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.