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Milton Friedman, RIP:

As numerous commentators will point out today, Milton Friedman, who just passed away, was probably one of the two most influential economists of the last century, along with Keynes. Along with F.A. Hayek, Friedman also played a key role in rescuing libertarian and classical liberal political thought from the intellectual oblivion that threatened to engulf it in the period from roughly 1932 to the late 60s. Without Friedman and the scholars he influenced, it is possible that big government conservatism would have become the only intellectually respectable alternative to the left in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II.

In addition to his more technical scholarship in economics, Friedman also invented an impressive range of public policy proposals, many of which remain relevant today. For example, his 1955 essay "The Role of Government in Education" introduced the idea of school vouchers, which recent studies show provide far greater benefits to poor and minority students than any other potential education policy reforms. Friedman was also a longtime proponent of the volunteer military on both economic and individual rights grounds. The abolition of the draft in 1971 was partially a result of his advocacy and its influence on political conservatives (most of whom previously were inclined to support conscription). Other influential Friedman policy ideas include the negative income tax (on which today's earned income tax credit is partly based), and - of course -the monetary rule. Somewhat unfortunately, Friedman (at that time still a left-winger) also invented the idea of income tax withholding while working as an economist for the the Treasury Department during World War II. Although Friedman intended it to be a temporary wartime measure, it soon turned into a permanent expansion of government power - a result that the later, libertarian Friedman would surely have predicted:)!

On a more personal note, reading Friedman's book Capitalism and Freedom when I was 14 (recommended by my father) was one of the key influences that led me to become a libertarian. Along with Friedman's later book Free to Choose, it remains the best introduction to libertarianism written for a general audience. Even 45 years after initial publication, it is still highly relevant, with very few sections that today seem dated.

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Ramza:
I posted this in the other Friedman thread, but there is a 9 page story about Friedman's legacy in the New York Times.
(I made it into a tinyurl, due to the fact NYT uses long link names.)

http://tinyurl.com/yb2dhs

I wonder what the Economist (the UK Paper) will write about Friedman
11.16.2006 6:10pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Well, better to be influenced by Friedman than by Ayn Rand. (FWIW, The Closing of the American Mind was a huge influence on this yellow-dog Democrat. Go figure.)

Don't know a whole lot about Friedman as a person, but his Pinochet-hugging seems kind of nasty. Obviously a great economist, however.

I suspect that, polemics aside, he and Keynes would've found much to agree on; "Keynesianism" and "monetarism" get blown up into dogmas, whereas economics (like the rest of real life) is too messy for any one ideology or theory to fit.
11.16.2006 6:23pm
MassRepUnsure (mail):
Capatalism and Freedom is a very well written book and inspired me to attend the U of C, for which I will be forever grateful.
I will have to read it again.
11.16.2006 6:40pm
Ilya Somin:
Don't know a whole lot about Friedman as a person, but his Pinochet-hugging seems kind of nasty. Obviously a great economist, however.

Friedman did not engage in "Pinochet-hugging." During his trips to Chile in the 1970s, he criticized Pinochet's political authoritarianism. That is not inconsistent with saying that Pinochet's economic policies (influenced by the "Chicago Boys") were better than those of his predecessors.
11.16.2006 8:24pm
Franklin Todd (mail):
What "recent studies" are those? Julian Betts, the UCSD expert, has been arguing that there is no good empirical evidence on vouchers either way - although there is strong theoretical justification.
11.16.2006 9:37pm
happy lee (mail):
May he rest in peace. Unlike most academics who are either obnoxious pinkos or weakling go-alongs, Friedman thought things through, came to a conclusion and made sure to stand by it.

As for Pinochet: What exactly is wrong with him? I thought he was a hero in the mold of Washington or such.
11.16.2006 10:39pm
d (mail) (www):
Somewhat unfortunately, Friedman (at that time still a left-winger) also invented the idea of income tax withholding . . .

How on earth would you conclude that Friedman was at any point "a left-winger?"
11.17.2006 1:54pm