Milton Friedman: Advocate For Liberty

David Boaz has an article up at TCS Daily about the legacy of Milton Friedman:

Friedman was born in New York in 1912, at the end of a long period of peace and prosperity. The first half of his life witnessed a series of catastrophes for peace and freedom – World War I, the Bolshevik coup d’etat in Russia, the rise of fascism and national socialism, World War II, communist domination of half the world. Happily, Friedman’s parents had left Eastern Europe, avoiding the cataclysms there.

But freedom was under challenge in their adopted home, as well. The federal income tax began in 1913. World War I ushered in government planning on an unprecedented scale. Then came Prohibition, the New Deal, Keynesian economics, and a widespread feeling that the federal government could solve any problem it set its mind to.

Then, after World War II, with the big-government mentality almost unchallenged in the United States, Milton Friedman began writing. He wrote first about technical economic issues and laid the groundwork for a shift in U.S. monetary policy that would come later. Then in 1962, amidst the enthusiasm for John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, he published “Capitalism and Freedom,” a book that influenced a whole generation of younger people. He proposed such ideas as school vouchers to bring the benefits of competition to education, a flat-rate tax to make the income tax less burdensome, and floating exchange rates to improve international finance.

Friedman, of course, became known around the world as a passionate advocate for free markets and individual liberty, and he became known not just to academics and world leaders, but to the general public as well:

In 1980 Friedman broadened his audience further with the publication of a book, “Free to Choose,” and an accompanying PBS television series. Millions of people watched “Free to Choose” and came to understand how markets work. One viewer, a young actor named Arnold Schwarzenegger, said in 1994: “In Austria I noticed that people would worry about when they would get their pension. In America, they would worry if they were going to meet their potential. Friedman’s books explained to me how a dynamic capitalist system allows people to fulfill their dreams.”

That show appeared just after Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Great Britain, and just before Ronald Reagan was elected president. Thatcher and Reagan represented a revolution that Milton Friedman had helped to create: a shift away from central planning and the welfare state and toward a renewed appreciation for entrepreneurship, free markets, and limited government. The collectivist ideas that had dominated the 20th century were being replaced by a more libertarian spirit.

And the rest is history.