Libertarian History/Philosophy Happy 99th Birthday, Milton Friedman!

A tribute to the late, great economist


There's no way to appreciate fully the contributions of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman (1912-2006), who would have turned 99 years old this weekend, to the growth of libertarian ideas and a free society.

This is the man, after all, who introduced the concept of school vouchers, documented the role of government monopolies on money in creating inflation, provided the intellectual arguments that ended the military draft in America, co-founded the Mont Pelerin Society, and so much more. In popular books such as Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose, written with his wife and longtime collaborator Rose, he masterfully drew a through-line between economic freedom and political and cultural freedom.

Yet his ultimate contribution to freedom and liberty is found less in any of the specific argument he made and more in the ways he made them. Friedman provided an all-too-rare example of a public intellectual who was scrupulously honest, forthright, and fair in every debate he entered. Whether he was duking it out with fellow Nobel Prize winners and other high-profile economists or making the case for the morality of capitalism with TV hosts such as Phil Donahue and angry students, he always argued in good faith, admitted when he was wrong, and enlarged the circle of debate.

Long after some of his technical points and social insights have been superseded, that commitment to relentless inquiry and search for truth wherever it takes us will survive.

Milton Friedman gave us something much better than revealed truth: He showed us the process by which we might continue to indefinitely learn about our world and the human condition. In this sense, the Friedman Century is far from over; indeed, it's just getting started.

Written and narrated by Nick Gillespie. Produced and edited by Jim Epstein, with help from Jack Gillespie.

About 2.30 minutes.

For Reason's coverage of and interviews with Milton Friedman over the years, go here now.

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  1. Milton Friedman, seriously? The architect of the failed economic model of the Bush years has been totally discredited.


        Excellent rebuttal!

    2. the false concepts taught at chicago by friedman & his ilk caused another chicago alum, greenspan to testify that his (greenspan’s) model was flawed (in not predicting the sub-prime collapse) because it assumed mgmt would act in the best interests of shareholders.


        1. i accurately paraphrased greenspan’s sworn testimony whether u like it or not.

          Even better! Bravo!

          1. ck the congressional record.

      2. OO, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

        1. take greenspan’s testimony up w greenspan. jeesch

      3. Perhaps you should compare the popping of the dot-com bubble with the popping of the housing bubble and determine why their aftermaths were very different.

        Further, ask yourself if Greenspan’s model considered the effects of distorted demand.

        1. CDS’s were part of the diff. also trading firms INTENTIONALLY bundeling sub-primes most likely to fail, obtaining misleading ratings, then SHORTING their own transactions while keeping the shareholders ignorant

      4. OO, Alan Greenspan never attended the University of Chicago. His BS, MA and PhD were all from that famous bastion of right-wing thought, NYU.

        Nor was he considered a proponent of the Chicago School of economics.

        But then you probably still believe the old lie that Milton Friedman was an advisor to Pinochet.

      5. you’re talking about the EMH, right? no one believes in that.

    3. If I ever get hold of you, Patricia, I will thank you for showing me the futility of human endeavor.

      1. +1, relatively obscure reference.

    4. Milton Friedman is like Adam Smith in the sense that, given the context of the intellectual environment in which he worked – he promoted liberty simply because he was libertarian RELATIVE to most other thinkers in the period in which he worked. However, when compared to Ludwig von Mises or Murray Rothbard or Walter Block he looks positively socialist.

      I am thankful for the contributions he made however. He threw the ball in the right direction.

  2. Chicago school good, Austrian school better.

    1. Maybe the GMU brand, but the Auburn brand of Austrians can’t even tell the difference between economic scholarship and ideological dogma.

      1. So you don’t like Time and Money by Roger Garrison? Because it’s too ideological and dogmatic?

      2. What is your definition of “ideological dogma”?

  3. I guess little Jack Gillespie got the coffee.

  4. Anybody care to recommend a book or two by Mr. Friedman?

    1. Free to Choose is a good place to start.

    2. Capitalism and Freedom. This book changed my life.

      1. Capitalism and Freedom changed my life too. It was the first book I read after college and I wish I’d read it sooner.

        1. Ditto

    3. 500 Things to Do when You’re Dead.

  5. Maybe if Friedman had the courage to compare intellectual rivals to Hitler a little more frequently, Keynes would not have ravaged economies for so many years.

  6. As much as I love Milton’s work (the Free to Choose video series is one of the best things I’ve ever watched), I don’t think he ever quite made amends for his role in starting the USFG’s paycheck tax withholding program.

    1. Agreed. No matter how much good he did, he created one of the greatest tax evils ever known, thereby eclipsing the good.

      1. Well, he was hired by his employer (the US government) to perform a specific task (increase revenues), and he performed the task. I don’t begrudge him. If he hadn’t come up with the idea, someone else surely would have.

        1. false argument due to an unprovable assumption. nothing more than feelings…

        2. What a pathetic justification.

          By that line of reasoning a so-called free market “hero” would get away with doing anything socialist for the government.

        3. Friedman didn’t hide from this. I believe he called it his “greatest regret.”

          1. Correct. And I never begrudge someone for sticking their neck out -TR’s arena style, where you know your gonna take some heat. Freedman was something we will tell our kids about. Not too many with his character and intellect left today.

    2. It was only supposed to be a temporary war program. He spent his entire life apologizing for it. Funny how the people most likely to criticize Friedman for this happen to be the ones most likely to have voted for Bob Barr because they wanted DOMA overturned.

      1. You have everyone’s voting records now?

    3. he did that program in the 1940s, when he was still a Keynesian. he has an excuse.

  7. Sorry, Milton was often full of it. Here he is at his hyperbolic worst:

    “The greatest advances of civilization, whether in architecture or painting, in science and literature, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralized government.”

    Actually, that’s almost completely backasswards until you reach the 19th century. Who built the Parthenon, dude? Greek tragedies? Written for a publicly funded festival. Bach? Church employee, living off of mandatory tithes. Mozart? Court composer. Shakespeare? Subsidized by Baron Hunsdon. Where does scholarship take place other than in government-funded institutions? Newton lived a scientist’s fantasy, a college professor who never had to teach a class.

    Like a lot of big-name, big-mouth economists I could name (Paul Krugman, are you listening?), Uncle Miltie often said what he wanted others to think, rather than what he actually thought.

    1. No idea what he actually meant, but he may have been saying that centralized government itself doesn’t produce such things. It can commission them, like with the Athenians spending their imperial funds on city improvements (including the Parthenon), but can it create them itself? It’s a fair criticism, though there are exceptions.

      Also, of course, governments in the more distant past were far less centralized in practice than they are today.

    2. Alan,

      You may have named who “funded” these projects but the fact is that these achievements all came from individuals.

      Take for instance Shakespeare, who you say was funded by ANOTHER INDIVIDUAL. Why would you use that as an example?

      1. The government of ancient Athens was, in many ways, far more centralized than government is today. For most of human history, virtually all surplus wealth was in the hands of the state, a state church, or landed aristocrats who were effectively the law over their domains. The famous buildings of the past–the Parthenon, the Pantheon, the Hagia Sophia–were all built as an expression of civic greatness, not money-making enterprises. Most scholarship and most scientific work, is even today directly or indirectly subsidized by government. Friedman taught at the University of Chicago, a non-profit corporation created out of thin air under government law and endowed with any number of special privileges–exemption for taxation, deductability of contributions, etc.–that do not apply to private individuals. Friedman was simply talking through his hat.

        1. That’s simply not true about Athens. In theory, the government had immense power. In practice, however, the power was extraordinarily limited by our standards.

          This goes for most absolute monarchies in history as well. Even under the Roman Empire, most of the crazy oppression was limited to aristocrats in the city of Rome.

        2. (I hate threaded comments)

          Most scholarship and most scientific work, is even today directly or indirectly subsidized by government.

          Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Sysco, Wal-Mart, Virgin, HP, Verizon, Home Depot, Dell, Kraft Foods, Best Buy, Caterpillar, Walt Disney, Coca Cola,, Google, 3M, Deere, CVS.

          All top 100 Forbes list. None are directly subsidized by the government. All of them contribute immeasurably to a greater quality of life than anything the government has “contributed” in the last 100 years.

          You make the same mistake that all of Friedman’s critics make. You ignore the achievements of individuals and take the common anti-liberty stance of ROOAADDDSS, TRRAAIIINNSS, etc.

          You use the argument that “reduced tax liability” at U Chicago somehow means that Friedman was “government funded”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Friedman worked for many people in his career and UC was hardly the reason for his success.

          The failure of statists and progressives is to come up with a centralized system that HASN’T resulted in desperate poverty and economic failure.

          Good luck with that. I’ll keep defending the free market and capitalism as a means to lifting people out of poverty. I have tons of evidence to work from. You have 20th century cemeteries littered with the failures of the Keynseyians.

    3. Well, government was part of society, and the people or groups that made all those achievements were part of society. Ergo, government is responsible for what they did.

      The Statist Fallacy:

      Everything for the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the state.

  8. There has never been a more lucid advocate of libertarianism than Friedman. Ron Paul is a mere piker in comparison.

    Continue to rest in peace, good man.

    1. A few months ago I was talking with a paleo, and I said that Friedman did more for liberty than Ron Paul did. For example, he was instrumental in getting rid of the draft. After this guy pieced his exploded head back together, he retorted with “Yeah but… but… we still have registration! Nothing changed! So there!” And then he stuck his tongue out.

  9. Most scholarship and most scientific work, is even today directly or indirectly subsidized by government.

    Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Sysco, Wal-Mart, Virgin, HP, Verizon, Home Depot, Dell, Kraft Foods, Best Buy, Caterpillar, Walt Disney, Coca Cola,, Google, 3M, Deere, CVS.

    All top 100 Forbes list. None are directly subsidized by the government.

    1. The top three in your list have HUGE government granted monopoly copyright privileges over their competitors.

      1. “Government granted monopoly copyright privileges”?

        You mean they don’t want people stealing their intellectual property so they get a copyright from the government?

        They made the property FIRST. The intellectual part they are trying to protect was not a result of “government subsidies”.

        1. If intellectual property law isn’t a government-granted monopoly, I give up.

        2. If intellectual property law isn’t a government-granted monopoly, I give up.

  10. 99th brithday so good, congratulation!

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