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The most articulate advocate of freedom.

The most articulate advocate of freedom.

I’m not one for commemorating anniversaries and dates. And, even if I was, I can’t attach a date to most of my important revelations and discoveries.

That being said, I do have an exception.

Milton Friedman died exactly five years ago today. I remember this well because I had never heard of him until word of his death rippled across the news. Out of curiosity, and with no greater aspiration than to find out who this Friedman fellow was, I picked up my father’s copy of the New York Sun on the evening of November 17th and went straight to the obituary for Dr. Friedman.

The piece itself covered what I had heard on the radio and in the news, but it included a point that I didn’t recognize: “Milton […] was methodically demonstrating how market-oriented thought was more humane than any charity — not to mention welfare.”

It was funny for me to see the word “humane” in an obituary about an economist. From my understanding, economists were the puppeteers behind economic growth and the Federal Reserve. They dealt with numbers and graphs; where was the humanity in that? Politicians were the ones fighting for freedoms and humanity, the economists were just there to make sure it was bankrolled.

Or at least that’s what I thought. The funny line that contradicted my understanding led me to purchase Capitalism and Freedom, which was the beginning of my acquaintance with the Friedman canon and my abandonment of most political wisdoms. I had not thought to question the conventions put before me until I read Friedman’s arguments against things like licensure and the public school system. To resolve government dysfunction, Friedman advocated a third path; a marketplace. (Or, as Friedman wrote, “A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it … gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”)

Before reading Friedman, I doubt I could have defended my political sympathies with anything other than talking-points and a few quotes from Adam Smith. I didn’t think much about politics because I was fairly certain nobody could be right. From my understanding, each politician was pledging for what was essentially the same end: a peaceful and prosperous country. The Republican Party seemed more willing to sacrifice individual rights in this pursuit and the Democrats were more willing to deter investment and economic growth. I did not know how to understand policy except in terms of trade-offs. Learning about market forces, economics and the incentive structure of our government led me to believe that there are solutions to the political and economic difficulties that each politician waxes on every election season. The problem is that it’s rare to find someone brave enough to implement them.

Milton Friedman led me to think about politics in terms of human freedom and subjective values, as opposed to a two-party dichotomy. I’m happy to celebrate his life and my liberation today. 

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Comments

Dr. Friedman opened my eyes too. My very first exposure to him was his appearance with Phil Donahue. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWsx1X8PV_A

What a clear statement by Friedman on capitalism and freedom.

    ironghost in reply to Malonth. | November 16, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Phil’s question seems to be the same one you hear from the OWS crowd. Scary.

    Kenshu Ani in reply to Malonth. | November 16, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    The first time I saw him was when reading Instapundit and following the links to a video of him explaining the 4 ways of spending money. It was brilliant.

    I don’t remember exactly when that was, but it would have been pretty close to 5 years ago, maybe it was a memorial thread from Instapunit that I had followed. After watching that, I searched youtube and found the Phil Donahue one you linked as well as many other great clips.

    A truly great man.

In 1980 I enjoyed watching Milton & Rose Friedman’s TV series Free to Choose. What they said resonated with me as being simple and verifiable truth about the free market system. I bought the book with the same name soon after. From the book:

“Wherever the free market has been permitted to operate, wherever anything approaching equality of opportunity existed, the ordinary man has been able to attain levels of living never dreamed of before.”

In 1980 I was a liberal, firm in my beliefs. That is why I said to myself that I’ll see what this crackpot Milton Friedman has to say on the PBS series “Free to Choose”. Suffice it to say that in less than 30 minutes I was no longer a liberal. I gobbled up all ten episodes and was a new creation. The companion book is great, too.

Over 30 years later, I consider Milton Friedman to be the greatest practical thinker of the last 100 years. When exposed to ideas that I disagree with, I may (or may not) re-consider my own views. But when I disagree with Friedman, my first (and usually last) inclination is to change my mind. In short, I now agree with Friedman 99.99% of the time.

I think I’ll start watching “Free to Choose” again. It is available on dvd and much more “accessible” than the book if you are not already a conservative, or want to convert your liberal friends.

    donb in reply to TommyC. | November 16, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Another great economist with whom I seldom disagree (and even then, usually not for long) is Dr. Thomas Sowell.

      TommyC in reply to donb. | November 16, 2011 at 5:51 pm

      Thomas Sowell is great. Naturally I first learned about him on “Free to Choose”. My wife gave me Sowell’s “Basic Economics” for Christmas last year. Great book! It is long, but well worth the read. It covers everything you need to know about economics – and I mean everything.

      Quoting Lionel Robbins, Sowell defines economics as “the study of scarce resources which have alternative uses”. Most people have never really thought about the fact that most resources are “scarce” and if you devote more to one use via government fiat, you are necessarily taking it away from other uses (or raising the price, or both). Few resources are not “scarce” – perhaps sand in the Sahara. But as Friedman himself said: “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand”.

      Those in Congress and the Administration, who as a practical matter run our economy, would do well to read “Basic Economics”. They won’t because they think they already know everything. Sigh. But consider reading it yourselves. You won’t regret it. It is far better than any standard economics textbook, and far cheaper as well – check it out on Amazon, especially the reviews.

    donb in reply to TommyC. | November 16, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Incidentally, he is a Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Amen to the post and to the comments. I saw a video recently on non-violent confrontation that featured MLK, Poland’s Solidarity and the ultimately successful resistance movement against Pinochet. As an aside, the film implied that Friedman supported Chile’s coup (and killing) against Allende and was allied with Pinochet. This has been an invented far left narrative for some time. Friedman speaks of it at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitext/int_miltonfriedman.html#10. Megan McArdle gives it short shrift in 2008 here: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2008/07/milton-friedman-and-chile/3841/

Dr. Friedman was an incredible man and a lover of freedom.

Welcome, Kathleen. Capitalism and Freedom had the same effect on me way back in college in the 70s.

Lately I’ve taken to writing down, word for word, his response to Phil Donahue, referenced above. He makes it look so easy:

I love “I think you’re taking an awful lot for granted[, Phil]. Where in the world are you going to find these angels who would run things for us [based on merit]?
[Deliberate pause while Phil sputters and the audience murmurs approval]
“I don’t even trust YOU to do that!” (said with a broad smile!)

Congratulations to you Kathleen and isn’t it remarkable how effective Milton Friedman was: even in dying, he changed you, another sloppy thinking pseudo-Democrat like I once was, into a classical “liberal” aka Libertarian-Republican.

MaggotAtBroadAndWall | November 16, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Wow, it’s hard to imagine it’s already been 5 years. I remember how sad I was when I heard the news he’d passed. He was a giant.

I was lucky to grow up watching Firing Line with Bill Buckley, Free to Choose with the Friedmans, reading columns by Thomas Sowell, and the book “Wealth and Poverty” by George Guilder. All by the time I was 20. The most freedom loving president in the post WWII era, Ronald Reagan, became president when I was 18. I often say that because the worldview these men influenced me at such a relatively young age, and it made so much intuitive sense (especially after taking a couple of economics classes in college), that liberalism/statism/socialism never had a chance with me.

Here’s one of my favorite Friedman videos where he explains how thousands of people pursuing their own self interest in voluntary exchanges of goods and labor was necessary for the creation of a pencil.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5Gppi-O3a8

R.I.P. Dr. Friedman

Amen, Professor Jacobson. He was a truly great man. For proof, just look at those who despise him.

TeaPartyPatriot4ever | November 17, 2011 at 7:00 am

Katheen McCaffrey, congratulations, on your rebirth, and or awakening, to the real world of Freedom and Liberty, and the Free Market Economy, aka, Capitlaism.. Why do think that real conservatives, support the free market economic system of capitalism, because we support Individual Freedom and Liberty, as it is linked together.

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