A Hero's Place in History

Monday, October 30, 2006

“The great man or woman in history,” Sidney Hook, the late philosopher and Hoover fellow, argued in his classic study, The Hero in History, “is someone of whom we can say . . . that if they had not lived when they did, or acted as they did, the history of their countries and of the world . . . would have been profoundly different.”

Milton Friedman, who by the time of his death at 94 this past November had seen the United States, China, India, and nations in Latin America and Eastern Europe embrace his principles of free markets and human liberty, met Hook's criterion. Milton transformed the history of the world.

On the following pages, you'll find appreciations of Milton by former students (Thomas Sowell and Gary Becker); by academic colleagues (George Shultz, Thomas Sowell, Robert Barro, Gary Becker, John Raisian, John Cogan, John Taylor, Michael Spence, Niall Ferguson, Richard Epstein, and Russell Roberts); by a journalist who, while still a college student, had an encounter with Milton that changed his life (David Brooks); and by fellow warriors from decades of political combat (George Shultz and William F. Buckley Jr.). Like this introduction, each of the appreciations takes a certain stylistic liberty, referring to its subject not as “Dr. Friedman” but as “Milton.” A hero in history, Milton was also our friend.

Following these appreciations, you'll find a sampler of Milton's work, all taken from the final months of his life. Although he long ago attained the pinnacle of his profession—he won the Nobel Prize in 1976—Milton continued to give interviews, offer policy proposals, and publish articles just as diligently as an assistant professor who had yet to come up for tenure.

The first item in the sampler, an article by Milton entitled “Why Money Matters,” appeared in the Wall Street Journal the day after Milton died. Milton had adapted it from a recent research paper. This bears repeating: At 94, Milton was still engaged in original research. The second item is an interview from November 2005 in which Milton discusses health-care policy. In a few hundred words, he provides more common sense and analytic rigor than you'll find in thousands of pages of the Congressional Record.

The final item is particularly fitting. A joint interview of both Friedmans that appeared in the Wall Street Journal this past summer, “The Romance of Economics” shows Milton just as we at Hoover always saw him: with Rose. Throughout his career, Milton often noted, he never published a paper, a magazine article, or a book that Rose hadn't marked up and improved. She proved his best friend—and sharpest critic. Inseparable ever since they found themselves seated at adjoining desks in a class at the University of Chicago, Milton and Rose were married for 68 years.

Herewith a tribute in honor of one of the signal figures of the twentieth century—indeed, of all the long centuries in which men have fought for liberty—and of Rose, the love of his life.