Stephen Moore in The Wall Street Journal writes that Friedman "was the economist who saved capitalism by dismembering the ideas of central planning when most of academia was mesmerized by the creed of government as savior." He was a tireless opponent of the state. In books and columns -- most notably Newsweek in its heyday -- he argued against state planning and for free markets.
I recall a longstanding debate between Milton and John Kenneth Galbraith, who at the time was billed as an economist but now is usually recognized as an elegant journalist. Galbraith mouthed the current wisdom. There was no free market, Galbraith claimed. He could not see it. He could not touch it. Today only an illiterate believes this. Free markets are observed allocating resources all over the world, even in India (until recently socialist), even in China (until recently communist). Only in places like the Obama White House is the state seen as a worthy replacement for markets.
Friedman argued abstruse economic questions and more general questions, for instance, the role of the state and the rule of law. He also had policies that he had worked out: low taxes, alternatives to Social Security, school vouchers, the volunteer military, and legalization of drugs. Taking him on was always hazardous. He was a cheerful and courteous advocate but deadly in debate. On the voluntary military, his rejoinder to those who claimed he favored "mercenaries" was that they apparently favored "slaves." I disagreed with him on the voluntary military and legalized drugs. Of course, history has proved him right on the military. Might it prove him right on drugs?
Moore ends his piece in the Journal by quoting Harvard's Andrei Shleifer as describing the period from 1980 to 2005 as "The Age of Milton Friedman." During it we "witnessed remarkable progress of mankind. As the world embraced free-market policies, living standards rose sharply while life expectancy, educational attainment, and democracy improved and absolute poverty declined." I suppose a question worth asking in this election year is, are we finished with such progress, or shall we begin "The Age of Milton Friedman" anew?
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