WASHINGTON -- The death of Milton Friedman, pre-eminent champion of free markets, free trade and low taxes, has silenced the world's most articulate defender of capitalism and individual freedom.
The Nobel Prize-winning economist's passing leaves a gaping hole in the science of economics on many fronts, but perhaps none more pivotal and troublesome than the continuing battle on behalf of free-market policies that have led to a new wealth of nations.
Friedman's vast academic contributions to monetary policy, controlling inflation and numerous other economic issues are legendary and lasting. But it was his robust and heroic defense of the power of the marketplace here and around the world that will be his most important legacy.
It is hard to think of another economist who wrote and spoke about economic issues with more clarity and intellectual heft than Friedman or with more influence on a global stage.
He helped to promote, nurture and expand the worldwide movement to privatize state-owned enterprises, lower tariffs and other obstacles to the free exchange of goods and services and foreign investment. In the process, he moved many countries away from the socialist, protectionist policies that had kept them locked in a perpetual state of poverty and social decay.
He certainly had a huge impact on Ronald Reagan, who embraced his economic prescriptions for lowering tax rates and free-trade agreements with other nations, which led to Reagan's vision for a North American Free Trade Agreement and to similar trade pacts with other nations. Britain's Margaret Thatcher similarly credited Friedman for her policies to privatize state-funded companies that lifted England out of its economic lethargy.
He advised countries to free their economies from anticompetitive rules and oppressive taxation that prohibited foreign investment, new enterprise, job creation and economic growth. The dramatic economic changes, as seen in Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe, Latin America and throughout the Pacific Rim countries, Southeast Asia and India, were due in large part to his free-market teachings that helped lift global economies to a higher level of freedom and prosperity.
Those policies, however, remain under attack from the forces of statism, socialism and pessimism here and abroad, blaming the world's ills on what the left calls "globalism." In fact, by every economic measure, global economies are growing and people at the lowest end of the income scale are doing better, too.
In a recent study, economist Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute found that "the steadily rising tide of economic development is making everyone better off, big time.