Friday, November 17, 2006

Milton Friedman, 94, Free-Market Theorist, Dies

Milton Friedman, 94, Free-Market Theorist, Dies - New York Times: "Conservative and liberal colleagues alike viewed Mr. Friedman, a Nobel laureate, as one of the 20th century’s leading economic scholars, on a par with giants like John Maynard Keynes and Paul Samuelson.

Flying the flag of economic conservatism, Mr. Friedman led the postwar challenge to the hallowed theories of Lord Keynes, the British economist who maintained that governments had a duty to help capitalistic economies through periods of recession and to prevent boom times from exploding into high inflation.

In Mr. Friedman’s view, government had the opposite obligation: to keep its hands off the economy, to let the free market do its work. He was a spiritual heir to Adam Smith, the 18th-century founder of the science of economics and proponent of laissez-faire: that government governs best which governs least.

Professor Friedman also fueled the rise of the Chicago School of economics, a conservative group within the department of economics at the University of Chicago. He and his colleagues became a counterforce to their liberal peers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, influencing close to a dozen American winners of the Nobel in economics.

As a libertarian, Mr. Friedman advocated legalizing drugs and generally opposed public education and the state’s power to license doctors, car drivers and others. He was criticized for those views, but he stood by them, arguing that prohibiting, regulating or licensing human behavior either does not work or creates inefficient bureaucracies.

Mr. Friedman attributed his success to “accidents”: the immigration of his teen-age parents from Czechoslovakia, enabling him to be an American and not the citizen of a Soviet-bloc state; the skill of a high-school geometry teacher who showed him a connection between Keats’s “Ode to a Grecian Urn” and the Pythagorean theorem, allowing him to see mathematical beauty; the receipt of a scholarship that enabled him to attend Rutgers and there have Arthur F. Burns and Homer Jones as teachers.

One finding of the book was that the American Medical Association exerted monopolistic pressure on the incomes of doctors; as a result, the authors said, patients were unable to reap the benefits of lower fees from any real price competition among doctors. The A.M.A., after obtaining a galley copy of the book, challenged that conclusion and forced the publisher to delay publication. But the authors did not budge. The book was eventually published, unchanged.

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