Champion of free markets, Milton Friedman

November 17, 2006

94-year old free market champion Milton Friedman died yesterday. Many great accountings for his career will be written, I’m sure — here is the New York Times notice.

Milton Friedman in 1964, NY Times photo

Milton Friedman in 1964 – New York Times photo

At the end of the 20th century, it certainly appeared that Friedman was more right than Keynes, and almost diametrically opposed to Marx. There are questions about whether free markets will be able to pull the former Soviet Union out of its economic woes, however, and we have run into a lot of questions about how to establish the free markets that guarantee political freedom in nations in Africa, Asia and South America.

Friedman was the greatest exponent of school vouchers in America, a view that I found had intellectual appeal but which, to me, fails to win any respect in actual practice, especially when the voucher programs hammer away at the foundations of public education (such as the public schools Friedman attended) by systematically choking off funding for public education.

I for one will miss his voice in these debates. It was a well-educated, gentle voice, tempered by reason and a lot of common sense. Free market economists grow almost abundant these days. There will never be another Friedman.

Update: Nice tributes and serious criticism. A friend uses an exercise in class requiring students to write obituaries for famous economists — Friedman’s death offers ample opportunities to collect real obits to use for examples. See some of the comments, such as:

Nothing about Friedman is up yet at The Becker-Posner Blog.  If they do anything at all on Friedman, it will be worth the read.

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