Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Remembering Milton Friedman

He would have been 100 today. One of my favorite Friedman vignettes is his exchange with General Westmoreland in a discussion of the draft. This account is from David Henderson's Friedman's paper on the economists who helped end the draft:

"In his testimony before the commission, Mr. Westmoreland said he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. Mr. Friedman interrupted, "General, would you rather command an army of slaves?" Mr. Westmoreland replied, "I don't like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves." Mr. Friedman then retorted, "I don't like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries. If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher.""

He was fighting against what Kenneth Boulding called "the manpower concept".

Friedman was one of the greatest economists of the twentieth century, and Paul Krugman (in the essay where he referred to him as "a great economist and a great man") reminds us why:

"Keynesianism was a great reformation of economic thought. It was followed, inevitably, by a counter-reformation. A number of economists played important roles in the great revival of classical economics between 1950 and 2000, but none was as influential as Milton Friedman. If Keynes was Luther, Friedman was Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. And like the Jesuits, Friedman’s followers have acted as a sort of disciplined army of the faithful, spearheading a broad, but incomplete, rollback of Keynesian heresy. By the century’s end, classical economics had regained much though by no means all of its former dominion, and Friedman deserves much of the credit.

I don’t want to push the religious analogy too far. Economic theory at least aspires to be science, not theology; it is concerned with earth, not heaven. Keynesian theory initially prevailed because it did a far better job than classical orthodoxy of making sense of the world around us, and Friedman’s critique of Keynes became so influential largely because he correctly identified Keynesianism’s weak points."


  1. Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes served as inspirations to my father intellectually. I suppose it runs in my family.

    Nonetheless, I still have criticisms to make of Milton Friedman. Although Milton Friedman had important points to make about the Neoclassical-Keynesian Synthesis of Paul Samuelson, he wasn't dealing with the economics of Keynes itself.

    It would have made for a good debate.

    If Keynes himself had lived for another two decades and had his mind kept it's sharpness the ravages of older age, the development of economic theory in this century would have been very different. Assuming Keynes's personality didn't change much, I believe that Keynes would have kept his more radical followers (Joan Robinson especially) in line. Monetarism can be seen as a special case of a more general theory. See the following review for more reference.


    I also believe Keynes had made many of the same criticisms that Friedman would make of the Neo-Keynesian synthesis. If you want citations, I believe that you can find some of those criticisms made by Keynes (criticisms that Friedman himself would later make of the Neo-Keynesians, but Keynes had made a couple of decades earlier) in Volume XXVII of the CWJMK.

    In any case, Friedman was still a brilliant scholar, and a brilliant advocate of individual liberty. May he rest in peace.

  2. Sorry Daniel, but Milton Friedman wasn't responsible for ending the draft. And, if he was some heroic figure in life, given the chance to talk to Westmoreland, who was a total dishonest thug,about the military, it wouldn't have been about the draft. And, ironically, it was Westmoreland who was right. Our moral success in the Civil War, WWI, WWII, and Korea is that all four wars were fought with draftees.

    The debacle of Viet Nam would have been many many times worse, had we used mercenaries.

    In the coming years and decades we will, learn, tragically, that Iraq and Afghanistan were amoral wars because they were fought with mercenaries, for how is far more important than what.

    Last, Friedman was no advocate of freedom, he was just Strom Thurmond in lipstick.

    1. Friendly advice to other readers (which I know I don't always follow myself): don't feed the trolls.

    2. Daniel

      You need to realize that a great number of us have lived events about which you know absolutely nothing.

      Big whop if Milton Friedman opposed to draft. Many of us went through the draft, at the same time losing friends to both Vietnam and Canada. We know exactly who ended the draft and why.

      You seem to have put Iraq out of mind, but innocent people continue to die there in terrible numbers. You have no a clue about conflict and its moral components, for you look at the world solely through your eyes.

      You may have rationalized our mercenary army but that doesn't mean that a young man or woman in Iraq, your counterpart has done such. You ought to be concerned a hell of a lot more about what they think. When you least expect it they will likely have their revenge on you and your children for what they see as amoral.

      You refuse to recognize the potentials of asymmetric warfare.

      Because you have no idea what you are writing about you write things that are beyond ...

      And, don't make the mistake of confusing my lack of enthusiasm for the way you and Bush fought the Iraq and Afghanistan war for my thinking that we don't have enemies in this World. To the contrary, I believe that we have more enemies who intend to do us greater harm that you have the capacity to consider. Thus, when you see the blustering of some neo-con you ought to cringe and be super concerned because the Naom Chomiskys are worse.

      You would be far better off considering the wisdom of true leaders, Washington, Lincoln, FDR, and Truman, as opposed to someone whom history will soon forget.

    3. The quote does not advocate killing people. It carries two messages:

      1) The draft is slavery. That is something that needs to be repeated over and over again until the day advocates of restoring the draft are treated like those advocating the repeal of the 13th amendment: with disgust and contempt. Right now, they get published by the newspaper of record (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/10/opinion/lets-draft-our-kids.html) and sometimes are high-ranking military leaders. (http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/07/03/mcchrystal_time_to_bring_back_the_draft) The day publishing such heinous advocacy results in the 24 hours news cycle hounding you until you resign in shame, we can stop repeating that message.

      2) The is nothing wrong with paying people to do things or getting paid to do things. While far less important than the first message, it is also a message that needs to be heard.

      I'm not sure I've ever heard of FDR, Truman, Washington or Lincoln making those points, much less making them with such clarity.

  3. Daniel,
    It wasn’t David Friedman’s paper. It was David Henderson’s paper, that is, my paper.

    1. That was a Freudian slip/mix up/whatever you want to call it. I was actually thinking Henderson this morning... I guess I just had Friedman on the brain too!

      It's corrected now.

      I suggest everyone read David's paper - it 's quite good.

  4. Here, BTW, is Friedman's racism in his own words:

    Is there any difference in principle between the taste that leads a householder to prefer an attractive servant to an ugly one and the taste that leads another to prefer a Negro to a white or a white to a Negro, except that we sympathize and agree with the one taste and may not agree with the other? I do not mean to say that all tastes are equally good. On the contrary, I believe strongly that the color of a man's skin or the religion of his parents is, by itself, no reason to treat him differently; that a man should be judged by what he is and what he does and not by these external characteristics. I deplore what seem to me the prejudice and narrowness of outlook of those whose tastes differ from mine in this respect and I think less of them for it. But in a society based on free discussion, the appropriate recourse is for me to seek to persuade them that their tastes are bad and that they should change their views and their behavior, not to use coercive power to enforce my tastes and my attitudes on others.

    Lets be blunt, MF was ole Strom in lip stick.

    1. I love you Alexander. Only you could hear someone saying "On the contrary, I believe strongly that the color of a man's skin or the religion of his parents is, by itself, no reason to treat him differently; that a man should be judged by what he is and what he does and not by these external characteristics." and conclude that the speaker is racist.

    2. Yes, well, money talks and BS walks, and in the context of opposing civil rights legislation (that would, among other things, level the playing field for minority consumers) such pieties are meaningless BS.

  5. And, to end the night, how about Friedman being as disingenuous as Chomsky.

    When asked about labels of food products, which manufacturers refused to do for 150 years, he refuses to answer,instead complaining that the FDA doesn't permit mfgs. to put information on aspirin labels.

    ROBINSON Obesity is a big problem in this country [FRIEDMAN yes indeed..] But up until recent years it was very tough for a dieter to pick up a package in the grocery store and figure out what the ingredient were, what the carbohydrate content is, the fat calories and so on and so forth. So the government imposes quite modest rules for posting the nutritional values on packages in the grocery store. Now you can either say this has so much fat this has less fat, I'll buy this. Now isn't that a modest and completely acceptable government intervention?

    FRIEDMAN Now let's keep going..and the government also prevents useful information from being passed on. Let me give you this simplest example- aspirin, you know and I know that you're well advised to take an aspirin every other day to reduce the danger of heart attack. But that's not allowed to be stated on an aspirin package.

    Maybe smart, but the total package, nothing but a BS


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