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2008 Report: Sidebar: Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman 1919–2006

Milton Friedman
Friedman speaking at the White House on the occasion of his
ninetieth birthday in 2002.

Milton Friedman was a rarity in that he reached the pinnacle of his profession and then furthered the public good by using his prestige to raise the level of public policy discourse. It is hard to imagine that the ideas of an academic economist could affect thinking so profoundly and light the path for many to economic and political freedom.

Friedman was one of the leaders of the Chicago school of economics at the University of Chicago, where he was a professor for thirty years. A founding member of the Mont Pelerin Society, Friedman was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economic Sciences in 1976 for his achievements in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history, and theory and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilization policy. In 1988, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom as a teacher, scholar, and theorist who restored common sense to the world of economics and for his belief that man’s economic rights are as vital as his civil and human rights. He was a fellow at the Hoover Institution from 1977 to 2006.

The author of numerous articles and books, Friedman presented his ideas in an understandable and appealing format conducive to learning his theories on economics and public policy. His appeal grew with his regular columns in Newsweek magazine and with his books Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose and the related PBS television series, which brought economics down from the ivory tower and made him a household name. His clearheaded thinking and lucid exposition made sense to and resonated with economists and noneconomists alike.

Milton Friedman
Friedman in 1938

Friedman based his public policy analysis on the ideals of preserving and extending individual freedom, and no one was a more ardent or articulate advocate of free markets and personal liberty than he was. Educated in public schools, Friedman and his wife, Rose, were leading supporters of school choice as a way to raise the level of public education in the United States.

Former chairman of the Federal Reserve System Alan Greenspan believes Friedman’s emphasis on a stable monetary framework was instrumental in guiding central banks in Europe and the United States toward low inflation during the past two decades. Many believe that China’s conversion to a market economy, the conquest of double-digit inflation in the United States and elsewhere, the decisions of countless governments to sell nationalized industries, and the flat tax can all be traced back to Friedman. The Washington Post wrote that Friedman belongs on the list of the one hundred most important people to emerge since World War II.

Milton Friedman’s death in 2006 has not stopped his ideas from continuing to have influence. Although Friedman is sorely missed, his ideas remain.