September 24, 2016 Print

Bad economic ideas, myths, and misinformation are continually resuscitated over the years, so it’s not unusual to see them featured prominently in candidate rhetoric during every new election season. Still, it was surprising to see so much support for ideas from self-avowed “democratic socialist” presidential candidate Bernie Sanders before he dropped out of the election — especially after so many socialist economies around the world have crashed into poverty and misery. “Friedman vs. Sanders: Democratic Socialism Debunked,” a video released by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), shows how the mistaken economics espoused by Sanders have been debunked for decades by juxtaposing clips of outrageous claims from Sanders with almost eerily accurate archival responses from Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman. That video has won the 2016 Lights, Camera, Liberty! Film Festival Award, presented during Atlas Network’s 2016 Liberty Forum in Miami. 

“The goal of this video was to present a quick, witty take on some of the more outrageous economic claims Bernie Sanders made during his campaign,” said Sean Malone, director of media at FEE and creator of the award-winning video. “We chose to have Milton Friedman ‘respond’ to those claims because Friedman was a great debater in life and an incredible popularizer of more accurate ideas about economics. The strategy was simply to design the video to be as shareable as possible on Facebook, and then post it to the platform via our own Facebook page.”

Friedman was a master of explaining economics in a way that didn’t insult his opponents or treat them as enemies, instead showing how the ideas of liberty and economic freedom bring people together as friends and trading partners. This approach allowed FEE’s video to sidestep the contentious rhetoric that commonly surrounds elections.

“One goal I normally have within my work is to shoot for something that is as engaging as possible and brings people in while pushing as few people as possible away,” Malone said. “This is based on my general belief that while polarizing audiences can be great for views, it's a wash in terms of moving people to seriously consider your ideas. In my experience, it tends to mean that just as many people are now mobilized against you as are mobilized on your behalf. The Bernie vs. Milton video was a risk in that regard, but I think one piece of evidence that suggests the video was viewed positively by an overwhelming majority of its audience without being polarizing or turning off unaligned viewers is the fact that of roughly 6,800 direct interactions, just 26 (or 0.3 percent) are ‘angry.’”

On Facebook, users can select from a few different emotional responses to posted content, and those who select “angry” are often expressing a reaction that is equivalent to a dislike or a downvote, he explained.

“If we were seeing angry interactions in the hundreds or thousands, which you will see on many politically oriented videos with comparable total views, I would suspect that we managed to reach a lot of people but had little ability to move the needle overall,” Malone said. “In this case, I think the low number of dislikes is good evidence that it was positively received by most viewers, aligned or not.”

Despite spending no money on advertising and promotion for the video, it was viewed more than 1.3 million times and shared 25,000 times within a week.

“Since we did not push the video with ad spending on social media, we know that 100 percent of our views were organic,” Malone said. “To me, this indicates that our viewers truly found the video to be valuable and worth sharing with their friends, which I think is an important aspect of assessing the meaningfulness of its reach. Our video was seen by more than 1.3 million people and its total reach on Facebook through friend connections was closer to 4 million. It is obviously extremely difficult to know what every viewer actually believes on social media, but given population demographics in the United States, it is highly unlikely that all or even most of those people identify as classical liberal/libertarian or are overtly supportive of free markets.”

The other two finalists in the 2016 Lights, Camera, Liberty! Film Festival were “All Obsolete Industries Deserve the Taxi Bailout” by the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance, a satirical look at how the Australian government is bailing out nearly obsolete industries; and “Everything” by the Institute for Justice, a heartbreaking story about how government stands in the way of market incentives for bone marrow donors.