Milton Friedman

More on "The Increasingly Libertarian Milton Friedman"


In the journalistic/academic circle of life, Milton Friedman biographer Lanny Ebenstein in a new article available at Economic Journal Watch riffs (at least partially) off a Reason review written by me of Ebenstein's own edited collection of Friedman rarities, The Indispensable Milton Friedman.

Ebenstein's new journal article, like my review, is called "The Increasingly Libertarian Milton Friedman."

It does a very thorough job demonstrating that as Friedman's career and knowledge went on–and especially when he shifted from a professional active academic to a professional public intellectual activist–he became more and more libertarian in his views.

From the article's precis:

This article traces the evolution of Milton Friedman's ideological views over the course of his adult life. It finds the evolution to be from a moderate liberalism to a definite classical liberalism and then, during the last 50 years of his life, to an increasingly robust libertarianism. Friedman explicitly acknowledged a change in his views on a number of policy issues; also, sometimes even if his opinion on an issue did not change, the strength with which he held and promoted it did. A significant point in Friedman's life was his retirement and relocation to San Francisco in 1976. There he became almost exclusively a public policy advocate, and his mode of discourse shifted significantly away from empirical demonstration and toward invoking and applying what he considered to be the broad verities and maxims of the outlook he had established for himself.

It's worth pointing out that Friedman's increasing libertarianism wasn't just based in shifting away from empiricism toward maxims. In cases like public education and public money his increasing libertarianism came from an increasing recognition of some actual history of public and private education (as Friedman told me in my 1995 Reason interview with him), and recognition of historical costs of government money.

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  1. A significant point in Friedman’s life was his retirement and relocation to San Francisco in 1976.

    One would think that retirement in San Francisco would drive anyone to libertarianism.

    1. One would think. I was there for 5 years and it did it for me.

  2. Milton Friedman was such an upbeat, positive guy. He put an accessible face on libertarianism when the image was complete wacko crazy. My first encounter with libertarian-like ideas was the PBS series Free to Choose. My then fianc?e insisted I watch it.

    1. It always amuses me when progressives try to paint Friedman as some radical, hard-hearted villain. He was a soft-spoken optimist that always presented his case calmly and with moderation. It’s hilarious that some try to turn him into a monster.

      1. Doh, forgot add that the same thing applies to Hayek. An adorable, cautious old man. Whether you agree with either Friedman or Hayek, it was clear that both were simply trying to figure out the best way to enrich the world, and both respected the challenges of the task.

        1. Agreed. One could understand the demonizing of Rand…she cut right to the heart of the matter without much technical understanding required.

          I’ve wondered why Rothbard hasn’t been demonized (as much.) When you understand what Rothbard is truly after, he’s just as threatening to progressive ideology as Rand. Maybe he got a pass for attacking the Right on war, the draft, corporatism etc…stuff Rand was willing to paper over.

          1. Rothbard wasn’t famous. None of his books sold millions of copies, he wasn’t interviewed on Donahue, and outside of a small, dedicated circle, his works never achieved popular success.

            He’s grown increasingly more important since his death and in particular since the rise of web libertarianism. As his reputation has grown, so has the amount of hate he’s received from the usual suspects.

    2. That Free to Choose series pushed me from – someone who felt alienated by all political parties and hey that Ron Paul guy said some cool stuff in ’07-’08, to yep I might be a libertarian.

      Looking back on my political opinions in the 90s and early 00s, I always held the same NAP / self ownership / liberty views as I do now. I just wasn’t aware of outlets or literature that shared the same opinions.

      1. Yep, I was a libertarian before I knew what a libertarian was.

        Seemed intuitive. Leave people alone unless they are actually hurting someone.

  3. Someone give me a good place to start reading his stuff.

    1. Capitalism and Freedom.

      1. Aaaannnd…done.


        1. Wow, I didn’t know it was such a quick read.

        2. That first chapter of capitalism and freedom did it for me. Clear thinking defined.

          1. But he concedes everything in the third chapter. It’s disappointing to see someone take the (very weak) argument regarding the costliness of maintaining a commodity standard of money and weave it into a rationale for fiat money and central banking. I don’t see him advocating the Fed, but I don’t see him expressing an adequate (libertarian) pessimism with regards to monetary planning. He advocates “rules” as a replacement for political mechanisms. Fine, let’s look at how Constitutionalism as a rule-constraint on politics has faired over the last two hundred years. That data was available to him.

      2. best download ever.

  4. Friedman helped invent income withholding. I don’t think anything else he did could make up for that. I would postulate that withholding has been one of the most evil tools in the government’s arsenal for stealing.

    1. How about helping to end military conscription?

      1. Let’s see: on one side, he literally comes up with the way the government steals from us on every paycheck and hides the magnitude of it from people who aren’t paying attention.

        On the other side, he was part of a growing movement to end conscription and advocated for it, but he wasn’t the only one.

        Nope, still fucked.

        1. He was a vocal member of the Gates Commission which ultimately issued the report that Congress used to end the draft.

          Playing a central role in ending the government practice of forcing people to murder each other outweighs his advocacy of a revenue-collecting policy.

          1. Actually, Hugh, if you think about it, it’s the withholding and massive amounts of taxes that the government pulls in that allows it to fuck with other countries willy-nilly and send people to them to die.

            It all starts with the money. If the government was able to collect much less in taxes because people wrote one huge check each year and understood how much they were being fleeced, it would be able to do a lot less of the terrible things it does.

            Friedman was a foundational architect in making that happen.

            1. Yeah but he was also foundational in preventing the government from sending me to get my legs blown off in Iraq. So I’m comfortable respecting the guy.

              1. There was always Canada to run to, Hugh.

                1. nobody’s that desparate

                2. And have my legs bit off by a rampaging moose? How is that any better?

                  1. You can regain your stamina with a delicious, fortifying bowl of Red River.

                  2. Don’t gambol in the moose’s ecosystem, paleface.

                3. Not anymore:
                  Pursuant to the Treaty between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, US authorities can request Canadian authorities to identify, locate, and take into custody US nationals who have committed a crime that carries a possible sentence of more than a year,[21] and subsequently extradite the target back to the US, as per the Extradition Treaty Between the United States of America and Canada. [22] However, the US government must promise that those extradited will not receive the death penalty, in accordance with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in United States v. Burns. Thus, deserters who may have had an arrest warrant issued against them in the US are liable for arrest in Canada, unless they legalise their status.

                  An example in action:

                  She surrendered to authorities at the U.S. border in upstate New York last September after a Canadian court ordered her deported to the United States, capping several years spent by Rivera unsuccessfully seeking asylum in Canada.

            2. if you think about it, it’s the withholding and massive amounts of taxes that the government pulls in that allows it to fuck with other countries willy-nilly and send people to them to die.

              It all starts with the money. If the government was able to collect much less in taxes because people wrote one huge check each year and understood how much they were being fleeced, it would be able to do a lot less of the terrible things it does.

              Friedman was a foundational architect in making that happen.

              Freidman invented withholding for the NAZIs and Commies??

    2. Before you banish Friedman to the Pit, it was 1942 and he believed that income withholding was necessary to fund the war. Silly economist, thinking that the government wouldn’t retain this exquisite instrument of theft beyond the war’s conclusion.

      1. It’s also worth noting that as a young man, Friedman was sympathetic to mainstream Keynesianism. That was before he and Anna Schwartz destroyed its statistical underpinnings in the 1960s and before monetarism became a significant academic force. It’s worth noting that Bernanke views Friedman as his intellectual godfather, though Friedman would never have signed off on the massive boondoggle of QE–he wanted to replace the fed with a computer that tied the growth in money supply to overall economic growth.

        His transition to monetarist, social libertarian, and an almost Hayekian public intellectual is one of the most inspiring stories of the 20th century. God knows we needed one back before we had MF, Hayek, Rothbard, and Paul to give us a foundation.

      2. in the 1940’s, it seems entirely reasonable that people had far more faith in govt than today. Sure, there have always been oily characters but public service was seen as something worthwhile. Doesn’t seem that Friedman expected that tax to be permanent because the nation wouldn’t be in that war permanently.

    3. It’s probably neck-and-neck with inflation and embedded taxes.


    4. So we should assume you came out of your mothers vagina wearing a monocle and a prefect anarco-capitalist from birth and everything in your life has always been true to your perfect principles and you never got anything wrong along the way and becoming what you are now had zero evolution it just happened in the instant of your birth.

      1. There’s a big difference between having boneheaded opinions and being instrumental in getting a huge antiliberty policy passed.

        Just like some here might have voted for Obama, which is bad, but not nearly as bad as any given Senator voting for some anti-liberty law.

        It’s the difference between pissing in the coffeepot and poisoning the coffeepot.

  5. Can a monetary central planner really be considered a libertarian? Just askin’.

    1. He actually opposed the idea of a Federal Reserve, but believed that, since it does exist, there are less bad policies it can pursue.

      1. Did he believe in a free market in money? Or was that the one area that the state had shown its competency in the past. Milty was against the gold standard for the wrong reasons.

        1. He also argued for public school funding and a welfare state. Being libertarian doesn’t necessarily require being a minarchist.

        2. I suggest you look up the body of work produced by the spawn of his loins for anarchy.

          As it is, Friedman was one of the most influential apostles of the free market and liberty. Yes he had the original sin of advocating withholding, but that was during WWII when he was still coming out of his New Deal phase.

          He certainly devoted his the majority of his life to making people realize that freedom works and that’s good enough for me.

          1. I don’t dispute Friedman’s contributions to the cause of liberty (the draft, education, idiotic subsidies/regulations/taxes etc.) And I have read his Free to Choose and enjoyed it immensely.

            But I’m having a problem regarding as a libertarian someone who advocated government control over the hinge upon which a large part of individual choice turns. Maybe I’m just wearing my tinfoil hat too tight.

            As for his son, I can’t fathom the difficulties of basing my anarchism on utilitarian foundations.

            1. In Machinery, DF states that his anarchism is not utilitarian in origin, but that he argues from a utilitarian perspective because that’s the way that you convince people.

              Deontological ethics may be philosophically satisfying, but you’re going to be limited to specialists and true believers if you go that route in your argumentation.

              1. I find Murray Rothbard’s deontological (if you can call it that) basis for libertarianism quite accessible. More so than Rand’s actually.

                Also, can you explain the distinction he makes between having an origin in utilitarianism v. arguing from a utilitarian “perspective”? Do you mean that he did not deduce anarchism from utilitarianism but it just looked sexy through a utilitarian lens?

                1. I agree on Rothbard and consider him the father of radical, “real” libertarianism. But political philosophy has always been much more strongly populist than anything else, and DF establishes a strong basis for us to argue to the thinkers among the populists.

                  Re: DF’s stance on utilitarianism, this was the best support I could find quickly from Machinery:

                  I therefore close by commenting on what I have not said. I have said almost nothing about rights, ethics, good and bad, right and wrong, although these are matters central to the ideas of most libertarians, myself included. Instead, I have couched my argument throughout in terms of practicality. I have asked, not what people should want, but how we can accomplish those things which most of us do want.

                  I have done this for two reasons. I am very much surer where I stand?where my arguments come from and where
                  they will lead me?with regard to practical questions than with regard to ethical ones. And I have found that it is much easier to persuade people with practical arguments than with ethical arguments. This leads me to suspect that most political disagreement is rooted in questions of what is, not what should be. I have never met a socialist who wanted the kind of society that I think socialism would produce.

                  David Friedman being David Friedman, he’ll show up here in a few hours or days to clarify his position.

                  1. Well now that you’ve invoked him by name, he might.

            2. Did Friedman ever advocate a government monopoly on currencies? I wonder what he would have thought of Bitcoin.

              1. I can’t find a reference, but I’m 99% sure that Milton Friedman defended free banking after he retired. I don’t know that he ever believed that an inherently deflationary money would work, but he defended the right to contract.


                  from “Monetary Policy for the 1980s”

                  I approve of Professor Hayek’s proposal to remove restrictions on the issuance of private moneys to compete with government moneys. But I do not share his belief about the outcome. Private moneys now exist?traveler’s and cashier’s checks, bank deposits, money orders, and various forms of bank drafts and negotiable instruments. But these are almost all claims on a specified number of units of government currency (of dollars or pounds or francs or marks). Currently, they are subject to government regulation and control. But even if such regulations and controls were entirely eliminated, the advantage of a single national currency unit buttressed by long tradition will, I suspect, serve to prevent any other type of private currency unit from seriously challenging the dominant government currency, and this despite the high degree of monetary variability many countries have experienced over recent decades.

                  1. the advantage of a single national currency unit buttressed by long tradition will, I suspect, serve to prevent any other type of private currency unit from seriously challenging the dominant government currency

                    I tend to agree with him, however… due to recent knowledge of the US government and it’s incessant desire to evade every individual’s privacy in order to “protect” them from themselves, I would add that it is quite possible something like Bitcoin not only succeeds but seriously challenges government currency because it is the only currency which allows anonymous transactions.

                    This niche used to be filled by certain governments and their banking laws, but all of that’s gone.

                    Of course 1980 was different – his point makes much more sense then.

                    Furthermore, even if Bitcoin succeeds wildly, I doubt very much it will replace any major currencies as governments are currently the only entities people perceive as being able to credibly keep a promise for a couple generations of humans; whereas most don’t assume the same of any corporations.

                    & currency is something we desire to be semi-stable, useful, and have longevity enough to allow things like – leaving currency to your children or grandchildren without fear that the underwriter/issuer no longer exists.

                    1. Government currency has the advantage that they expect taxes to be paid in it.

                      They wont accept btc or chickens.

      2. If every one of the Fed’s board were to adopt a policy of performing hara-kiri to atone for their crimes, I would forgive them posthumously.


    1. And that young man grew up, reconsidered his position vis a vis the Ford Motor Company and became “William of Purple“. 😉

  6. LOL look what someone made for the Jets-Canuck game!

  7. Dude that makes all kinds of crazy sense man.

  8. Dude that makes all kinds of crazy sense man.

    1. Pvt. Joe Bowers: What *are* these electrolytes? Do you even know?
      Secretary of State: They’re… what they use to make Brawndo!
      Pvt. Joe Bowers: But *why* do they use them to make Brawndo?
      Secretary of Defense: [raises hand after a pause] Because Brawndo’s got electrolytes.

    2. I like that the article complains sports drinks are high in sodium. That’s the entire point.

  9. I dont really like the sound of that at all dude. Not at all.

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