Bloomberg Money recently printed an article extolling the “helicopter money” theory from a man many consider to be the greatest economist in the 20th century — Milton Friedman. Friedman was a brilliant defender of the free market — or capitalism.
Milton Friedman was the son of poor, immigrant parents. His father died when he was 15, forcing him to creatively supplement a scholarship to Rutgers University. Capitalizing on the tradition that all freshmen must wear green ties, he and a friend went door to door, selling them in the dormitory. There he learned early the benefits of a free market — offering products at a lower, competitive price while making a profit.
After graduating from Rutgers, Friedman earned his Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago and later his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He married his college sweetheart and went on to teach at Columbia, Cambridge, the University of Chicago and the Hoover Institution.
Before Friedman rose to prominence, the preeminent economist of the 20th century was Englishman John Maynard Keynes, who advocated for more government intervention in the economy. Friedman however, was a rare breed and didn’t think inside the box. He was thrilled in 1947 to receive an invitation from the Nobel Prize winner Friedrich von Hayek to meet in Sweden with some of the brightest minds in the world. Decades later, in 1976, Friedman himself was awarded the Nobel Prize in economic sciences.
Friedman was unafraid and unashamed in the goodness and rightness of capitalism. He often engaged detractors on college campuses, stating that “a society that aims for equality before liberty will end up with neither equality nor liberty.” In 1979, he sat down for an epic interview with Phil Donahue, addressing the talk show host’s concerns about capitalism.
Today, Friedman would no doubt be labeled an uncaring, hateful racist for his straightforward thinking. For example, when asked at a college forum what role the government plays in helping the poor, he spoke decisively on the matter:
“First of all, the government doesn’t have any responsibility. People have responsibility. This building doesn’t have responsibility. You and I have responsibility. People have responsibility,” Friedman said. “How can we as people exercise our responsibility to our fellow man most effectively? That’s the problem. So far as poverty is concerned, there has never in history been a more effective machine for eliminating poverty than the free enterprise system and the free market.”
Friedman’s ideas would eventually become hugely influential in the thinking of Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, President Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and later, Ron and Rand Paul.
Milton Friedman died in 2006, at the age of 94, silencing a voice that strongly defended the virtues of capitalism and a free market system that has richly blessed as the United States.