There’s no way to appreciate fully the contributions of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman (1912-2006), who would have turned 99 years old this weekend, to the growth of libertarian ideas and a free society.
This is the man, after all, who introduced the concept of school vouchers, documented the role of government monopolies on money in creating inflation, provided the intellectual arguments that ended the military draft in America, co-founded the Mont Pelerin Society, and so much more. In popular books such as Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose, written with his wife and longtime collaborator Rose, he masterfully drew a through-line between economic freedom and political and cultural freedom.
Yet his ultimate contribution to freedom and liberty is found less in any of the specific argument he made and more in the ways he made them. Friedman provided an all-too-rare example of a public intellectual who was scrupulously honest, forthright, and fair in every debate he entered. Whether he was duking it out with fellow Nobel Prize winners and other high-profile economists or making the case for the morality of capitalism with TV hosts such as Phil Donahue and angry students, he always argued in good faith, admitted when he was wrong, and enlarged the circle of debate.
Long after some of his technical points and social insights have been superseded, that commitment to relentless inquiry and search for truth wherever it takes us will survive.
Milton Friedman gave us something much better than revealed truth: He showed us the process by which we might continue to indefinitely learn about our world and the human condition. In this sense, the Friedman Century is far from over; indeed, it’s just getting started.