Milton Friedman: champion of individual freedom

Last night on the way to a debate on gun prohibition (which I had intended to write about this evening) my friend Ralph and I were talking about effective ways to advance pro-freedom policies in a culture dominated by misguided and counter-productive government interventions into peoples lives. I expressed my concern that it was easy to ignore how basic economic principles can guide our activism.

Simply put, we need to create the right incentive structures. Or more simply put – appeal to people’s self-interest. I mentioned to Ralph how eloquently Patri Friedman, Milton Friedman’s grandson, paraphrased his brilliant father, Law Professor David Friedman, author of the fantastic book The Machinary of Freedom: A Guide to Radical Capitalism. Patri was explaining why government services are so poor by viewing governments as a service industry. From there, Patri proposed a way to lower the barrier to entry into the “government services business,” and allow customers to change providers. Just as in any other industry, this will result in a better product.
As I was saying, we soon remarked at our surprise that Milton Friedman was still alive and writing. I had read a feature on him just a few weeks ago, and bookmarked a page of interviews with him.
Little did we know that he had been hospitalized a few days ago. Upon receiving the news via e-mail I got a bit choked up, and continue to do so as I read about his accomplishments, academic and popular influence, sense of humor, and principled commitment to individual liberty and choice. And if the accomplishments of his sons and collaboration with his wife are any indication, Milton Friedman was also successful as a father and husband.

The Cato Institute has honored his life, and Ed Crane’s podcast is worth listening to. My father sent me a link to The New York Times obituary, which I’ve easily republished here thanks to the Google’s wonderful Docs and Spreadsheets. Incidentally, Patri works for Google, and has posted a few fine videos on his blog.

Milton Friedman is a hero of mine. I would consider my life a success to the extent that I can match his level accomplishment, and perhaps more importantly, do so with his characteristic passion, rigor, enthusiasm, and warmth.

* This story about Friedman’s tennis game is also quite nice.

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