Happy Birthday Milton Friedman: The Man Who Saved Capitalism

Today marks the 100th anniversary of economist Milton Friedman's birth and the Wall Street Journal - where Friedman penned some of his wisest columns - has an excellent retrospective on the Nobel laureate's work by Stephen Moore:

In the 1960s, Friedman famously explained that "there's no such thing as a free lunch." If the government spends a dollar, that dollar has to come from producers and workers in the private economy. There is no magical "multiplier effect" by taking from productive Peter and giving to unproductive Paul. As obvious as that insight seems, it keeps being put to the test. Obamanomics may be the most expensive failed experiment in free-lunch economics in American history.

Equally illogical is the superstition that government can create prosperity by having Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke print more dollars. In the very short term, Friedman proved, excess money fools people with an illusion of prosperity. But the market quickly catches on, and there is no boost in output, just higher prices.

Next to Ronald Reagan, in the second half of the 20th century there was no more influential voice for economic freedom world-wide than Milton Friedman. Small in stature but a giant intellect, he was the economist who saved capitalism by dismembering the ideas of central planning when most of academia was mesmerized by the creed of government as savior.

Friedman was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for 1976-at a time when almost all the previous prizes had gone to socialists. This marked the first sign of the intellectual comeback of free-market economics since the 1930s, when John Maynard Keynes hijacked the profession. Friedman's 1971 book "A Monetary History of the United States," written with Anna Schwartz (who died on June 21), was a masterpiece and changed the way we think about the role of money.

I still watch the videotape of "Free to Choose," Friedman's outstanding public television documentary based on his book which is also a treat. It reminds us the sheer power of ideas and the notion that when these ideas are communicated clearly and without apology, they can change the world.

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