Milton Friedman Day

John Stossel
Posted: Jan 24, 2007 12:01 AM
Milton Friedman Day

Monday is Milton Friedman Day.

At 2 p.m. a memorial service will be held at the University of Chicago, where Friedman taught for so many years.

In New York City I'll join a Manhattan Institute seminar to celebrate the man The Economist called "the most influential economist of the second half of the 20th Century ... possibly of all of it."

That magazine will host a web discussion on Friedman's contributions to economics beginning tomorrow and going through Monday.

A "Day of National Debate" about Friedman's work will be held at universities, and free-market think tanks throughout America will hold events.

There will even be a "Challenge the Status Quo" video contest in honor of Friedman on YouTube.

Finally, on Monday evening, PBS will premier a documentary about Friedman titled "The Power of Choice," produced by Free to Choose Media.

It's a fitting tribute to a man who did more than anyone to remind the world that individual freedom matters.

Friedman won the Nobel Prize in 1976 for his technical work in consumption analysis and monetary theory. But his real impact came through his popular writings in books and magazines. The consummate public intellectual -- clear, concise, and congenial -- Friedman taught millions worldwide about the virtues of the free market and individual liberty. When communism fell in the Soviet bloc, a new generation of Friedman-inspired activists and intellectuals were ready to implement his message of less government and more freedom.

As you'll see in the documentary, Friedman was the furthest thing from a stuffy academic. With his impish smile and sparking eyes, he lucidly debunked the once-reigning idea that government regulators know best.

His interests were not narrowly focused on economics. He pointed out the folly of the government's so-called "war on drugs." His ideas helped create the school-voucher movement. And when the Vietnam war raged in the 1960s and early 1970s, no one argued more eloquently for ending the draft, and he helped bring about the all-volunteer army.

But you probably know all that. You may be less aware of how brilliantly Milton Friedman made the case for freedom in plain English. Here are samples from Reason magazine


"The case for free enterprise, for competition, is that it's the only system that will keep the capitalists from having too much power. ... The virtue of free enterprise capitalism is that it sets one businessman against another, and it's a most effective device for control."

"[S]tate laws requiring people who ride motorcycles to wear helmets ... is the best litmus paper to distinguish true believers in individualism ... because the person riding the motorcycle is risking only his own life. He may be a fool to drive that motorcycle without a helmet, but part of freedom ... is the freedom to be a fool."

"Many people complain about government waste, but I welcome it. ... [W]aste brings home to the public at large the fact that government is not an efficient and effective instrument for achieving its objectives. One of the great causes for hope is a growing disillusionment with the idea that government is the all-wise, all-powerful big brother who can solve every problem that comes along."

"I want [education] vouchers to be ... available to everyone. They should contain few or no restrictions on how they can be used. We need a system in which the government says to every parent: 'Here is a piece of paper you can use for the education purposes of your child. It will cover the full cost per student at a government school. It is worth X dollars toward the cost of educational services that you purchase from parochial schools, private for-profit schools, private nonprofit schools, or other purveyors of educational services. You may add from your own funds to the voucher if you wish and can afford to.'

"Empowering parents would generate a competitive education market, which would lead to a burst of innovation and improvement, as competition has done in so many other areas. There's nothing that would do so much to avoid the danger of a two-tiered society, of a class-based society ... "

The cause of liberty will miss Milton Friedman.