Milton Friedman has passed away. I doubt I’d be an economist were in not for his incredible achievements. And there perhaps has been no better friend of liberty. While he will be missed, his ideas will endure – at least he lived to see the day that proved him right.
Here is a passage that summarizes his love for liberty – and which has had a profound influence on my thinking:
” President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”… Neither half of that statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. “
Here is some more:
The Shoulders of a Giant: Milton Friedman, 1912-2006
The death of Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman was announced as this issue of Research Reports was going to press. It is hard to overstate his contribution to economic thought, particularly monetary theory, and his role in guiding economists and the general public to better appreciate the benefits of free markets. His libertarian views on a sweeping range of issues often boiled down to this basic insight: individuals know more about what’s best for them than central planners do.
In his view, there was very little that government could do (chiefly limited to law enforcement and national defense) that market forces could not do even better, with distributive effects that were at least as fair as the efforts of the most ardent government planners. This view was based not on intuition but on observation; unlike many economists today, most of Friedman’s scholarship was firmly grounded in history and evidence.
Friedman originally was a mathematician attracted to the study of economics because he thought it would be more practically useful in earning a living when he graduated from college in 1932. Arthur Burns, who directed the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in the 1930s and 1940s, was his principal mentor. Friedman’s frequent collaborator, Anna J. Schwartz, who still visits AIER and is active professionally at the age of 91, met him at NBER. Their most famous collaboration was The Monetary History of the United States , 1867-1960 (1963), which provided the intellectual firepower for the eventual application of monetarist economic principles against the inflationary surge of 1965-1980.
Friedman met another future co-author, Rose Director, at Chicago in 1932, and they were married in 1938. Their collaboration, Free to Choose (1980), grew out of a public television series, became a best-seller, and often was sneaked into repressive economic regimes afterward as a treatise on classical liberal thought. Few economists had his gift for talking to the public, for peeling away the jargon and getting clearly and persuasively to the heart of an issue.
Friedman’s intellectual legacy is enormous. During much of his academic career, AIER crossed swords with him on monetary policy, because his prescription (increasing the money supply at a constant rate) struck us as too simple and (ironically) not sufficiently market-based. Still, we recognized that he was on our side of the great dividing line pitting advocates of centralized and collectivized economic activity (loosely termed “socialism”) against advocates of greater individual liberty in both civil and economic activity. No one seems likely to emerge as his equal as a force for human liberty among the younger generations of economists now active.