Bryan Caplan  

Milton Friedman: The Man Who Laughs

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Mark Skousen has a great picture and a great story about one of Milton's last big laughs. Don't miss it!

P.S. In Forbes (registration required), Skousen explains that Galbraith was Photoshopped into the picture as a joke.


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TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/610
The author at amcgltd in a related article titled Remembering a Legend writes:
    Earlier this month free-marketeering legend Milton Freidman died, at the ripe age of 94. A man named Mark Skousen was perhaps the last person he went out to lunch with, and his memories and stories make for a great... [Tracked on November 29, 2006 2:54 PM]
COMMENTS (10 to date)
Alex L writes:

Let his earth be privately owned and unhealthy inflation free...

Giant Step writes:

Regarding the Stigler quotation--can someone please explain to me how JKG is an exception to the rule? From what I understand, the converse of a logical statement ("All tall economists are great") is not necessarily true and is not implied by the original statement.

If "all tall economists are great" were the rule, I would understand the caption--the general consensus is that JKG was far from a great economist. It's sad because I'm sure I would find the quip amusing if I understood it.

Lauren writes:

Giant Step can't figure out one of Skousen's quotes about John Kenneth Galbraith (JKG).

Before we all knock ourselves out trying to figure out what the quote "All great economists are tall" means, it might help to document if the quote is real. Frankly, I've been unable to document that this quip was ever even made by George Stigler.

I'd love an actual date or citation information for Stigler's making this quote. A date for the picture might help. Was the quip below the picture made on that date? To whom? Was it Skousen who took the picture? Was he there when it was taken? Is the quoted caption documentably attributable to Stigler? Was it perhaps something casually received recently by Skousen, never intended to be set down as if it were documentable?

I have also been unable to document other quotes in Skousen's article. I spent an hour trying to document just a few specific quotes of the many given in the article, and I couldn't document even one.

One example I have been unable to track down is Skousen's claim that Milton Friedman actually said "Inflation is taxation without legislation." I thought that sounded like something Friedman might have said, and that it would be easy for me to find documentation. In fact, I couldn't find a single documentable reference of when or where Friedman may have actually said this.

Perhaps I just picked the wrong few quotes from Skousen's page to try to track down.

Documentable citation info is welcome!

Monte writes:

Maybe I'm one pancake short of a full stack, but the meaning of the quip seemed immediately obvious to me.

Stigler is tongue-in-cheek referring to himself as a great economist because he was obviously tall (who could argue?). Friedman, at 5' nothing, was considered to be a giant among economists. The other exception being Galbraith, who, at 6' 9", was (by many) not considered to be a great economist.

Does this make sense, or am I just too short to see?

EB Gal writes:

Alan Meltzer, who was responisble for revising the Britannica article on money originally written by Friedman, has posted a bit on Friedman's legacy and influence over on the Britannica Blog.

That was a wonderful piece about a wonderful man, thank you.

JC writes:

Giant Step - The trick to understanding the meaning of Stiglers quip is to have what is technically called a sense of humour.

According to both the U. of Chicago and the U. of Rochester, and comparing the pic Mark Skousen says he showed to Milton Friedman and displays on his website online, to the original in Two Lucky People, by Milton and Rose Friedman, it was a doctored photo.

Perhaps Skousen wasn't aware; but the pic he described showing Friedman did not originally include John Kenneth Galbraith. It was originally a pic of W. Allen Wallis standing alongside Stigler and Friedman. Galbraith's photo was overlayed at some later point in the version that appears online on Skousen's site, and other websites since.

The original photo appeared in Milton and Rose Friedman's own book Two Lucky People, with Wallis, not Galbraith, standing alongside Friedman and Stigler. Rose Friedman supplied the original that appears in the book.

There is no caption by Stigler as implied.

Skousen says on his website:

I was probably the last person to go out to lunch with Milton. We met at his favorite restaurant in San Francisco, where I showed him a picture of him standing next to John Kenneth Galbraith, the premier Keynesian and welfare statist of the 20th century. Galbraith towered over the diminutive Friedman. Beneath the picture was a funny line by George Stigler: "All great economists are tall. There are two exceptions: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman...."

The doctored overlay depicting Galbraith may have emanated from a spoof at the U. of Chicago's Graduate School of Business.

Both Friedman and Stigler had great senses of humor. Surely Friedman might have been amused by the photo. I think Mark Skousen got taken for a ride by humor and hubris. Humor is great! Hubris leads to mistakes.

Quasimodo writes:
I think Mark Skousen got taken for a ride by humor and hubris. Humor is great! Hubris leads to mistakes.

This does not, in any way, diminish the truth in jest. It was a stroke of comical genius, whoever the perpetrator. Sanctuary!

Lauren writes:

Quasimodo, you are so right! The line is brilliant and wonderfully funny. Whether or not Stigler said it and whether or not Skousen's pic was altered, the concept was great.

Pace Requiescant.

After I laughed myself silly with delight, though, I still thought: Something's not right here! Did Stigler say this? Something doesn't add up.

I think the greatest dignity one can offer in honor after someone dies is to sort out myth from reality. How will they remember, who knew this person less?

I see that Skousen's modified his own piece by adding to the photo caption:

Creation of Mark Skousen. Technical assistance by James Durham.

I don't know who James Durham is, but I appreciate the credit. I hope that credit will be further amended to include the original source--Two Lucky People.

Skousen's 12/11/2006 Forbes piece is a little clearer:

I showed him a Photoshopped picture of him standing next to John Kenneth Galbraith, the premier Keynesian and welfare statist of the 20th century. Galbraith towered over the diminutive Friedman. Beneath the picture was a funny line by economist George J. Stigler....

In Photoshop one can do many things, from merely changing the pic size to fixing the contrast to making entire substitutions. Customarily, when one makes a substantive change, such as blanking out an entire person in a copyrighted photo in print and substituting someone else and then reprinting it online, one gives the attribution for the original. Stigler, Friedman, Wallis, and Galbraith, all deserve proper credit in the fine print.

I'm a little perplexed about what to do about the date in the online Forbes article. It reads 12/11/06. Is that Dec. 11, 2006? Today is only Dec. 2, but it's already online--read, referenced, reprinted, on many websites. Maybe the date is associated with their print edition? Or: Is it Nov. 12, 2006? Unlikely, since Friedman died Nov. 16. Perhaps typed dates don't reflect final information for a lot for online publications.

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