The first significant article I ever published, in the summer of 1971, was about Milton Friedman. And he helped me to get it right.
Since he died, there have been numerous eloquent statements by Bruce Bartlett, David Boaz and others about Professor Friedman's academic accomplishments and his enormous influence over public policy at home and abroad. Perhaps this personal reminiscence may offer a different insight into what kind of man he was.
In 1971, I was managing the main floor at the J.C. Penney store in downtown Sacramento, Calif., while going to grad school at night. Murray Rothbard (normally a very pleasant fellow) published a harsh critique of Milton's proposed reforms in The Individualist. Friedman was called a "statist," for example, because he advocated a flat-rate tax rather than abolition of all taxes, school vouchers rather than the abolition of public schooling and so on.
I wrote a long reply unraveling Rothbard's article. Then I sent a copy to Milton Friedman on April 23. He soon sent it back covered with his handwritten comments on the letter itself and every page of my manuscript. He mentioned that his son David (who penned his own classic, "Machinery of Freedom," that same year) had also dashed off a reply.
"However, you, he and I all believe in competition, so do let me encourage you to revise yours and send it in with no veto or approval from me." And he responded to my plea for guidance with, "You do not need it." My revised comments were published in Reason magazine that July, as "The Purge of Chicago Economists." Although Reason had a circulation of about 630 at the time, that article launched an enduring friendship with David R. Henderson, now a frequent Wall Street Journal contributor and co-author of "Making Great Decisions."
Encouraged by getting published, and by Friedman's note, I sent "The Case Against Wage and Price Controls" to National Review a few weeks before Nixon imposed a wage-price freeze. That cover story was the main reason William F. Buckley hired me, with the approval of James Burnham and (a National Review editor later told me) Milton Friedman.
I cannot imagine anyone as famous and busy as Milton Friedman was in 1971 bothering to pen such a detailed and encouraging response to some unknown young man from J.C. Penney. He was writing a regular column for Newsweek, and 1971 was the year his monumental "Monetary History of the United States" appeared, co-authored by Anna Schwartz (who still goes to work in New York City every day, at 91, compiling an opus on foreign exchange intervention).