Milton Friedman: A Champion of Free Enterprise
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Today would have been Milton Friedman’s 100th birthday. Economists aren’t usually well-known figures. Often they stay within universities teaching and writing, but Friedman couldn’t confine himself to seminars and academic journals—although he thrived in those settings, winning the Nobel Prize in 1976.
After making his name with path-breaking scholarship on monetary policy and consumer behavior, in the second half of the 20th Century, he led the charge to defend free enterprise through newspaper columns, popular books, television appearances, and advising political leaders. Friedman combined economic scholarship at the highest level with the ability to make our economic system understandable to anyone.
Professor Dani Rodrik of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government wrote about how Friedman championed entrepreneurs and the free enterprise system during a dark time:
At a time when skepticism about markets ran rampant, Friedman explained in clear, accessible language that private enterprise is the foundation of economic prosperity. All successful economies are built on thrift, hard work, and individual initiative. He railed against government regulations that encumber entrepreneurship and restrict markets. What Adam Smith was to the eighteenth century, Milton Friedman was to the twentieth.
As Friedman’s landmark television series “Free to Choose” was being broadcast in 1980, the world economy stood in the throes of a singular transformation. Inspired by Friedman’s ideas, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and many other government leaders began to dismantle the government restrictions and regulations that had been built up over the preceding decades.
George Mason University economics professor, Bryan Caplan notes Friedman’s ability to cut to the core of economics, avoiding excess complication: “Friedman makes his points as simply, clearly, and bluntly as possible. He never rambles on. He never hides behind academic jargon.”
A great illustration of this is Friedman telling the story of how a simple pencil can only be made through the interactions of thousands of people—workers, miners, loggers, entreprenuers, most of who will never see, talk, or meet each other:
How did these people come together to create a pencil? “It was the magic of the price system,” said Friedman.
In one of his most popular books, Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman clearly explained the intertwining of economic and political freedom. Economic freedom gives us the resources to express our political freedom, while political freedom allows the public to express itself and defend the right to peacefully truck, barter, and trade. Both are needed for a free society.
Few told the free enterprise story better. The U.S. and the world is better off because of Friedman’s defense of entrepreneurship and trade.