The Legacy Of Milton Friedman IIIby Doug Mataconis
In article at Reason, Brian Doherty makes the point that, as the article’s title puts it: It’s Milton Friedman’s World, We’re Just Living In It.
When celebrated public intellectuals of Nobel-prize-winning heft die, the newspapers are packed with encomiums on their brilliance and importance. It isn’t always obvious, though, where the rubber of their lofty scholarly words hits the road of our day-to-day life. With Dr. Milton Friedman, winner of the 1976 Nobel in economics, most celebrated figure of the Chicago School of economics, author of the 1980 nonfiction bestseller Free to Choose, seeing his (invisible?) hand in the workaday world isn’t all that hard.
If you or your children have not been forced into the armed services in the past three decades—which you haven’t—thank Friedman. He was the intellectual sparkplug for the Nixon-era Gates Commission that convinced Nixon a volunteer army is both workable and the right thing to do.
If the dollars in your pocket are worth somewhere close to what they were a year ago, not 8 percent or more less, thank Dr. Friedman. His work as an economist convinced Federal Reserve chiefs, after the grim late 1970s dominated by stagflation (high inflation combined with recession), that we should strive to keep money supply growth low to restrain both inflation and unemployment. While the world’s central banks haven’t followed every technical detail of his plan, the old and destructive belief that government can tax and spend and inflate our way to prosperity is gone, and Friedman is why.
And that’s not all, Doherty lists a whole host of public policy issues where Friedman’s influence has shaped the world we live in:
Who should decide where our kids go to school, and who should control the money used to pay for it?
Who should decide what we can eat and how we enjoy ourselves?
Who should decide how we get to spend our money?
Who should decide the value of currencies in relation to other currencies—national governments, or the decentralized decisionmaking of all economic players?
In other words, Friedman was much more than an economist. He was a thinker, and his ideas will have influence long after he’s gone, if we choose to listen to them that is:
To the extent that we choose to heed Friedman in the future, we’ll have more even choices we can make for ourselves–and be richer for it.
I can’t think of a more fitting legacy.