David R. Henderson  

Friday Night Video: Why No Milton Friedman Today

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As many readers of this blog probably know, the Mercatus Center had a panel in September on why there is no Milton Friedman today. I enjoyed all the presentations. The one I enjoyed most was David Colander's.

Professor Colander's explanation--these are my words, not his--is that it's very hard for there to be another Milton Friedman when the top Ph.D. programs in the country systematically exclude people whose main passion is the economics of public policy. "The profession," says Colander, "does not value the skills that Milton Friedman had." The math filter is so fine that a very large percent of those who really want to do economics don't make it or don't bother. I'm not saying Friedman couldn't have made it. He was, after all, a math major. But if you limit the pool of possible Milton Friedmans to 10 percent or less of the size it would otherwise be, you have less chance of getting an outlier like Milton.


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CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy



COMMENTS (12 to date)
Jonathan Bydlak writes:

David Colander was actually my freshman year Econ 101 professor when he was visiting. He's a great guy and one of the people most responsible for my love of economics. He always took time to walk and chat with me after class, and he even gave me an acknowledgement in his textbook for some suggestion I had made (though I couldn't tell you now what it was!)

[broken url fixed--Econlib Ed.]

Justin Rietz writes:

I'm curious: what was Friedman's position (if any) on the growing abstract math component of economics?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Jonathan Bydlak,
Thanks for that story.
@Justin Rietz,
I'm pretty sure he was critical, but as I think about it, I can't think of a cite or of a particular time I heard or read him saying that.

Brad writes:

I read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about Don Boudreaux's econ class at GMU. If I recall, Don teaches the entire class (mirco) sans math. Using logic and words to teach micro principles instead of mathematical symbols will go a long way with many people.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Brad,
I use almost no math except for basic algebra: computing elasticities, computing deadweight loss of tax rates, etc.

Joe Cushing writes:

It's also worth pointing out that Milton was a public figure. All of the leading public figures who speak on economics and freedom are anarchists. Milton was a statist. So maybe the reason there are no Miltons is because the philosophy has moved beyond public policy in favor of eliminating public policy. Even Tom woods has moved on now. Most of what economists do is talk about things governments should not do. You don't need to be an economist to understand that the state should just not do anything. I suspect there would be very few economists in a free society where the state doesn't exist to constantly mess with the economy. What would you do in your work in such a society?

Steve writes:

Milton Friedman originally set out to be an actuary. I believe he wound up in grad school for statistics and his adviser thought he could rise to the top of that field as well. So, Friedman was no slouch in math (and for more reasons than simply that he was a math major).

David R. Henderson writes:

@Joe Cushing,
All of the leading public figures who speak on economics and freedom are anarchists. Milton was a statist.
You are incredibly disconnected from reality.

Nicky J writes:

Would the Milton Friedman of today have a twitter account? And would that twitter account be him engaging the world rather than some self-promoting bot or ghost writer?

I would like to think so.

Joe Cushing writes:

Milton Friedman was a minarchist who lectured on how to make the state more efficient. Today, the movement has figured out that the largest state in the history of civilization was created by first creating the smallest one. This is why public figures in the movement, like Tucker, Woods, and Molyneux (with a collective audience in the millions) all advocate for the end of the state and not just the minimization of it. They all talk of economics but the conversation has moved on to the morality of taking money from people at the point of a gun and pretending to spend it on their behalf. Milton's role in this was to get the state to be more effective at being the state; not getting the state out of people's lives. Even ending the draft, possibly his biggest achievement, served to also end the anti-war movement, making the war part of the state larger.

Joe Cushing writes:

It's also worth pointing out that Milton's own son and grandson have moved beyond minarchism. Just to rephrase what I said above: Milton was an advocate for freedom through the lessons learned in economics. The movement has moved beyond economics because much of econ is tied up in state policy. He was in inspiration for those looking for solutions and is likely part of the seeds of the current anarchy movement.

Ted Levy writes:

Wow. Two more detailed comments by Joe Cushing and yet Dr. Henderson's earlier one line response still holds up perfectly...

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