Milton Friedman, the great economist, was one of a handful of intellectuals whose work forms the foundation for the modern Conservative movement. He has been dead since 2006, but this week would be his centennial. He lived a long and prodigious life. In his lifetime, he was viewed as an odious figure by the Liberal brethren, a close advisor to dictators, an advocate of child labor, a favorite of fat cats.
Yet with the passage of time, his repute as the prophet of an age of unsurpassed prosperity for just about everyone has only spread. Thus, the Liberals have adopted a different tack. They adduce certain of his ideas to prove how dangerously cranky contemporary conservatives are. Even Milton Friedman did not go as far as Mitt Romney and the Tea Partiers, we are told.
"How Conservatives Misread and Misuse Milton Friedman," reads a recent headline in The Washington Post above a piece by Nicholas Wapshott, which seems to argue that in Friedman's great work "A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960," written with Anna Schwartz, Friedman was arguing for inflating the American economy out of the Depression and presumably out of lesser recessions.
Needless to say, it is a simplification, but it will serve a purpose with some Liberals. It helps to make Mitt Romney out as a harebrained radical for saying things like, "Milton Friedman understood what, frankly, our president, President Obama, I don't think has learned even after three years and hundreds of billion of dollars in federal spending. And that is: Government does not create prosperity. Free markets and free people create prosperity."
Wapshott, a sedulously reportorial former foreign editor of The New York Sun, appears in the unlikely role of what we increasingly see in this era of conservative recrudescence, a Liberal Body Snatcher. The Liberal Body Snatchers ghoulishly wait for a conservative leader to die, and then they alight upon the speechless corpse and attribute to him sensible, prudent, and of course Liberal ideas. Sam Tanenhaus did it with the lifeless body of Bill Buckley. Wapshott apparently does it with Milton Friedman.
A whole gang of Body Snatchers has done it with President Reagan, arguing that he really was not that hawkish after all and never meant to challenge the USSR with force. He was all the while outmaneuvering such warmongers as Caspar Weinberger and Bill Casey and keeping things civilized for the likes of the editorial board of The New York Times and other Liberals who were so responsible for the peaceful conclusion of the Cold War. The Liberal Body Snatcher disfigures history.