Arnold Kling  

On Milton Friedman

Bernanke to Friedman... Save Your Breath...

Brad DeLong writes,

Friedman was a pragmatic libertarian. He believed that -- as an empirical matter -- giving individuals freedom and letting them coordinate their actions by buying and selling on markets would produce the best results. It was not that he thought this was a natural law. He didn't believe that markets always worked best. It was, rather, that he believed that places where markets failed were atypical; that where markets failed there were almost always enormous profit opportunities from entrepreneurial redesign of institutions; and that the market system would create new opportunities for trade that would route around market failures. Most important, his distrust of government told him that government failure was pervasive, and that any expansion of government beyond the classical liberal state would be highly likely to cause more trouble than it could solve.

Speaking of Milton Friedman, a reader reminds me of an essay by Friedman called How to Cure Health Care.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (4 to date)
Don Robertson writes:

Yes. One has to admire the clear analysis and pragmatic style of Milton Friedman. His utterly cogent style is exemplary and only atypical in its excellence, which served his era more with the frustration one feels in seeing a way through to some better end result, knowing it will not be taken up due to the nature of decision making, knowing too that even if and when on those rarer occasions something was done based upon such analysis as Friedman often made, but that it was invariably done with such ineptitude, it only mades matters worse...

Still when you read Friedman again, you want to be able to reach out to him, to lend him your advice too, but this too was generally an impossibility, for the opportunity had passed, and cloudier minds were already at work assessing the impact of such a statement as Friedman could make, and spinning it into their own less-useful web of rationalizations, devolving ever deeper into the frustrations so common to any complex modern society.

The gathering anti-empirical forces like a thunder cloud preparing to release nourishing rain, those who know empiricism as a failure, and as the mother of all failures, would lament, if we only could have had it all to do again, only better, with Milton Friedman for a time at the helm, and were we able to get to him before he began on such a renewed ship of state to set it all straight the second time 'round, we could certainly convince this noble mind, it would be far better not to do it at all, than to set the processes of empiricism loose again to run the course of all this mischief he so clearly saw at work.

It was a noble craftsman's role for Milton Friedman. Today and everyday now, he will surely be missed, as it is always more difficult these days to find good and competent help.

Don Robertson, The American Philosopher
Limestone, Maine

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Here's another piece, that asks, what if we'd listened to him sooner:

A thought experiment: What if Milton Friedman, and other classical liberal economists, had been as widely read and as highly regarded in 1947 as were Marx and Lenin, Laski and the Webbs? What if every newly liberated nation had, in 1947, created institutions similar to those of Hong Kong or Mart Laar’s Estonia?

If this had happened, there might well be no poverty on earth today. The institutions of economic freedom, which we are today so laboriously working to create in the aftermath of fifty years of cultural and institutional destruction caused by Marxism and socialism, could have been developed from the colonial institutions re-structured by indigenous leaders if schooled in classical liberal principles. A unique opportunity to create a better world was lost because classical liberal ideas were despised at the time.

El Presidente writes:

I too am a fan. I respect and admire his faithfulness to his ideals. I disagree at times with the time horizon that informs their application in his writings but I nonetheless see the logic that only an idiot could miss given his clarity of thought and artful translation of his genius. I don't know that I would be as inclined as others to disparage Keynes as his adversary or to dissuade people from entertaining the tenets of empiricism. In my mind, what is true of policy application of Friedman's ideas is certainly as true of applications of Keynes’. Given the luxury of hindsight, balancing their ideas helps us to appreciate the long-run liberty approach of Friedman without ignoring or trivializing the short-run social equity and economic efficiency of labor and income distribution that Keynes’ helped us to envision. I for one, feel blessed as a government employee (public servant sounds a little lofty) working in the field of economic development to be able to consult the genius of each man, and each in the company of the other. Friedman will be missed. His ideas will be treasured. Capitalism and Freedom was among the first two books to spark my interest in the dismal science. He honored his discipline greatly by engaging those who would otherwise have looked elsewhere for reason.

PJens writes:

What a wonderful essay! I read in Forbes magazine, Nov 27, 2006 page 27 that starting in January 07, Medicare Medical Savings Accounts MMSAs will be available. Arnold, any chance of getting you to blog on this?

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