There are some public figures whose obituaries can be written years in advance. Milton Friedman was not one of them.
Arguably the greatest economist of the 20th century, he won his Nobel Prize 30 years ago. His classic "Capitalism and Freedom" was published 44 years ago. He died yesterday at the age of 94, but as the op-ed running nearby attests, he was active in writing about, thinking about and explaining how economics affects our world until the end.
The Wall Street Journal
The New York Times quoted the president in his obituary today that Friedman:
"He has used a brilliant mind to advance a moral vision -- the vision of a society where men and women are free, free to choose, but where government is not as free to override their decisions," President Bush said in 2002. "That vision has changed America, and it is changing the world."But they neglected to mention his most meaning work – the turning of the tide away from a failed Keynsian economic model, and his proving quite plainly that a military draft was completely unnecessary.
As the United States went, so did much of the western world after the proof presented itself.
In every way, his life work was the advancement of human freedom. He noted that there indeed IS a strong relationship between capitalism and freedom, saying quite plainly that
If this seems facile to some, remember that in the world of academia, one still has to struggle with explaining the most basic things from square one to advocate ideas. Quite plainly that means having to incessantly fun a gauntlet of basic questions peppering every moment’s work shot out by advocates of obviously failed economic ideas such as advocates of Keynes, miscellaneous Marxists, and those generally distrustful of people doing what they want with their own lives.
Keynes believed that government intervention could avert depressions. Friedman, quite rightly, was a sceptic. One can easily see countless examples of government intervention not only not being able to avert or end depressions though intervention, but that intervention can cause them as we see with protectionism, and extend them, such as was the case with the Great Depression of the 1930’s in the United States.
He noted quite frequently that the relationship between freedom and capitalism was proving itself out on a steady course for the better for all of humanity. Over the course of the past 50 years, the number of people living under command political systems and command economies was dwindling as free economy spread. Regardless of the occasional aberration where a free economy was allowed to function in an environment where political freedom was limited, (such as was the case of Yugoslavia under Communism, and today with the likes of Burma, China, and shortly with Libya, Syria, and countless others) that an evolution toward political freedom took place, almost always without bloodshed.
Just as importantly when you look at the social and political motivations of postwar Europe, poverty declined rapidly. In some cases, eventually getting it wrong by overtaxation and intervention, and others like Switzerland, South Korea and Japan getting is as right as one could. There too, as monetarism advocated the use of currency supply as an instrument to do this – as the United States went, so did much of the world, and with it an exit from global poverty the likes of which have never been seen.
It is one of the only cases of a theory alleviating human poverty. It accomplished with no pain what Communism couldn’t accomplish through 6 decades of force, dispossession, and violence.
His life’s work, the endeavor to construct an environment of liberty was a great success for which humanity should be grateful. He is clearly on par with Burke, Jefferson, and others who saw the instinct for authority and control for what it is: little more than a disease of a few individuals’ minds who are driven by fear of what people could become, and not what they have shown that they do.
Moreover he was a public figure who was without the narcissism found with many advocates who present their ardency for change as a matter of themselves. He was a true man in full beginning his career in a time of tyrannies such as Marxism, which would find themselves rendered to the dustbin of history aided there by the work of a man a mere 5 foot 2.