Tribute to Milton Friedman

First Published: 2006-11-17

The Nassau Institute mourns the passing on Thursday November 16th of Milton Friedman, age 94, champion of liberty and free markets; a truly great man – a genuine hero, respected not only for his brilliance as a statistician, but for his humanity.

For more than half his life he witnessed the catastrophic effects of fascism and National Socialism, World War II and communist domination of half of the world. More than any other person he championed personal freedoms and the individual's right to choose, opposing the collectivism responsible for devastation of life and property in countries that succumbed to it.

His seminal work directed to the general public is "Capitalism and Freedom" published in 1962. It is a compilation of lectures delivered over the prior twenty-five years. The book was conceived at a time when the welfare state and Keynesian ideas dominated economic policy and intellectual discourse and is dedicated to the Friedman's two children "David and Janet and their contemporaries who must carry the torch of liberty on its next lap".

In the forward he writes "Those of us who were deeply concerned about the danger to freedom and prosperity from the growth of government, from the triumph of the welfare-state and Keynesian ideas, were a small beleaguered minority regarded as eccentrics…."

The chapter on the role of government in education makes the case for school vouchers to bring the benefits of competition to education. At an Economic Freedom of the World Symposium in San Francisco in 1997, hosted by the Friedman’s, Mrs. Friedman told me her husband was dedicating his energies to education. For this purpose they established the Milton and Rose D. Foundation and the development of a Voucher program that has continued to grow throughout the United States.

Described as "the most exciting adventure of our lives" in their book "Two Lucky People", the Friedman's explain how the series for Public Broadcasting called "Free To Choose" came about in 1980. It is derived from the book "Free to Choose" in which Dr. Friedman explains the contribution of the division of labour and free exchange to human well being as it identifies the tyranny of government regulation. He shows how the competitive marketplace protects consumers as it refutes the mistaken notion that only coercive government can achieve desired ends.

"Free to Choose" was shown in 80's, the period when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher became the leaders of their respective countries. Both leaders represented a revolution that Milton Friedman had helped to create. It was a revolution against central planning and the welfare state and a boost for free markets and limited government. Libertarian principles clearly articulated by Milton Friedman gradually eroded the dominant collectivist ideas of the Roosevelt era that continued after World War II for thirty-five years.

He made an enormous contribution to Monetary Theory, policy and history in such books as Studies in the Quantity Theory of Money and The Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960 (co-written with Anna Schwartz, 1963). The latter book boldly attributed the Great Depression to bad policies of the Federal Reserve and was contrary to mainstream thinking of Keynesian economists. These are only two of many books, articles and papers of more technical studies related to Monetary theory.

An advocate for Libertarian principles gained him respect in many countries. His advice was sought and acted upon by the Chilean dictator Pinochet and explains why Chile today is the most successful economy in Latin America. He took abuse from intellectuals and politicians for his work in Chile, but was respected for directing China toward capitalism making it more prosperous than anyone could have imagined in 1976 the year Mao Zedong died and the year Dr. Friedman was awarded the Nobel Price in Economics.

Now blessed with his legacy it is up to those who love liberty to step up to the plate and carry on his work. It requires replacing collectivist ideas with the ideas and actions based on libertarian principles.

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