Sunday, July 31, would have been the 99th birthday
of Dr. Milton Friedman. Although he passed away almost five years ago, Dr.
Friedman’s impact on freedom and liberty remains. In his honor we celebrate today
the Friedman Legacy for Freedom Day.
Students for a Free Economy — the campus outreach program of the Mackinac
Center — in association with the Foundation for Educational Choice, is taking
several students to the Henry Ford Museum where they will see an exhibit on the
sesquicentennial of the U.S. Civil War and hear talks on the work and influence
of Dr. Friedman.
To mark the event, several Mackinac Center summer
interns have written blog posts about the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize winner and
his wife, Rose. You can read them below.
by Michael LaFaive, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative, appeared in
The Detroit News just hours after it was announced that Dr. Friedman had passed
away on Nov. 16, 2006.
A brief sample of how Friedman’s work impacted
Mackinac Center scholars over the years can be found here.
The Influence of Ideas
bookshelf of an average American patriot, it would be more common to see a
collection of Ronald Reagan biographies than books on the life of Milton
Friedman. Ask a person on the street who they think holds the most power in
America and you have a good chance of hearing “the president.” However, the
president is a single man whose power is limited by checks, balances, and,
depending on his character, his personal desire for re-election. One free man
with an idea can prove influential and limitless without holding public office.
Milton Friedman was that man.
every great success lies a great inspiration. For the millions of conservatives
who venerate Reagan, they are also (wittingly or unwittingly) admiring the
impact Friedman made on the mentality of his times and on Reagan himself. That
the political climate even allowed a man with Reagan’s platform to be elected
was due in part to Friedman’s work, starting as early as the failed Barry
Goldwater presidential campaign, which began calling for a return to laissez-faire
economic principles when the position was considered extreme. This movement
gained momentum, culminating in Reagan’s election.
Reagan appointed Friedman to the select Economic Policy Coordinating Committee.
As a team they applied Adam Smith’s concepts, and the economy became a freer
and more prosperous place; regulations were limited, inflation was brought
under control, taxes were cut, and government began to find its place — on the
sidelines. Reagan’s policies are widely recognized as bringing about the
second-longest peacetime economic expansion in the history of the United
States. The key to bringing this prosperity was the wisdom of those advisors
who, like Friedman, truly understood economic policy. Later, Friedman was given
the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
didn’t only have an influence at home in America; his ideas brought significant
changes around the world. Former prime minister of Estonia, Mart Laar, who is
credited with bringing about Estonia’s rapid economic development in the 1990s,
said that the only book on economics he read before his election was Milton
Friedman’s “Free to Choose.” Under Laar, Estonia became the first country to
institute a flat tax, which was very successful. While speaking about
Friedman’s “Free to Chose” TV series, Reagan mentioned that the principles
Friedman expressed had also helped inspire the Polish drive for freedom.
politicians come and go and their ideas can change with the political winds, the
protection and presentation of sound economic ideas remains a vital tenant of
freedom. Politicians are only in power for a few terms at most, but influencing
the electorate and swaying public opinion toward freedom is a full time job
with no term limit. This position in the cause of freedom is taken today by
think tanks like the Mackinac Center. They, like Friedman, publish articles,
give lectures and research responsible policy changes, sharing their findings
intern at a think tank, I am inspired by Milton Friedman. Looking at his
example, I know that as a responsible citizen, I can live an influential life
of loving and sharing liberty without needing to be elected. My job is to
provide, present and protect the principles which will bring about the next age
Ode to the Frie Market
Friedman won a Nobel Memorial Prize in economics
But that isn’t all about this man; a lesson on him isn’t quick
Brooklyn, New York in July of nineteen hundred twelve,
Milton Friedman was a brilliant economist; in this topic he deeply delved
thirty years, teaching economic theory was his passion
At the University of Chicago he taught the youth of the nation
most influential economist of the second half of the 20th century,”
His ideas spread like wildfire, to almost everyone, and were not elementary
government he said to shun,
Instead, free markets should have all the fun
virtues of a free market system are so clear
Market intervention a nation should never have to bear
government’s role in the economy should be greatly restricted.
Interference would only bring about poverty, depressions, and an economy
natural rate of unemployment he believed existed
No government could change this rate; it was healthy and should not be resisted
greatly opposed to the Federal Reserve,
Advice he still gives so the economy will be preserved
advice: A small steady expansion of the money supply is the only way
If the central bank did otherwise, hyperinflation would never be kept at bay
offered by the government can be inefficient,
Should be performed by the private sector: that’s where they ought to be sent
these services is the production of money,
The private sector should produce it; and a gold base will lead to the highest
always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon,” he claimed
The relation between inflation and the money supply is close, he proclaimed
monetarist at heart: Control of price inflation should be done with monetary
In addition, price deflation is best controlled by only monetary inflation
economic adviser to Ronald Reagan,
He predicted the policies of Keynes were bad, close to pagan
would they cause high inflation
But minimal growth; later called stagflation
and Freedom,” a book he co-authored in nineteen sixty two
Speaks for policies like volunteer military and education vouchers, just to
name a few
Monetary History of the United States,” which he published in
nineteen sixty three
Investigates the role of money supply and economics in U.S. history
Choose,” another book that he and his wife did write,
Is where on monetary policy they shed much light
staunch supporter of libertarian ideas, he took a chance,
When he fought for legalization of drugs and prostitution, not a popular
is so permanent as a temporary government program” is his quote,
Noting: Once a program is started, participants will do everything to keep it
coined the phrase, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
Someone always pays in the end, and will feel the punch
Friedman taught many good economic lessons
Which if heeded, may have kept us out of horrid recessions
full life behind him and theories not previously in the mix,
Friedman died on November 16 of two thousand and six
he is gone, this week we honor the day Friedman was born
Today his advice to us would be, go free the market rather than mourn
Friedman was once described as “equal parts velvet and steel.” At once her
husband’s wife and colleague, Rose was never the great woman behind a great
man. She noted in a 1999 interview that “I’ve always felt that I’m responsible
for at least half of what he’s gotten.” From co-authoring three of his
most influential works to providing the impetus for such ambitious projects as
their television series and nonprofit foundation, Rose Director Friedman can
rightfully be called Milton’s partner.
influential economist in her own right, Rose greatly influenced Milton’s
economic thought. “It was an extremely close intellectual fellowship, and she
was not someone who got credit for things she didn’t do,” Milton’s student Gary
Becker observes. “They discussed ideas constantly.” Another longtime friend of
the couple remarks that, for Milton, Rose’s opinion was “the ultimate test.”
Friedman eagerly sought his wife’s point of view when developing his own, and
openly admitted that she was the only person who had ever won an argument with
him. This intellectual equality rendered their professional collaboration a
very natural one. Still, she said, “I was smart enough to know that he was
smarter than me.” So while Milton focused his efforts on technical economics,
Rose set out to bring their theory of freedom to the public.
approached the couple about turning their co-written international best-seller
“Free to Choose”
into a television series. After convincing Milton to take on the project with
her, Rose assumed the role of associate producer and was heavily involved in
organizing the series, which achieved global success. Friends and relations
also credit her with providing the inspiration for the Friedman Foundation. But
while she is universally recognized as an expert economist with intelligence
and drive, Rose is also remembered for the grace with which she balanced her
roles as colleague and wife.
a great lady, in every sense of the word,” an acquaintance recalls. Outspoken
yet polite, patient yet uncompromising, Rose stepped confidently — never
aggressively — into her husband’s spotlight and quickly bowed out again when
appropriate. She complemented Milton, earning the admiration of her peers and
setting a tremendous example of feminine strength, courage and love.
virtues helped to sustain the Friedmans through an arduous fight for freedom.
When they entered academia, the field was virtually void of principled
conservatives. Their work reintroduced classical liberalism as a valid and
critically important body of thought with the power to revolutionize society as
well as the academy. Milton and Rose changed the world together, leaving a
legacy that will flourish for generations to come.
Friedman and Historical Landmarks
flies, and with it the memory of the late economist Milton Friedman, who would
have been 99 years old this year. However, we at the Mackinac Center and the
Foundation for Educational Choice hope to revive Friedman’s legacy by hosting
some lectures this Friday on his monetary policy. It is also the 150th
anniversary of the American Civil War, an issue encompassing a context for
free-market principles are vital to comprehending monetary supply during the
Civil War. An entire generation of brothers hammered their plowshares into
swords. As Northern factories shaped rifles and Southern farmers smelt bullets,
the strain on local economies was enormous. Like a plague of locusts, the
“terrible swift sword” burned through the Virginian Shenandoah Valley and
across Georgia, destroying Southern crops and vegetation. Along the Western
front, raiders on both sides wreaked havoc on the civilian populace. In the
words of a song, “not now for songs of a nation’s wrongs, not the groans of
starving labor; Let the rifle ring and the bullet sing to the clash of the
elephant in the room was big government, as usual. Both North and South
inflated their money supplies, causing a rise in prices. Southern currency
especially suffered a significant decrease in value due to the printing of
excess Confederate money. As was apparent to Friedman, inflation is most often
the fault of central banks, like those during the Civil War, that print more
money than reflects actual market demand.
historian, I have always found Friedman’s work to be historically pertinent.
His view of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as an era of prosperity
deserves more academic acceptance than it gets. I agree with Friedman’s
impression that America during the Victorian era was a beacon to all those
persecuted peoples throughout the earth who wished simply for the freedom to
work hard for their existence. It was not a “gilded age” as historians want to
paint it but a golden one. Friedman’s love for America’s heritage and his
presumption of good will to all people, even his enemies, are his two qualities
I admire most.
Friday will be a day of both celebration and solemn reflection, as we remember
Friedman’s legacy and the many thousands of lives lost during the Civil War.
History often repeats itself in various forms. If we do not apply absolute
principles to past events, we will be subject to repeating the same mistakes
that history contains. We must remember those who are important in the history
of our freedom, and reclaim our historical landmarks of liberty.
Maynard Keynes famously quipped, “Practical men, who believe themselves to be
quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some
defunct economist.” Free-market economist Milton Friedman, however, actually
did manage to capture the minds not only of practical men, but of politicians
and even other intellectuals. He understood that the world would change if
people understood the meaning of freedom.
social and political movements began with powerful ideas. For instance, the
rise of the Roman Empire predicated itself on the idea of Roman citizenship and
a sense of personal duty, and America’s founding relied on a distinct knowledge
of personal liberty and its implied negative rights. Pivotal events, such as
shifts of culture or the rise of a new state, occur in response to the outcomes
of various conflicts in an ongoing war of ideas.
Friedman joined this intellectual struggle knowing that education provides the
best weapon. Most importantly, he believed education was a personal
undertaking. This perception led to his recognition that most current
“education” was actually compulsory schooling or training. The government
mandated that children attend taxpayer-funded schools where little to no actual
education ever occurred. His solution: school vouchers, which enabled parents
to choose where they think their children will be best educated, whether it be
public schools, private schools, charter schools or even home schools. Vouchers
redirect taxpayer dollars from bureaucrats to the families who need them,
coupling education and choice to make the greatest impact.
book “Free to Choose” and a subsequent television series highlight the tenets
behind the power of ideas and an education’s role in shaping those ideas. Free
markets result from a combination of individual choice and scarcity of
information. They offer great benefits, but require individuals to trade with
each other in order to obtain them. These types of exchanges only result when
individuals possess freedom of choice. This idea undergirded America’s economy
until progressive promotion of increased centralization eroded individual
choice and increased government meddling in the economy. Thanks to their
efforts, a large portion of Americans now hold the institution of federal
government responsible for their every need, from the cradle to the grave.
Friedman recognized education’s foundational role in changing society’s
institutions. Sustainable political change must be preceded by sustainable
social change, which can only result from education. The battle of ideas starts
in our schools. Friedman knew ideas like individual choice and freedom had lost
significant ground there, but he also recognized that the ground could be
regained by letting people choose how they want to educate themselves. He, like
economist F.A Harper, knew that “men who know freedom will find ways to be
have increasingly come to view government as a vital protector against economic
hardship. U.S. politicians, especially from 1900 on, have touted various
interventionist economic programs as essential for America’s prosperity and
security. Free-market economist Milton Friedman, on the other hand, understood
that the best protection for American workers and consumers springs not from
government intervention, but from economic freedom. It is this freedom to
choose that guards us from exploitation and opens innumerable doors of
describes in his book “Free to Choose” how economic freedom aids consumers. In a
competitive market, businesses have strong incentives to produce goods that
consumers need and demand. The freedom of new entrepreneurs to grab a share of
the population’s demands ensures that the vast majority of consumer needs are
met. Also, price spikes are mitigated by the competition: even if all existing
stores agree to keep prices artificially high through collusion, new vendors
can enter the marketplace and thwart their efforts. Consumers cannot be forced
to buy particular products, and thus will voluntarily contribute to the
expansion of high-quality vendors while abandoning companies that provide poor
service. According to Friedman, it is free competition, not government
regulation, that protects consumers from exploitation and shortages of
works, Friedman also points out the benefit workers gain from economic freedom:
the crucial ability to earn wages that reflect the value of their skills. In an
open market, companies will compete strategically for the most productive
workers, driving wages up and rewarding good work. The free market also allows
workers to become entrepreneurs and manage their own time and resources. Free
markets ultimately protect workers from poor conditions by providing them with
the freedom to choose a job according to their own desires and abilities. By
contrast, a legally enforced monopoly system hurts workers, as they can only
seek work from an employer with little incentive to offer competitive wages or
pleasant working environments.
Friedman argued that the freedom to choose among schools can help protect
American children against a poor education. The more options parents have
regarding schooling, the more schools will be held accountable for the teaching
they provide. The worst situation for any student is to have only one
compulsory schooling option, as is true for many inner-city children. Without
any alternative, they have nowhere to turn if their assigned school fails to
provide a good service. Friedman and his wife Rose were tireless advocates for
increased school choice, knowing that increased freedom for families could
provide an escape route for children in poor schools.
Friedman deeply understood the importance of freedom in our society. America’s
key to prosperity and long-term economic security is the liberty that enables
her citizens to apply their skills and talents without arbitrary government
interference. Anytime a citizen is left with only one vendor to buy from, one
employer to work for or one school to attend, that citizen becomes vulnerable.
Our greatest protection against both corporate and government exploitation lies
in our freedom to choose.
Young Man, You Owe Milton Friedman a Thank You
By Andrew Kaluza
Every young man living after 1973 owes his life to Milton Friedman.
In that year, Friedman, became the intellectual father behind ending
conscripted military service. He wasn’t the first person to voice his
opposition to the draft, but he was the first to communicate his ideas
effectively enough to change the public mindset on the issue.
Ideas lay the groundwork for a philosophy and provide the foundation
for a society. As Peter Kreeft said, “Philosophy is just thought, but
sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a
character; sow a character, reap a destiny. This is just as true for
societies as it is for individuals.” Given that ideas guide our every
action, we must look to have not just valid ideas, but ones that are
intellectually grounded and sound. Ideas must be communicated, compared
and pieced together in order to create even better ideas. Communication
is particularly important, as the better the communication, the more
accessible and understandable ideas become. Fortunately, Friedman was a
great communicator. His ability to communicate the message of liberty
and free choice in regard to the draft kept young American males out of
compulsory military service.
What was he able to communicate about the draft? When
making a case for the draft, advocates claimed that if soldiers
enlisted for pay, it would create an army of mercenaries. They argued
that a paid volunteer army would not be a virtuous army, because the
soldiers would join for monetary desire and not for patriotic duty.
Milton Friedman rebutted this by pointing out that mandatory
conscription hypocritically fails this patriotic test, since forced
servitude, rather than inner volition, causes individuals to serve.
Friedman believed that incentives are the foundation of each
individual’s action, and therefore, it was inappropriate to attribute
unpatriotic motives to paid army volunteers.
Friedman’s repudiation of such mercenary concerns are illustrated in a famous confrontation with General William Westmoreland:
In the course of his [General Westmoreland’s]
testimony, he made the statement that he did not want to command an
army of mercenaries. I [Milton Friedman] stopped him and said, ‘General, would you rather command an army of slaves?’ He drew himself up and said, ‘I don’t like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves.’ I replied, ‘I don’t like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries.’ But I went on to say, ‘If
they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you,
sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we
use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher.’ That was the last that we heard from the general about mercenaries.
This example highlights the importance of communicating ideas
effectively. By doing so, Friedman successfully convinced people of the
ills of conscripted military service and persevered in the all-important
court of public opinion. Friedman changed the landscape of modern war —
and along with it the destiny of young Americans everywhere.