Free Enterprise: The Life and Legacy of Milton Friedman
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The late economist Milton Friedman once said, “So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear: There is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.”
Friedman—who would have turned 100 last week—was himself a product of the very system he championed through his life’s work.
Like many great Americans, he came from humble beginnings—born to hardworking immigrants determined to see their children succeed. Friedman showed an early aptitude for learning and pursued studies in math, statistics, and economics. By applying himself and being an innovative thinker and a productive scholar, he was rewarded with academic and professional achievements—including a Nobel Prize.
Friedman did not just thrive in a free enterprise system—he dedicated his life and career to advancing it. Through scholarly work and public service, as well as volumes of books and articles, Friedman forever shifted the way the world thinks about economics and free markets.
One such way was drawing the critical link between economic freedom and political freedom. In Capitalism and Freedom, he argued that a government that doesn’t wield centralized economic power is also less able to coerce or control its citizens. He said, “A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it ... gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”
Friedman didn’t just talk about free enterprise in sweeping, scholarly arguments. He was also known for his ability to present economic principles to the public in simple, concrete terms. He famously explained the power of a free market-based system with the illustration of a pencil. The creation of a pencil is a grand collaboration involving thousands of people, various tools, natural resources, and manufactured elements from across the world—and the free market system is what brought those elements together to efficiently produce an affordable product that people need.
Ultimately, Friedman was one of free enterprise’s greatest storytellers and staunchest advocates. He was born just a few months after the founding of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1912. This year, as we commemorate our centennial and reaffirm our mission to stand up for free enterprise, we will also celebrate the life of a great thinker who lived the American Dream and made free enterprise his legacy.