If he were still alive, Milton Friedman would be celebrating his 100th birthday today. I saw him speak a couple times, and even met him once. I was fresh out of college and reading Capitalism and Freedom at the time. He and his wife and co-author Rose were kind enough to sign my copy.
Friedman earned a reputation as a demanding professor, and he deserved it. But he and Rose were both very kind in person. Despite the vast gulf between their accomplishments and mine, they listened carefully to what I had to say and took me seriously. And it was clear they weren’t just doing it to be nice. That’s just how they were. They treated everyone that way.
That basic kindness animated the Friedmans’ political philosophy, as well as how they argued for it. Their critics who haven’t bothered with the ideological Turing test argue that the Friedmans were stooges of the rhetorical one percent; it was actually the bottom one percent that was their main concern.
Even a quick look at the data show that where economies are relatively free, the people are rich. The further a country moves away from free markets, the poorer its people tend to be. When the empirical data are that overwhelming, advocates for the global poor have no choice but to argue for economic and political freedom. It was for them that the Friedmans argued for economic and political freedom, and against the draft and drug prohibition.
In the two-minute clip from an interview with Phil Donahue below (click here if the embed doesn’t work), Friedman makes that point clearly and eloquently. But note that he also does it with a smile, and with humor. Milton Friedman’s ideological friends and foes alike have much to learn from his substance as well as his style. It’s a shame he’s not around to teach us in person, but he left behind an extensive body of work that, for a second-best option, will do quite nicely.