Thomas Sowell

Yet no one did more to dismantle both Keynesian economics and liberal welfare-state thinking. As late as the 1950s, those with the prevailing Keynesian orthodoxy were still able to depict Milton Friedman as a fringe figure, clinging to an outmoded way of thinking. But the intellectual power of his ideas, the fortitude with which he persevered, and the ever more apparent failures of Keynesian analyses and policies, began to change all that, even before Professor Friedman was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 1976.

A towering intellect seldom goes together with practical wisdom, or perhaps even common sense. However, Milton Friedman not only excelled in the scholarly journals but also on the television screen, presenting the basics of economics in a way that the general public could understand.

His mini-series "Free to Choose" was a classic that made economic principles clear to all with living examples. His good nature and good humor also came through in a way that attracted and held an audience.

Although Friedrich Hayek launched the first major challenge to the prevailing thinking behind the welfare state and socialism with his 1944 book "The Road to Serfdom," Milton Friedman became the dominant intellectual force among those who turned back the leftward tide in what had seemed to be the wave of the future.

Without Milton Friedman's role in changing the minds of so many Americans, it is hard to imagine how Ronald Reagan could have been elected president.

Nor was Friedman's influence confined to the United States. His ideas reached around the world, not only among economists, but also in political circles which began to understand why left-wing ideas that sounded so good produced results that were so bad.

Milton Friedman rates a 21-gun salute on his birthday. Or perhaps a 90-gun salute would be more appropriate.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate