- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

With the passing of Milton Friedman, the world (not just America) lost the 20th century’s most powerful intellect in the battle for free markets, free men and their inextricable linkage. Celebrating his 90th birthday four years ago, we observed: “In testament to the total victory his ideas achieved, Russia, the successor state of the vanquished totalitarian Soviet empire, has adopted one of the most revolutionary elements — a flat tax on income — that formed the foundation of Mr. Friedman’s grand manifesto, ‘Capitalism and Freedom,’ which he co-wrote with his wife, Rose, and published in 1962.”

Thirty years ago Mr. Friedman won the Nobel Prize in economics for his path-breaking theories in monetary economics, which inaugurated the monetarist revolution that would profoundly affect the global economy by influencing the economic policies of nations around the world. Mr. Friedman only recently celebrated this year’s Nobel prize in economics, which was given to Edmund Phelps, whose revolutionary theory about inflationary expectations and the absence of a long-run tradeoff between inflation and unemployment mirrored a nearly identical theory independently and simultaneously developed by Mr. Friedman. Indeed, in 1968, when Keynesian economics was at its peak, Mr. Friedman delivered a revolutionary presidential address before the American Economic Association challenging the Keynesians’ cherished notion of a stable tradeoff between inflation and unemployment. Arguing that such a tradeoff was unstable in the short run and nonexistent in the long run, Mr. Friedman achieved total vindication from the imminent stagflation of the 1970s and the subsequent acceleration of growth in the 1980s and 1990s in an environment of declining inflation.

“The promotion of human freedom” has been the policy objective that Mr. Friedman has actively pursued for three quarters of a century. In their 1980 best-selling book, “Free to Choose,” Mr. Friedman and his wife asserted: “We know of no society that has ever achieved prosperity and freedom unless voluntary exchange has been its dominant principle of organization.” He always stressed the binding correlation between political and economic freedom. Repeatedly asserting that he knew of “no society that has been marked by a large measure of political freedom and that has not used something comparable to a free market to organize the bulk of economic activity,” Mr. Friedman always stressed the binding correlation between political and economic freedom.

Decades ago, when Milton Friedman received the Nobel Prize, James Tobin, a Keynesian adversary who would later claim his own Nobel, observed that “an invisible hand led the Nobel jury to honor Milton Friedman in 1976, the twin bicentenaries of Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’ and Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.”

Alan Greenspan has rightly noted that Mr. Friedman was “the most formidable economist” of the 20th century. It was not coincidence that the relentless march of freedom around the world, which Mr. Friedman witnessed during the last 20 years of his life, followed the path that he outlined more than four decades ago in “Capitalism and Freedom.”

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