Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Milton Friedman Would Have Been 100 Today

“A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it … gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.” -- Milton Friedman

If he were still alive, Milton Friedman would have been 100 years old today. More than any other thinker, Friedman was responsible for my switching careers from engineering to economics. His book, Free to Choose, was the third book I ever read and the one that got me totally hooked on the economic way of thinking.  I never met Friedman personally, but was part of a crowd that had a video conference with him in 2005.  I have had several conversations with his son, David.

Two of the things that most impressed me about Milton Friedman are:
1) The power and conviction of his ideas.
2) His ability to communicate these ideas to others with charm and humor.
That second characteristic is something far too few people who are interested in the importance of markets and freedom seem to have.  As a teacher of economics, this is something I (imperfectly) strive to emulate.

Stephen Moore has a nice tribute in today's Wall Street Journal:
Next to Ronald Reagan, in the second half of the 20th century there was no more influential voice for economic freedom world-wide than Milton Friedman. Small in stature but a giant intellect, he was the economist who saved capitalism by dismembering the ideas of central planning when most of academia was mesmerized by the creed of government as savior. 
Friedman was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for 1976—at a time when almost all the previous prizes had gone to socialists. This marked the first sign of the intellectual comeback of free-market economics since the 1930s, when John Maynard Keynes hijacked the profession. Friedman's 1971 book "A Monetary History of the United States," written with Anna Schwartz (who died on June 21), was a masterpiece and changed the way we think about the role of money. 
More influential than Friedman's scholarly writings was his singular talent for communicating the virtues of the free market to a mass audience. His two best-selling books, "Capitalism and Freedom" (1962) and "Free to Choose" (1980), are still wildly popular. His videos on YouTube on issues like the morality of capitalism are brilliant and timeless.
Bryan Caplan also pays tribute to Friedman.

Below is a video showing Friedman at his best:

Here is another video in which Bob Chitester, executive producer of the Free to Choose television series, remembers Friedman. You can watch the entire Free to Choose documentary here.

Professor Friedman is sorely missed.

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