Milton Friedman, one of the most influential economists of the 20th century and a great champion of individual liberty and limited government, died today. He was 94.
Friedman was a friend of The Heritage Foundation and many other free market think tanks. Heritage President Ed Feulner shares his thoughts:
Milton Friedman was small in stature but a giant in the world of ideas. His passion and wisdom extended well beyond the field of economics and combined to make him one of the most compelling advocates of human freedom the world has known.
His ideas earned him the Nobel Prize. But more than that, his ideas have been translated into public policy in this nation and in countries around the world. And these ideas have empowered millions of people to pursue their destiny, opening for them new economic and educational opportunities that have made them more productive and more prosperous.
From his academic posts in Chicago and, later, at Stanford, and through the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, he worked tirelessly to instruct, uplift and help all. He was hugely influential and a truly wonderful human being. He will be missed.
At the 1998 Clare Boothe Luce Awards, Feulner honored both of the Friedman's with these words:
Historian Daniel J. Boorstin notes that great discoveries which change the course of history are often negative: The earth is not flat. It is not at the center of the universe. Neither is the sun, and neither is our own galaxy. In the mode of great discoverers, Rose and Milton Friedman have contributed an impressive array of “nots” to economic theory. They postulated and proved, time and again, that John Maynard Keynes is not the center of the economic universe. They demonstrated that his theories about consumption and spending could not be confirmed. They demonstrated that the Keynesians did not correctly understand the relation between money and inflation; did not correctly understand the relation between employment and inflation; and did not understand the value of the “multiplier.”
Like great discoverers who came before them, Rose and Milton advanced ideas that were met with anger and great resistance by their colleagues—and then somehow absorbed and accepted as conventional scientific wisdom. This is a story not just of discovery but also of stewardship over the ideal of freedom.
Friedman was particularly influential in advancing the ideas of school choice and the flat tax. In 1996, Friedman and his wife created the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation to educate the public about the benefits of and need for school choice. In addition to winning the Nobel Prize for his work on monetary theory in 1976, Friedman was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988.
President Bush paid tribute to Friedman in 2002:
When he began his work, the conventional wisdom held that capitalism’s days were numbered. Free market systems were thought to be unsuited to modern problems. Today we recognize that free markets are the great engines of economic development. They are the source of wealth, and the hope of a world weary of poverty and weary of oppression.
We have seen Milton Friedman’s ideas at work in Chile, where a group of economists called the “Chicago Boys” brought inflation under control and laid the groundwork for economic success. We have seen them at work in Russia, where the government recently adopted a 13 percent flat tax with impressive results. We have seen them at work in Sweden, which has adopted personal retirement accounts. We have seen them even at work in China, where the government conceded long ago that Marxism was, in their words, “no longer suited” to China’s problems.
These are extraordinary developments. They demonstrate that the rest of the world is finally catching up with Milton Friedman.
Michael LaFaive of the Mackinac Center has this gem in the Detroit News:
Reportedly, while traveling by car during one of his many overseas travels, Friedman spotted scores of road builders moving earth with shovels. When he asked why powerful equipment wasn’t used instead of so many laborers, his host told him it was to keep unemployment low. If they used tractors, fewer people would have jobs was his host’s logic.
“Then why don’t you give them spoons?” Friedman inquired. It was quintessential Friedman: Employment doesn’t make us wealthy—production does.
Clint Bolick of the Alliance of School Choice:
Among the greatest champions of freedom in all of history, Milton Friedman was a giant. His greatest legacy is the tens of thousands of children who now attend high-quality schools because of the idea of school choice that Dr. Friedman pioneered in 1955. He leaves that precious legacy to a new generation of leaders who must nurture and expand it. I will personally miss a dear friend, but he will serve eternally for me and countless others as a source of towering inspiration.
Roger Ream of The Fund for American Studies:
The ideas of Milton Friedman are among those The Fund tries to impress upon students each summer. Milton Friedman deserves much credit for the collapse of communism, because his writings helped to discredit the ideas of central planning. But in addition to helping win the war of ideas, Friedman took ideas from the halls of academe to the streets. He was aware that while the ideas of freedom may have won the war of ideas, the war of logic, we haven’t won on compassion.
Dan Mitchell, a tax policy analyst at Heritage, lauds Friedman for his strong advocacy of tax competition as a means to control the greed of the political class. Friedman’s comment on this: “Competition among national governments in the public services they provide and in the taxes they impose is every bit as productive as competition among individuals or enterprises in the goods and services they offer for sale and the prices at which they offer them.”
Heritage has been fortunate to host Milton Friedman on a number of occasions. Here is a picture of Milton and his wife Rose at a Heritage event in 1986 with President Reagan and Heritage president Ed Feulner.
Photo by Chas. Geer.
And here is the portrait of Dr. Friedman that has been on display at Heritage for many years:
Photo of painting by Chas. Geer.
Heritage’s Stuart Butler has a favorite Friedman quote that he keeps hanging on a wall just outside his office: “You cannot reduce the deficit by raising taxes. Increasing taxes only results in more spending, leaving the deficit at the highest level conceivably accepted by the public. Political Rule No. 1 is: Government spends what government receives plus as much more as it can get away with.”
My favorite Friedman quote: “Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.”
Bloomberg has an obituary.
Update (11-20-2006): Giancarlo Ibarguen, President of Universidad Francisco Marroquín, sends these thoughts:
Milton Friedman will be remembered by us and so many who have come to know and comprehend his most valuable contributions to the free society. It was an honor to know him and to have been associated with him. At Universidad Francisco Marroquín we hold very fond memories of him and still have mementos of your visit to Guatemala in 1978. Dr. Friedman was very generous with his praise of our university and we are deeply indebted to him for his public comments on our behalf. His beliefs and ideas are taught in our classrooms. In June of this year, we named the auditorium of the Graduate Business School the Milton Friedman Auditorium. We regret that he will no longer be with us. His memory will be perpetuated and cherished at this university.