Who Was Milton Friedman?
Who Was Milton Friedman?
There have been countless economists whose contributions to how we think about the market have had a huge impact on not just academia, but real people’s lives. One economist’s impact on public policy and economic thought have made him a giant in the free market movement, perhaps more than any other; Milton Friedman, professor, presidential advisor, author, PBS personality, Medal of Freedom recipient, and Nobel Prize winner.
Born to Jewish Hungarian immigrants in 1912 Brooklyn, New York, Friedman had a warm but financially unstable childhood. At a mere 16 years old, he graduated from his local high school and was awarded an academic scholarship to attend Rutgers University – the first in his family to attend college. He was 20 years old. The following year he earned his MA, also on scholarship, from the University of Chicago. There he met his future wife, fellow economist Rose Director. A long and prestigious academic career followed, including a fellowship at Columbia University; research and teaching at the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin-Madison; a visiting fellowship at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge; a PhD from Columbia; and a stint in Columbia’s Division of War Research for the duration of WWII.
But Friedman’s impact was not limited to the universities. Though he’d made great strides in economic thought, research, and instruction as a professor, when he retired from the University of Chicago in 1977, his influence in the world was only beginning. That year, the professor was approached by a television producer. Milton and Rose Friedman got to work, and three years later their 10-part series, Free to Choose aired on PBS.
In Free to Choose, Friedman explains how free market policies work; what they are and how they help people. Using real-world examples from around the world, he demonstrates how free markets liberate, and controlled markets stifle. A companion book, co-authored by Rose Friedman, was also released. It was the bestselling nonfiction book of 1980. It’s difficult to overestimate the impact of Free to Choose, as its popularity didn’t end in the 1980’s. Few programs have done so much to educate everyday people about free market principles, and it continues to do so today. You can even watch Free to Choose for free on YouTube.
1980 was a busy year for Friedman, as it was also the year he advised Ronald Reagan in his presidential campaign. His service to President Reagan continued for the entirety of the administration. As advisor to the president, he continued to advocate for minimal government interference in the market (an idea known as laissez-faire capitalism).
He continued his free-market advocacy in the public square, publishing essays and giving lectures across the world.
He has been hailed as the 20th century’s foremost advocate for free market policies. Even those who’ve never heard of Milton Friedman directly have probably been influenced by his work; if you’ve ever heard of I Pencil, by Leonard E Read, you can probably thank Friedman, who drew his inspiration from Read in a now-famous segment of Free to Choose.
If you want to dive into Friedman’s work, start with Free to Choose on YouTube. It’s a great overview of our favorite topic here at Gratefully Helena – the free market, and the good it does in the world.
Written by Becca Weigel for Gratefully Helena