Sunday, November 19, 2006

If you're so smart...

...what took you so long to appreciate Milton Friedman, says Michael Strong:

Milton Friedman, whose life I fondly commemorate with this article, was probably responsible for more human happiness and well-being than any other individual in the 20th century. And yet his tireless efforts on behalf of humanity were, for much of his life, greeted with taunts, ridicule, and abuse.


After WW II, when many dozens of former colonies became independent nations, there was a unique opportunity to create new institutions. In almost every case, the newly liberated colonies implemented the policies that their western educated leaders had learned at western universities. These policies, driven by theories propounded by western academic intellectuals, consisted of either Marxist communism or Fabian socialism. Both of these policy paths are unambiguous failures, the first leading to poverty and mass death in nations such as China and Cambodia, the second leading merely to never-ending poverty, as in India prior to the 1980s.

A thought experiment: What if Milton Friedman, and other classical liberal economists, had been as widely read and as highly regarded in 1947 as were Marx and Lenin, Laski and the Webbs? What if every newly liberated nation had, in 1947, created institutions similar to those of Hong Kong or Mart Laar’s Estonia?

If this had happened, there might well be no poverty on earth today. The institutions of economic freedom, which we are today so laboriously working to create in the aftermath of fifty years of cultural and institutional destruction caused by Marxism and socialism, could have been developed from the colonial institutions re-structured by indigenous leaders if schooled in classical liberal principles. A unique opportunity to create a better world was lost because classical liberal ideas were despised at the time.

Better late than never, countries such as India, China have seen the light, and are prospering. Yet there are still those who criticize Friedman for taking his ideas to places where they needed to be heard:

A few years ago I had the opportunity to have dinner with Milton and Rose. I asked him if the attacks had been difficult to take. He cheerfully denied that they had bothered him, stating that when he knew what the truth was it didn’t bother him if people made absurd claims against him. But Rose was not so forgiving; she fully recognized how profound the injustice to him had been, and her eyes gleamed and her nostrils flared at the memories.

Milton is now in the heavenly firmament of the greatest thinkers in world history. It is to Rose that I offer this vindication of Milton, to alleviate however insignificantly the loss of a man who was surely among the greatest husbands in history, as well as one of the greatest human beings.

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