Milton Friedman was born on July 31st 1912. He was one of the two most influential economists of the 20th Century, the other being John Maynard Keynes, and he promoted monetarism as an alternative to Keynesian orthodoxy. His economic scholarship was unimpeachable, and won him the award of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1976.
He was no less influential in promoting free market economics as an alternative to the once fashionable mixed economy consensus that prevailed in the post-war era. He did this at a popular, as well as at a scholarly, level, with a series of articles in Newsweek and other popular journals. He was an excellent communicator, able to explain complex ideas in simple, easily understood language. His “Capitalism and Freedom” remains a classic to this day, still relevant, still persuasive.
His TV series, “Free to Choose,” together with the book he co-authored with his wife Rose, were immensely popular, and were hugely influential in gaining popular support for the economics of free enterprise, choice and incentives, and a widespread skepticism of government intervention.
He pioneered many ideas that eventually gained traction, including an end to military conscription in the US, floating exchange rates, and school choice amongst many others. His monetarist views influenced the Federal Reserve’s response to the 2008 financial crisis.
He was a supporter of the Adam Smith Institute and took a keen interest in its work in translating sound economic ideas into viable policy options. He addressed ASI meetings, and regularly chatted with its members at meetings of the Mont Pelerin Society, which he continued to attend until his death in 2006. He went out of his way to help others, to support student groups and to lend his wisdom and advice to free market organizations. He even acted as my referee when I applied to Cambridge, with a hand-written note endorsing me.
He was engaging, personable and likeable, nearly always with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye as he corrected economic nonsense from his opponents. Happy birthday, Milton; we miss you.