Milton Friedman, who received the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his research on consumption analysis, monetary history and theory, and the complexity of stabilization policy, came up as a relevant figure in the past weeks. He is the father of the “laissez faire” libertarian mindset that challenges what he regards as “naive Keynesian” theory. Keynes was by no means a leftist and some would even say he came to save capitalism with his theory that free markets could not be counted on to provide full employment, later creating new rationale for large-scale government intervention in the economy.
Friedman is remembered by his passionate belief that people should be truly free to choose their course without the heavy hand of government interference, he argued that this freedom would be the surest way forward to create opportunity and rising prosperity for all.
In his prime he was an advisor to the Republican president Ronald Reagan, and conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. His views also align with Adam Smith’s invisible hand.
In his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman advocated policies such as a volunteer military, freely floating exchange rates, abolition of medical licenses, a negative income tax, and school vouchers.
It is clear that the majority of the world judges its political leaders on what is easiest and most available to them – character. Although sometimes a judgment of character can say a lot about someone’s future actions, this way of thinking can blind people from seeing the bigger picture. For example, although Friedman identified as a republican, he was also a supporter of gay rights.
Policy choices will ultimately affect the average American exponentially more than a candidate’s personal history, likes, and dislikes.
Although most economics textbooks focus primarily on Keynesian economics, there is a lot than can be learned from Friedman’s way of thinking– whether it works or doesn’t work in all cases. Some of Friedman’s most famous words; “Governments never learn” may be especially relevant today.