Today is Milton Friedman Day and the bloggers here are pleased to tip our hats to one of the great economists of our time. The world lost of one its greatest minds and advocates of personal freedom when he passed away last November, at a spry 94 years of age. PBS is broadcasting a special program on Mr. Friedman this evening; check local listings for the time in your community. Few practitioners of the “dismal science” have ever been as highly esteemed as Milton Friedman. Former Fed chief Alan Greenspan said:
There are very few people over the generations who have ideas that are sufficiently original to materially alter the direction of civilization. Milton is one of those very few people.
And the current Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, said this of Friedman:
The direct and indirect influences of his thinking on contemporary monetary economics would be difficult to overstate.
Friedman would probably be somewhat chagrined that a day had been named in his honor, because he eschewed personal notoriety in favor of attention to his ideas. Those ideas have been very powerful, shaped at the University of Chicago in part by his long partnership with his wife, Rose. His contributions –once considered radical and now seen as mainstream–fall in to two main categories of economic policy and social responsibility.
His economic and monetary policy theories, as discussed in his book, The Monetary History of the United States, showed that the Great Depression was more of result of poor Federal Reserve policy than it was a failing of capitalism. His work in the 1960s came along at time when traditional Keynesian policies were starting to be questioned and he showed how monetary policy was more important to the economy than fiscal policies.
He felt people should take responsibility to make their own choices and advocated those views forcefully in Capitalism and Freedom in 1962 and Free to Choose, coauthored with his wife Rose in 1980. His ideas helped shape the notion that the United States would be best served by a volunteer army, instead of a draft, and that public schools would improve if there was competition among them. Some of the leaders of Eastern Block countries found his perspective refreshing and they served to help shape the societies they established after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
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