David R. Henderson  

The Power of Friedman

Capital Requirements and Bond ... Who Are These People?...

My main New Year's resolution, which I've kept for two days so far, is not to waste time channel surfing but, instead, to watch interesting DVDs. On New Year's Day, I watched the last half hour of the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice, my favorite two minutes of Casablanca (when the German soldiers sing their song and the French sing The Marsellaise and create a beautiful, if unintended, harmony), and the whole of The Power of Choice: The Life and Ideas of Milton Friedman. I was stunned by how good this last was.

I had always enjoyed my roughly twice-a-year short visits with Milton, typically at Hoover, and I missed him. That was my motive for watching the DVD. What I found striking was how accurately the documentary captured not just the man's work, but also his character and personality. Many people who knew him said that he spoke the same way to Presidents and to students. It reminded me of when I was 19 and I dropped him on him at the University of Chicago. Milton gave me good advice about my career, most of which I took. He also, noted his daughter Janet, had a genuine curiosity about people and their lives. Again, I saw that in various meetings with him.

One of the best lines from his economic philosophy, which one of the producers, Bob Chitester, once told me is Bob's favorite line, is delivered well: "The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a good measure of both."

But my absolute favorite moment is when he is awarded the Nobel prize. You might say, "Well, of course," but it's not a given. I'm not a big fan of ceremonies; maybe I should be, but I'm not. What I liked was what happened when a young man who opposed Friedman over his visit to Chile stood up and yelled out, "Down with capitalism. Freedom for Chile" just as the King was about to award the prize to Friedman. I had seen this kind of thing happen at a debate on the draft at Hoover in 1979 and Friedman had deflected it easily and without rancor. But this was his moment and the young protestor had spoiled the moment. What was striking was the look of pure anger in Milton's eyes as he looked out at the young man. I had never seen that look before and, in its purity, it was beautiful. Then Professor Lundberg, the representative of the Nobel Economics Committee, brought him back with his statement, "I apologize for that--but it could have been worse." The audience laughed--and so did Milton. He was back.

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CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy

COMMENTS (12 to date)
dearieme writes:

Why only "the last half hour of" the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice?

David R. Henderson writes:

Dearieme asks, "Why only "the last half hour of" the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice?"

Because it was on TV the night before and I couldn't make myself stay up until midnight to finish it. Have you seen it? It's wonderful.

Dan Hill writes:

The Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice is not a bad attempt within the constraints of movie length (two hours), but you really need to watch the BBC six hour mini-series version with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy; it's an order of magnitude better.

The Dirty Mac writes:

Its unfortunate that Friedman's ideas came under attack almost the very minute he was no longer here to defend himself.

Bill Mill writes:

I reflected today that it's not yet possible to have a discussion in non-economic company about Mr. Friedman. He's a signal instead of a person to many people, and they feel able to discuss him without ever having read what he wrote.

It's a damn shame.

Justin Ross writes:

Following "The Dirty Mac's" point, I take it as a compliment to Friedman's undeniable talent for debate that his attackers waited until almost the very minute he left to begin their smear campaign.

JAG writes:

I was surfing and happened upon this website ( referred from stephenhicks.org) and this quote caught my curiosity.

"The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a good measure of both."

No, I haven't read Friedman, but isn't one of the biggest issues in American culture the inequalities in the U.S. economy, that is the widening gap between the well-to-do and the blue-collar workers. Literally class separation. I can understand this statement in reference to communism or facism-a lack of freedom is strifling both Russia and China presently, but, in our society, isn't freedom and equality tantamount in a growing economy as well as in a society that evolves for the good of humankind?

HibiscusMonkey writes:

I think he meant the real kind of inequality, not the gap between five houses and one, or Red Lobster and a posh inner-city restaurant.

I used to think there was "class separation" in America. Then I saw more of the world and began to understand what class separation actually looks like.

scineram writes:

He should have said: I agree with the latter.

dearieme writes:

"Have you seen it?" We first saw a DVD with the American ending, and just a few days ago saw it on the telly with the British ending. The latter was better theatre. It is a good film, but the Beeb version with Ehle and Firth was superb - except perhaps for an overacted Mrs Bennett. Mind you, I like the film version's suggestion that part of Darcy's problem was simple shyness.

johnleemk writes:

I just finished reading Capitalism and Freedom yesterday, and one thing that struck me is that - a couple of arguable moral points about liberty aside - most of Friedman's recommendations are really very sound and hardly radical. Friedman takes a lot of government activity in the economy (mandatory health inspections of restaurants, for instance) for granted as desirable, and gives government a relatively wide berth compared to the strain of libertarianism preached by people such as Ron Paul or the modern Libertarian Party.

I thought the most interesting part of the book was Friedman's acknowledgment that we can't abolish the corporate tax unless we start attributing corporate income to individuals, and forcing them to report it on their individual tax returns. I thought that was a very sound idea, and I'm a bit surprised I haven't heard more references to it in various debates about taxation.

Snark writes:

I'm not sure the foregoing comments describe the type of choice Mr. Friedman had in mind.

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