Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman RIP

Samuel Brittain in the Financial Times has a full obituary of Milton Friedman - one of the few economists who could justifiably be called a household name (perhaps the only, following the death of JK Galbraith earlier this year.

I've not read a great deal of Friedman, perhaps in large part because I've been put off him by some of his most ardent (and/or Thatcherite) advocates or associates. But by Brittain's account, there was far more to him than the public image suggested:
Those who wanted to write him off as a right-wing Republican were disabused by the variety of radical causes he championed. I was not impressed in my own student years by the claims to a belief in personal freedom of the pro-market British economists whom I first encountered. It was not until I came across Friedman, and learned that he had spent more time in lobbying against the US “draft” than on any other policy issue, that I began to take seriously the wider philosophic protestations of the pro-market economists.
Friedman's iconoclasm endured. He regarded the anti-drugs laws as virtually a government subsidy for organised crime. Even in the financial sphere, he espoused causes such as indexed contracts and taxes as a way of mitigating the harm done by inflation which did not endear him to natural conservatives.
Friedman's direct influence on Margaret Thatcher was much less than often supposed. Although they got on together at a private dinner before the 1979 election, the two did not know each other well and Friedman is only mentioned en passant in the former prime minister's memoirs. Her own inspiration, as she relates, came from Hayek[...] On a broader front, however, without Friedman's writings and television expositions, the Thatcher government would not have enjoyed even that very limited degree of approval that it did among a minority of the intellectual elite.



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