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Milton Friedman, 94, Champion of Liberty:

I've just learned that Milton Friedman died today. He was, without question, one of the twentieth century's greatest champions of liberty. The debt of intellectual gratitude that I, along with so many others, owe him, is simply immense. Without realizing it at the time, I virtually grew up on Friedman, as my dad's self-tutoring in economics owed a great deal to his weekly Newsweek columns. I first read Friedman myself when I was in college, and his influence on me was, and remains, profound. Every so often I go back and read Capitalism and Freedom and am amazed at how many important insights that little book contained. In hindsight, my work on race and economic regulation during the Lochner era is a direct outgrowth of reading Capitalism and Freedom, as I told Friedman many years ago. I did have the good fortune to meet him once, and beyond his great intellectual power, and his tremendous positive influence on the world, he (unlike many other notable libertarians of the 20th century) was an absolute mensch.

My condolences to the Friedman family, and to all who loved and admired him.

UPDATE: One more thing about Friedman's importance: in the 1960s and '70s, believing in free market economics left one vulnerable to being considered a nutjob. But Friedman, with his genial manners and incredibly strong academic credentials provided an incredibly important antidote to such calumny. Even today, when acquaintances of my father suggest that libertarian ideas are the preserves of "nuts," he responds, "do you think Milton Friedman is nuts?" And no one ever had the guts to suggest that Milton Friedman was nuts. That is to say, Friedman provided libertarian ideas generally, and economic ideas in particular, with a level of intellectual respectability that I'm quite certain gave many scholars, among others, of a later generation the fortitude to pursue truth as they understood it.

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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.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Milton Friedman, RIP:
  2. Milton Friedman, 94, Champion of Liberty:
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