Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman is Dead

Milton Friedman died in San Francisco today. He was 94 years old. To say he was an economist would be every bit as incomplete as it would be to say he was a genius. Even to mention that he won a Nobel prize (back before they started handing them out to buffoons like Arafat and Carter) is in adequate.

Milton Friedman was blessed not only with brilliance, but also with the ability to convey his understanding to others. Other winners of the Nobel prize for economics have clearly been geniuses. John Nash, about whom the film A Beautiful Mind was made, is a prime example. What Nash lacked though, was the ability to explain himself to all but those few who came close to his level of understanding. (That may be why decades passed between the completion of Nash's work and its being awarded the prize.) Friedman though, was different. He made the complex simple, and in so doing, changed my life.

I was the last person to expect that economics would engage my interest, let alone capture my imagination. In fact, had I not been forced to read the book Friedman wrote with his wife Rose, I probably would never have given it a second thought. I'm not very good at math, after all, and besides - it's economics, right?

As I said though, I was forced to read Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman, and I've never been the same since. That magnificent little book not only explains, but also makes interesting, the virtue of a free market economy, and answers all the questions about why mankind, in all its wisdom, hasn't been able to come up with anything better.

As Friedman explained in Free to Choose and Capitalism and Freedom free markets harness human nature - the desire to prosper, and provide for one's family - in order to meet the countless needs of millions of consumers. Other systems try to meet those same needs through various programs of government direction and control, without appealing to man's desire to improve his station. Because they must strain against human nature to accomplish their goals, these other, more "altruistic" systems, must coerce people to participate in their contrived markets. This coercion ultimately becomes and end in itself.

Friedman freely admitted the limitations of the free market, but he proved that the only thing less efficient and less fair is everything else.

Rest in peace, Dr. Friedman. And thanks.

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