The legendary economist, a champion of liberty

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The 1960s launched Friedman as public intellectual. His book “Capitalism and Freedom” became an instant classic, a libertarian paean to freedom in the midst of America’s growing welfare/warfare state. He broke with political orthodoxy, linking free markets, an end to military conscription, school vouchers and drug legalization.

Friedman became Sen. Barry Goldwater’s chief economic adviser in the latter’s ill-fated 1964 presidential campaign. Friedman also became a prolific popular writer, penning a regular column in Newsweek.

He advised foreign governments — most controversially Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, though Friedman pointedly never endorsed the dictatorship. (He noted that his critics never complained when he similarly visited communist officials in Beijing.) His international stature grew even greater with receipt of the 1976 Nobel Prize in economics.

Friedman retired from Chicago but did not slow down. He joined the Hoover Institution (we competed for use of the copying machine while I was a lowly research assistant at Hoover during the 1978-79 academic year).

Friedman advised President Ronald Reagan and co-wrote, with Rose, “Free to Choose” (also made into a television special) and “The Tyranny of the Status Quo.” Friedman worked with think tanks at home and abroad; the Cato Institute inaugurated the Friedman Prize to honor those who have done much to advance liberty. The Friedmans created a foundation dedicated to promoting educational choice.

Friedman’s family shared his ideological crusade. Rose, his wife of 68 years, was his close collaborator. His son, David, is a leading libertarian economist. Their views come naturally. Relates Mr. Ebenstein: “Once, when the family was traveling across country by train, Milton gave [daughter] Jan and David the choice of a room with berths or the difference in cash between the price of the room and the price of riding in coach. The children chose to sit up in coach for two days.” Market incentives in action.

Though civil and charming, Friedman was joyously combative. He loved to debate, especially when he was in the minority. Observes Mr. Ebenstein: “when he began to enunciate his views, Friedman was largely considered a heretic, a Rasputin, or a numskull, or some combination of all three.”

No longer. He has stamped his imprint on the all-volunteer military, monetary and exchange rate policies and educational and tax reform. Even his critics acknowledge that Friedman has framed much of today’s intellectual debate.

Seldom do people change the world around them for the better. Milton Friedman is one such person. Lanny Ebenstein’s biography reminds us just how much we owe to this exuberant champion of liberty.

Doug Bandow is a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and the author of several books, including “Leviathan Unchained: Washington’s Bipartisan Big Government Consensus” (forthcoming, Xulon Press) and “The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington” (Transaction).

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