Milton Friedman Dies at 94

Economist Milton Friedman died today at age 94. While many might disagree with him on some issues, there is no doubt that he was devoted to promoting liberty. While his economic views are often quoted by right wing Republicans, The Financial Times shows how he differed from them.

Both his admirers and his detractors have pointed out that his world view was essentially simple: a passionate belief in personal freedom combined with a conviction that free markets were the best way of co-ordinating the activities of dispersed individuals to their mutual enrichment. Where he shone was in his ability to derive interesting and unexpected consequences from simple ideas. As I knew from my postbag, part of his appeal lay in his willingness to come out with home truths which had occurred to many other people who had not dared to utter them. Friedman would then go on, however, to defend these maxims against the massed forces of economic correctness; and in the course of those defences he, almost unintentionally, added to knowledge.

Those who wanted to write him off as a right-wing Republican were disabused by the variety of radical causes he championed. I was not impressed in my own student years by the claims to a belief in personal freedom of the pro-market British economists whom I first encountered. It was not until I came across Friedman, and learned that he had spent more time in lobbying against the US “draft” than on any other policy issue, that I began to take seriously the wider philosophic protestations of the pro-market economists.

Friedman’s iconoclasm endured. He regarded the anti-drugs laws as virtually a government subsidy for organised crime. Even in the financial sphere, he espoused causes such as indexed contracts and taxes as a way of mitigating the harm done by inflation which did not endear him to natural conservatives.

Friedman was also an opponent of the Iraq war, and perhaps predicted the downfall of the GOP:

“What’s really killed the Republican Party isn’t spending. It’s Iraq. As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression. ”
Milton Friedman

His son, David Friedman, whose blog I just happened to mention in a post as recently as yesterday, has posted a brief note.

Related Post: Milton Friedman’s Letter to Bill Bennett

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    battlebob says:

    I first read Friedman as an undergrad (Capitalism and Freedom) and blew him off as one who was concerned only with “pure” capitalism where government does not interfere in anything. Pure capitalism doesn’t exist as governments do intervene in markets when imbalances occur.

    I studied him again in grad school and realized my original premise was wrong.
    He was concerned about what freedoms we had to give up having a market place. For instance, he would mention how wrong it was to pay for a license because it took capital away from your business.
    Then I realized he was stating the hidden costs we tend to ignore. He accepted that there were costs to freedom. He just wanted to limit them but knew they would never go away.

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