Milton Friedman's Empty Place At The Table

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on June 4, 2009


Stephen Moore brings both a smile to the face and a tear to the eye with this superb remembrance of Milton Friedman, who is an intellectual and political hero to me, just as he is to Moore. Though attacked by people who didn’t have the guts to debate him while he was alive and in his prime, Friedman remains as relevant as ever, if not more so. To Friedman’s legacy, Moore pays proper tribute:

When the University of Chicago wanted to create a $200 million Milton Friedman Institute last year, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an avowed socialist and Chicago alum, fumed that “Friedman’s ideology caused enormous damage to the American middle class and to working families here and around the world.”

At academic conferences it has been open season on Friedman and his philosophy of limited government. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winner, says that Friedman’s “Chicago School bears the blame for providing a seeming intellectual foundation” for the now presumably discredited “idea that markets are self-adjusting and the best role for government is to do nothing.” University of Texas economist James Galbraith is even more dismissive: “The inability of Friedman’s successors to say anything useful about what’s happening in financial markets today means their influence is finished,” he says. And pop author Naomi Klein says triumphantly: “What we are seeing with the crash on Wall Street . . . should be for Friedmanism what the fall of the Berlin Wall was for authoritarian communism: an indictment of ideology.” One left-wing group is even distributing posters in Washington and other cities that proclaim: “Milton Friedman: Proud Father of Global Misery.”

The myth that the stock-market collapse was due to a failure of Friedman’s principles could hardly be more easily refuted. No one was more critical of the Bush spending and debt binge than Friedman. The massive run up in money and easy credit that facilitated the housing and credit bubbles was precisely the foolishness that Friedman spent a lifetime warning against.

A few scholars are now properly celebrating the Friedman legacy. Andrei Shleifer, a Harvard economics professor, has just published a tribute to Friedman in the Journal of Economic Literature. He describes the period 1980-2005 as “The Age of Milton Friedman,” an era that “witnessed remarkable progress of mankind. As the world embraced free market policies, living standards rose sharply while life expectancy, educational attainment, and democracy improved and absolute poverty declined.”

So the Bernie Sanders crowd has things exactly backward: Milton’s ideas on capitalism and freedom did more to liberate humankind from poverty than the New Deal, Great Society and Obama economic stimulus plans stacked on top of each other.

Read it all; Moore brings out all of the needed artillery–and then some–to point out why Friedman transcends, and will continue to transcend his detractors. Friedman’s ability to call shenanigans on make-work jobs programs is especially missed. When the present day epidemic of big-governmentitis runs its course, Friedman, and all who support him will be afforded the last laugh.

The only problem is that by then, the economy will be in such parlous shape, that there will be little to laugh about.

Previous post:

Next post: