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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Humble Law Student (mail):
Why isn't it on the news? I'm looking at the cnn and foxnews websites and they aren't mentioning it.
11.16.2006 2:11pm
Humble Law Student (mail):
I take that back it is -- its just buried.
11.16.2006 2:12pm
Matty G:
David: That's a nice tribute - thanks for posting it. I hope that more Conspirators (and perhaps you in a longer form) will write about Friedman in the coming days. His passing is certainly a moment to reflect on both the rise of libertarianism in the 20th century in the United States, as well as its future.

11.16.2006 2:21pm
Chris 24601 (mail):
Great video of the Milton Friedman Choir. Lots of other stuff there too.
11.16.2006 2:30pm
Chris 24601 (mail):
11.16.2006 2:40pm
Syd (mail):
The science fiction writer Jack Williamson just died at the age of 98. His first story was published in 1928 and his last novel was published in 2005. He's best known for the Legion of Space series, the Humanoids, the Contraterrene novels (Seetee Shock and Ceetee Ship), and with Frederic Pohl, the Starchild trilogy, including The Reefs of Space and Rogue Star. He was winning awards into his nineties.
11.16.2006 2:49pm
I could not agree more with David's comment. Milton Friendman was a true champion of liberty, and as a graduate of Hillsdale College, I had the priveledge to read many of his works. I extend my condelences to the Friendman family.
11.16.2006 2:59pm
Paul Sherman:
For those who haven't seen it yet, this great interview with Friedman from the 1970s is worth a half-hour of your time.
11.16.2006 3:03pm
Is there going to be some kind of public memorial service for him?
11.16.2006 3:16pm
Catnip for classic liberals:

Friedman on Minimum Wage

RIP, Prof. Friedman
11.16.2006 3:16pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Not to speak ill of the dead. But come on! Champion of freedom? His pet theory that free markets lead to free societies is simply nonsense and has been disproved over and over again (just look at China) and led him to hobnob with some very unsavory characters (e.g., Pinochet).
11.16.2006 3:22pm
Crunchy Frog:
Since when is China a free market???
11.16.2006 3:26pm
paul (mail):
I am old enough to remember when Milton Friedman was a lonely voice crying in the wilderness. It amazes me how infuential his views eventually became and how much better the world is as a result. What a great role model for how an academic can influence the world through the power of creative ideas.
11.16.2006 3:26pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
It amazes me how infuential his views eventually became and how much better the world is as a result.

And exactly how is that?
11.16.2006 3:33pm
John M. Perkins (mail):
Friedman to Coase to Posner to Volokh.


I'd suspect Friedman's remains wouldn't make good harvesting at 94
11.16.2006 3:41pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
J.F. Thomas seems to be swimming upstream here. I think at the very least, Milton Friedman was the intellectual equal of and a very powerful counterpoint to the ubiquitous K. E. Galbraith.

That alone should put him in the pantheon of great economists.

As Harry Truman understood, none of these folks has a monopoly on understanding human economic behavior.
11.16.2006 3:43pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Thomas, Pinochet came to power in a country that had no free markets. Friedman came and the markets became more free, and the country followed. Also, saying "Not to speak ill of the dead," doesn't mean anything when you then go on to speak ill of the dead.
11.16.2006 3:45pm
John M. Perkins (mail):
J.F Thomas and Crunchy Frog,

Great times at Jimmy's. We'd couldn't agree on the Chicago School or Capialist Roaders, but Burns, Trout, Dotson, Baumgartner were going to be the great left wingers only to have Hoyt become the better right winger.
11.16.2006 3:48pm
Alaska Jack (mail):
Decent overview of Friedman's influence in Stanislaw and Yergin's "The Commanding Heights: The Battle Between Government and the Marketplace That Is Remaking the Modern World".

Throughout most of the 950s, the Chicago School remained obscure and unfashionable, at least as far as the public was concerned. It seemed to contradict the conventional wisdom [i.e., Keynesianism - ed] in almost every respect. But by the end of the decade, all that was changing, partly driven by Milton Friedman, who was not only a powerfully capable economist but also charismatic, optimistic and unfazed, whether by the spotlight or by the enormous amount of criticim that would be heaped upon him.

- Alaska Jack
11.16.2006 3:56pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
He was no doubt a great economist and a brilliant intellect and apparently an all-around nice guy. I was merely objecting to the characterization of him as a "Champion of Liberty" by pointing out that his adherence to his ideology may have blinded him to the realities of the world.

And Mike--you are overstating the lack of free markets when Pinochet took power and assuming a causation from a correlation without any supporting evidence. As I stated above, China's economy is much more free than it was twenty years ago, yet the Communist party maintains its iron grip and has extended it to Hong Kong which is markedly less free than it was twenty years ago. There is very little correlation between economic and political freedom.
11.16.2006 3:56pm
Pub Editor (mail):
A thought: John Kenneth Galbraith died on April 29, 2006, and was followed by Milton Friedman on Nov. 16 of the same year.

Robert Nozick died on January 23, 2002, and John Rawls in turn died on November 24, 2002.

This was just something that struck me. No implications.
11.16.2006 4:12pm
Pub Editor (mail):
Oh, and, of course, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826.
11.16.2006 4:13pm
Pub Editor (mail):
This is a nice headline for the day of Milton Friedman's death. He will be missed.
11.16.2006 4:16pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
I meant John Kenneth (JK) not KE. I don't even know where KE came from.
11.16.2006 4:17pm
frankcross (mail):
JF, don't confuse an association with an inevitability. There is solid research showing that economic freedom tends to produce greater political freedom, just not a guarantee. And your Pinochet example is actually evidence in support of this thesis.
11.16.2006 4:20pm
Milton Friedman was also the father of Cariadoc of the Bow, the first King of the Midrealm in the Society for Creative Anachronism.
11.16.2006 5:11pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
He also played an important part in ending military conscription in the U.S. He deserves recognition for that.
11.16.2006 5:20pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Around 1978 my high school junior social studies teacher, about whom I remember nothing else, gave me a photocopy of Friedman's interview in Playboy. Besides opening my eyes to the fact that there really were articles in that magazine, nothing I had read up to that point resonated with me as much as his "I cannot understand the wisdom of a system of equality that would cut down the tall trees to the level of the short ones."

I had toyed with writing him, and two old baseball players, fan letters while they were still on this earth. I'd better get writing to the Scooter, currently hospitalized, and to Yogi Berra. (Here in Boston the locals just lost Red Auerbach, but Johnny Pesky is hanging on.)
11.16.2006 5:32pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Greedy Clerk, yes your message was deleted, and I'd you from further comments but for not wanting to ban everyone at your law firm's IP address.
11.16.2006 5:42pm
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.)

I wonder what the Economist (the UK Paper) will write about Friedman
11.16.2006 6:08pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Not to speak ill of the dead. But come on! Champion of freedom? His pet theory that free markets lead to free societies is simply nonsense and has been disproved over and over again (just look at China) and led him to hobnob with some very unsavory characters (e.g., Pinochet).

I would agree that economic liberty doesn't necessarily lead to political liberty. But I'd note that both economic liberty and political liberty are good things in themselves. It's best to have both. But if we have one, it's better than having neither.

It's possible to have a good deal of political liberty and personal freedoms, but not a lot of economic liberty (much of Western Europe; but even there, Western Europe is economically freer after Margaret Thacher than before). It's also possible to have capitalism and property rights and a heavy fisted authoritarian government in charge. Indeed, capitalism and markets simply need an orderly "rule of law" to work. And authoritarian nations like Singapore or perhaps China and Vietnam are as good (perhaps even better?) at providing an orderly rule of law type system than liberal democracy. Hence, capitalism will work well with non-liberal democratic authoritarian type nations. Remember what Jeane Kirkpatrick admonished us to distinguish between?

What would be best is to have the political and personal freedoms of the US and Western Europe combined with capitalism and property rights.

While it would be nice if they also had political freedoms and were liberal democracies, places like China, Chile, Vietnam, Singapore are still better off WITH the capitalism and free markets than what they would be without them.
11.16.2006 7:17pm
orson23 (mail):
Beyond, as David notes, a mensch. Milton was, to anyone who's followed him through his last years, the very model of positive aging.

His last C-span interview a while back (At 90?) found him vital and engaged in the inssies of our times. He could recite his accomplishments and disappointments. He understood that lack of compoetition in education, too too much socialism, was killing American's schooling. For his partisans, this work remains undone - merely begun.

A year or so ago, he was on PBS' Charlie Rose program. While still "all there,":Milton had lost some energy and half-a-step, intellectually. Still engaging enough to listen to, but no longer near top form.

Rose and David Friedman and friends are lucky to have had hime sol ong and so well. He is the very model of good aging. I want to be Milton Friedman when I am old. He is a great role model well-beyond his most recognized achievements.
11.16.2006 7:59pm
Paul B (mail):
As an econ major at MIT in the late 1960s, I can remember the triumphalism of Keynesianism that time. I heard Paul Samuelson at a departmental seminar mocking the intellectually weak case of the monetarists. In retrospect, the high water mark of Keynesianism had already passed, as the efforts of the Johnson Administration to offer both guns (Vietnam) and butter (the Great Society)led to the stagflation of the 1970s.

During my time there, I heard Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman hold a free flowing debate on any and all subjects relating to economics. It was obvious that this was far from the first time they had held this kind of dialogue. I had never, and have never heard two men who combined intellectual brilliance, rapier wit, and ability to present academic theory to a non-specialist audience as I did that night.

Now that I reflect on David's mention of Friedman's column in Newsweek, and remembering that Samuelson alternated with him, it is depressing to think how magazines like Newsweek think that someone like Anna Quindlen is what their audience desires to read these days.
11.16.2006 8:04pm
I would do many things to see such a video of Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman debating each other.
11.16.2006 8:14pm
David Chesler wrote:
I had toyed with writing him, and two old baseball players, fan letters while they were still on this earth.
I did, a few years ago, to compliment his performance in a short local TV "newstalk" debate. I expected no response since my letter was, after all, just a "fan" letter from someone who saw him on TV.

He responded with a handwritten note briefly but specifically addressing a point about the debate I had mentioned in passing. I have treasured it ever since. As David Bernstein and others said, he was an absolute mensch. His heart was as big as his mind.
11.16.2006 9:34pm
Mark Field (mail):

He also played an important part in ending military conscription in the U.S. He deserves recognition for that.

I'm all in favor of praising the dead, but I do think some perspective is required. Let's face it: the impact of Vietnam on ending the draft overwhelmed any and every other influence.
11.16.2006 11:04pm
Paul Sherman:
I'm a little late to the party, but I just noticed this comment:
Not to speak ill of the dead. But come on! Champion of freedom? His pet theory that free markets lead to free societies is simply nonsense and has been disproved over and over again (just look at China) and led him to hobnob with some very unsavory characters (e.g., Pinochet).
Friedman's argument, however, was that economic freedom was a necessary, but not sufficient condition for political freedom. He also argued that if people didn't have political freedom, they were still better off when they at least had economic freedom. Your China example doesn't disprove these claims in the least.
11.17.2006 8:31am
o' connuh j.:
China is not free-er today than it was 30 years ago before Deng and the advent of a free-er market?

J.F. Thomas must live in a cave.
11.17.2006 11:42am