiency of free-market capitalism and individual choice, Shipler delves into the systemic factors contributing to poverty and argues for greater societal responsibility in ensuring economic security for all citizens. Through this comparative study, we aim to critically analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each author’s arguments, evaluating their impact on economic thinking and policy discourse.

4. Methodology:

In this comparative study, we will employ a textual analysis approach, examining key themes, theories, and empirical evidence presented in “Free to Choose” and “The Working Poor.” By evaluating the ideological underpinnings, empirical validity, and policy recommendations presented by both authors, we seek to shed light on the economic theories that shape our understanding of poverty, inequality, and the role of government.


As we delve into the economic philosophies and policy prescriptions offered by Milton Friedman and David K. Shipler in their influential works, it becomes evident that each author addresses the challenges of poverty from distinct angles. Through this comparative study, readers will gain a deeper understanding of the divergent perspectives and the underlying philosophical, sociological, and political implications that shape economic discourse today. Ultimately, our objective is to foster a more inclusive and comprehensive conversation surrounding economic policy, urging society to explore multifaceted solutions that address the complexities of poverty and inequality.

Brief Summary of Two Books

Free to choose by Milton Friedman

Free to Choose” is a book written by economist Milton Friedman and his wife Rose Friedman. It presents a comprehensive defense of free-market capitalism and individual liberty.

The book argues that economic freedom is essential for political freedom, as it allows individuals to make their own choices and control their own lives. Friedman asserts that the role of government should be limited to protecting people’s rights and maintaining the rule of law, with minimal interference in the economy.

The Friedmans advocate for free trade, emphasizing the benefits of global economic integration and the dangers of protectionism. They argue that government regulations and interventions often have unintended negative consequences, hindering economic growth and diminishing individual freedom.

The book also tackles various social issues, such as education, welfare, and discrimination. The Friedmans propose market-based solutions to these problems, suggesting that competition and choice can lead to better outcomes than government-controlled approaches.

Friedman’s writing is accessible, and he uses real-world examples to illustrate his ideas. He challenges conventional wisdom and provides a thought-provoking examination of the benefits of economic freedom and the role of government in society.

Overall, “Free to Choose” is a passionate defense of the principles of classical liberalism and the power of free markets to promote prosperity, individual liberty, and social progress.

The Working Poor by David K. Shipler

The book “The Working Poor: Invisible in America” by David K. Shipler explores the struggles and challenges faced by individuals and families living in poverty in the United States. Shipler focuses on a diverse group of people, referred to as the “working poor,” who are employed but still struggle to make ends meet.

Through in-depth research and personal stories, Shipler sheds light on the complex factors contributing to poverty, including low wages, limited job opportunities, lack of affordable housing, inadequate healthcare, and systemic inequalities. He examines the cycle of poverty that often traps individuals and families, making it difficult for them to escape their circumstances.

Shipler highlights the day-to-day experiences of his subjects, discussing their efforts to find and maintain employment, navigate the welfare system, access education and healthcare, and secure safe housing. He emphasizes the multiple challenges faced by the working poor, such as juggling multiple jobs, dealing with food insecurity, and coping with debt.

Furthermore, the author explores the impact of race, ethnicity, and gender on poverty, illustrating how social inequalities intersect to exacerbate the struggles of minority communities.

Throughout the book, Shipler challenges common misconceptions and stereotypes about poverty and provides a thought-provoking analysis of the structural and individual factors that perpetuate it. By giving a voice to the working poor and delving into their stories, he calls for a deeper understanding and empathy towards those living in poverty, ultimately advocating for social and policy changes that can address these issues.

Comparison between Two Books

Similarities in Economics

Both “Free to Choose” by Milton Friedman and “The Working Poor” by David K. Shipler discuss various economic concepts and issues, portraying similar perspectives on certain aspects of economics.

1. Emphasis on Individual Freedom: Both books highlight the importance of individual freedom in economic decision-making. Friedman’s “Free to Choose” promotes the idea that individuals have the right to freely pursue their own economic interests without undue government intervention. Similarly, Shipler’s “The Working Poor” emphasizes the significance of empowering individuals to make choices that can improve their economic conditions, such as obtaining education or seeking better job opportunities.

2. Value of Free Market Capitalism: Both authors believe in the efficacy of free-market capitalism as an economic system. Friedman’s “Free to Choose” argues that free-market competition leads to efficient resource allocation and expands individual freedoms. Shipler’s “The Working Poor” also acknowledges that the market can provide opportunities for individuals to escape poverty, such as through entrepreneurship or upward mobility in employment.

3. Importance of Incentives: Both books recognize the role of incentives in influencing economic behavior. Friedman’s “Free to Choose” discusses the power of market-based incentives, such as profit and loss, in encouraging individuals and businesses to make efficient choices. Similarly, Shipler’s “The Working Poor” explores how incentives, such as welfare programs or tax breaks, can either facilitate or deter individuals from achieving economic well-being.

4. Critique of Government Intervention: Both authors criticize excessive government intervention in the economy. Friedman’s “Free to Choose” argues against government regulations and subsidies that distort market mechanisms. Shipler’s “The Working Poor” highlights the negative consequences of bureaucratic systems and argues for more efficient and effective government policies that truly address the underlying causes of poverty.

5. Inequality and Poverty: Both books address the issue of income inequality and poverty. Friedman’s “Free to Choose” argues that economic growth and free markets can uplift the poor more effectively than government redistribution. Shipler’s “The Working Poor” explores the complex factors contributing to poverty, such as educational disparities and systemic disadvantages, while advocating for more inclusive economic policies that uplift the working class.

Overall, while there may be differences in their approaches and emphasis, both books share the belief in the importance of individual freedom, free markets, and the critique of excessive government intervention in promoting economic prosperity and addressing poverty.

Divergences in Economics

Both Free to Choose by Milton Friedman and The Working Poor by David K. Shipler discuss economic issues and their impact on society, but they approach the subject matter from different perspectives, leading to distinct divergences in their analysis.

In Free to Choose, Milton Friedman advocates for free market capitalism and individual freedom as the primary drivers of economic growth and prosperity. He argues that when individuals have the freedom to make their own economic choices, such as choosing their occupations and participating in voluntary exchanges, it leads to efficient resource allocation and overall prosperity. Friedman holds that government intervention in the economy, like excessive regulations and high taxes, hampers economic growth and limits individual freedom. He emphasizes the merits of competition, private property rights, and minimal government interference in economic activities.

On the other hand, in The Working Poor, David K. Shipler focuses on the challenges faced by low-income workers in America and the structural barriers that perpetuate their poverty. Shipler examines poverty through the lens of social and economic inequality, highlighting the impacts of factors such as education disparities, stagnant wages, and limited access to affordable housing and healthcare. Unlike Friedman, Shipler argues that a free market system alone is inadequate in addressing the issues faced by the working poor, and he calls for greater government intervention to provide social safety net programs and promote equal opportunities.

The primary divergence between these books lies in their views on the role of government in the economy. Friedman sees government intervention as largely negative, hindering economic progress and infringing on individual freedom. He believes that a free market with minimal government interference is the most efficient way to allocate resources and maximize economic growth. On the other hand, Shipler argues that government intervention is necessary to address the structural inequalities and deficiencies in the market. He contends that targeted government programs can help lift the working poor out of poverty and create a more equitable society.

Overall, while both books explore the intersection of economics and societal wellbeing, they diverge in their conclusions about the role of government intervention. Friedman supports a free market approach with minimal government involvement, while Shipler argues for a more proactive role for the government in addressing inequality and supporting the working poor.


Both “Free to Choose” by Milton Friedman and “The Working Poor” by David K. Shipler are highly regarded books that offer valuable insights into economic and social issues. However, the decision on which book is more worthy of reading ultimately depends on your personal interests and the specific topics you are interested in exploring.

“Free to Choose” is a classic work of economics by Nobel laureate Milton Friedman. It explores the concepts of individual liberty, free markets, and limited government intervention. The book presents a case for the merits of economic freedom and how it can lead to prosperity and human flourishing. If you have a strong interest in economics, political philosophy, or libertarian ideas, “Free to Choose” would be a recommended read.

“The Working Poor” by David K. Shipler focuses on the struggles faced by the low-income working class in America and examines the various factors that contribute to their poverty. It delves into issues such as education, healthcare, race, and the labor market, providing a comprehensive analysis of the hurdles faced by individuals trying to escape poverty. If you are interested in social justice, inequality, and understanding the challenges faced by the working poor, “The Working Poor” is an excellent choice.

Ultimately, both books offer valuable perspectives and unique insights into different aspects of society. It would be worth considering your own interests and the topics that resonate with you the most before making a decision on which one to read.

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