The Economist, November 23, 2006
IN 1946 two American economists published a pamphlet attacking rent controls. “It was”, recalled one of them many years later, “my first taste of public controversy.” In the American Economic Review, no less, a critic dismissed “Roofs or Ceilings” as “a political tract”. The same reviewer gave the pair a proper savaging in a newspaper: “Economists who sign their names to drivel of this sort do no service to the profession they represent.”
The reminiscing author was Milton Friedman, who died on November 16th, aged 94. In the wake of the Great Depression and the second world war, with the Keynesian revolution still young, championing the free market was deeply unfashionable, even (or especially) among economists. Mr Friedman and kindred spirits—such as Friedrich von Hayek, author of “The Road to Serfdom”—were seen as cranks. Surely the horrors of the Depression had shown that markets were not to be trusted? The state, it was plain, should be master of the market; and, equipped with John Maynard Keynes’s “General Theory”, governments should spend and borrow to keep the economy topped up and unemployment at bay.
That economists and policymakers think differently now is to a great degree Mr Friedman’s achievement. He was the most influential economist of the second half of the 20th century (Keynes died in 1946), possibly of all of it. In 1998, in “Two Lucky People”, the memoir he wrote with his wife, Rose, he could claim to be “in the mainstream of thought, not, as we were 50 years ago, a derided minority”, and no one could dispute it.
Time, November 16, 2006
My last conversation with Milton Friedman–who died today at the age of 94–was in October 2005. I was working on an article about monetary policy after the impending retirement of Alan Greenspan and I figured it couldn’t hurt to consult the most important monetary economist of the past half century. (The most important monetary economist of the whole century was Friedman’s idol, Irving Fisher–but Fisher didn’t have nearly as much success as Friedman in winning central bankers over to his ideas.)