Since Milton Friedman’s death on November 16, I’ve been refreshing my appreciation of this magnificent and important thinker. In his esteemable 94 years Friedman did as much, if not more, as anyone to advance free market economics and to promote the appreciation of freedom. His work had important repercussions on the nature of modern political thought. Every person who advocates the free market, who derides governmental control, who is nervous about the growing welfare state, or who generally fears the power of governments everywhere owes some debt to Friedman.
If you are one who does so (and especially if you are one who doesn’t), you probably realize that free market theory is difficult to advocate. Aside from the fact that many of the truths of capitalist theory seem initially counter-intuitive, one must also suffer the slings and arrows flung towards a collection of beliefs that have a difficult time seeming moral. Aside from whether or not they are moral, to the majority of casual thinkers (and the majority of statist ideologues) capitalist theory does not seem moral. “Wait, you’re just gonna let the poor be poor?” “You’re not going to try to prevent price gouging or predatory pricing?” “What no minimum wage?” “No protectionary tariffs?” etc. In short, outside of Objectivist conferences and the University of Chicago, advocating capitalism will not win you any popularity contests. (Incidentally, Friedman addresses this phenomenon in the video.)
Friedman and his cohorts at the University of Chicago, along with the major free market theorists of the century (Hayek, Von Mises, Sowell, Gilder, etc), spent their lives trying to give an unpalatable and unpopular idea legs to stand on. They strove to give laissez-faire theory intellectual persuasiveness and moral credibility. And they succeeded. Their acheivements turned capitalist theory from a theory on its heels during the first part of the 20th century into an institution on the offensive at the turn of the 21st. It is now, by far, the most pervasive ideology of modern economists. And, for we pundits who like to argue against minimum wage laws at cocktail parties, I am sure Friedman single-handedly, but indirectly, kept many drinks from getting thrown in our faces. For this, and many other things, I owe Milton Friedman a personal debt.
If you are one who does not believe in the free market – if you are one who asks questions like those above – then you need to give this great thinker a chance. Writing him off as a “neo-con” or a “Reaganite” does nothing to diminish the power of his ideas. Friedman’s ideas are compelling and, even if you do not agree with them, they are worthy of refutation. Furthermore, when forming opinions, it is imperative that we confront the best arguments for those ideas with which we disagree. This is what Friedman certainly offered.
Thus here is a stirring 30 minute segment from an old series called “Open Mind” featuring Friedman speaking his mind.
Rest in peace Professor Friedman.