R.I.P. Uncle Milt.

Milton Friedman died today at 94 years old. He was probably the most influential and certainly the most famous economist of the latter half of the 20th century. Since I cannot concisely do justice to his contributions to the field of economics, I’ll take the easy way out by listing one achievement and then posting some links.

I say his most important contribution to economics was his argument that misguided government policy–not unrestrained capitalism or market failure–was the primary cause of the Great Depression. He convincingly made his case in A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, co-written with Anna Schwartz. The part dealing with the Great Depression was reprinted as The Great Contraction, which I was lucky to find in a used bookshop near Dupont Circle in D.C.

My favorite Friedman books are Capitalism and FreedomBright Promises, Dismal Performance: An Economist’s Protest; and Free to Choose, co-written with his wife Rose.

He’ll be missed; may God rest his soul.

2 Responses to “R.I.P. Uncle Milt.”

  1. gatorbob Says:
    November 21st, 2006 at 9:04 PM

With all due respect to the deceased, good riddance to bad rubbish. What you’ve conveniently missed out on in your summary is that Friedman’s (and his mentor Friedrich Hayek’s) ideas were used to cloak policies that enriched the already rich and screwed the working and poor of this country. Let’s face it: supposed adherents of the “ChicagoSchool” have been in control of the government since 1980 and the government hasn’t gotten any smaller, has it? No, unfortunately it wasn’t big government that was drowned in the bathroom of Grover Norquist’s fantasies. It was real flesh and blood New Orleanians who were drowned because Bush and co. didn’t give a damn. Katrina laid bare the true implications of supply-side nonsense. If “Uncle Miltie” had had it’s way, Social Security, Medicare, and public education would be equally dead in the water and our grannies would be eating dog food. Now, instead, he’s six feet under. He won’t be missed.

P.S. RIP Ferenc Puskas – Hungarian football great – he will be missed.

  1. VDV Says:
    November 23rd, 2006 at 1:09 AM

You made two valid points–but just two:

1. You are right to call them “supposed” adherents of the Chicago School, though some would insist on being called Austrians (there is a difference; each claims the other is more “statist”). True adherents would have cut the programs that they claim to oppose, but those programs are even more entrenched now than they were 30 years ago.

2. Puskas was great.

As for the rest:

“The rich get richer, the working and poor get screwed.” I could show you all the numbers on Earth that contradict this, and I don’t think it would matter, because that comment comes not from economic analysis or evidence, but from focusing so much on how rich some people are that the improving standard of living of the poor goes unnoticed. Please refer to my post on 1/26/06. Where capitalism exists, the rich do get richer, but so do the poor. Where it doesn’t exist, the rich get richer, and the poor really are screwed.

And for future reference, “rich” and “working” are not mutually exclusive, as you suggest… it turns out that the vast majority of the rich get rich by working! Go figure.

“Bush and co. didn’t give a damn,” therefore Blanco and Nagin didn’t order evacuations early enough? Empty buses were left to rust instead of helping people leave? Generations of New Orleans politicians and voters didn’t ensure that the people could evacuate fast enough? Didn’t build levees that could withstand a Cat. 3 hurricane–never mind a Cat. 5? BushCo may not have given a damn one way or the other, and may not have done “enough”–but the biggest problem (aside from the fact that a Category 3 or 4 hurricane struck in the worst possible place) was that the city of New Orleans abdicated too much of its own responsibility for its own safety. They had the most to lose from a hurricane strike and they didn’t do nearly enough about it.

“Katrina laid bare the true implications of supply-side nonsense.” If you can demonstrate that the number of people who perished due to “supply-side nonsense” was greater than the number of people who survived due to “supply-side nonsense,” I will accept this proposition. An awful lot of time, effort, money and other resources were spent helping people escape, survive, and recover from a natural disaster… in a poorer country, more people would have died. In the United States of 30, 40, 50 years ago, more people would have died. Period. But thanks to the economic growth of the last 30, 40, 50 years, due in part to income tax cuts from JFK, Reagan, and W, due in part to capital gains cuts from Clinton, due to free-trade policies, due in part to all those capitalist policies that are lumped under the bogeyman title “supply side economics,” more people survived than would have otherwise.

As for the social programs, I think you would be surprised to know that Friedman considered the Social Security program to be one of the most harmful to the poor, the “working class,” and African-Americans.

And public education “would be” dead in the water? I teach at a pretty good public high school, but I know that my school is the exception. I don’t think public education is in good shape anywhere. I think Friedman’s proposals (public funding of education with private choice of educational programs) would likely improve the system.

People will always disagree, but Friedman’s arguments against governmental social programs, et al. came from the sincere conviction, backed by evidence and analysis, that these programs actually harmed those they were meant to help. Again, feel free to read any one of his books.