Steve Chapman

When I read his 1962 book, "Capitalism and Freedom," while in high school, I was a bit shocked by its boldness in making the case for economic freedom and government restraint. Among its proposals: unilaterally abolish trade barriers, replace the draft with an all-volunteer military, provide school vouchers to parents, stop trying to use fiscal policy to manage the economy, scrap occupational licensing and more.

A few years ago, a young woman working as a temp in my department had little to do and asked if she could borrow a book. After inspecting my shelves, she took "Capitalism and Freedom." On returning it, she said, "It was good, but a lot of it seems obvious."

Friedman's ideas, however, were about as obvious as string theory when the book came out. His vision seems self-evident only because so much of it was vindicated by events. What is hard to recapture now is how lonely and embattled he was for much of his career. His success stemmed not just from intellectual acumen but from a stout willingness to be an outcast if need be.

His contributions as an economist obscure something else that was central to Friedman: promoting individual freedom. Although he is often portrayed as a conservative, he took positions that made many Republicans blanch. He advocated legalizing illicit drugs, urged the abolition of farm subsidies, favored liberal immigration policies and thought the GOP Congress needed a Democratic president to keep it in check.

He didn't like big government crusading abroad any more than at home. Last summer he told The Wall Street Journal the Iraq war "was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America should be involved in aggression." But now that we are in Iraq, he continued, "it seems to me very important that we make a success of it."

There's a pair of positions guaranteed to annoy just about everyone. Even in his 90s, Friedman followed his principles wherever they led. Much of the world did the same.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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