Milton Friedman

Who was Milton Friedman?

Milton Friedman (July 31, 1912 – November 16, 2006) was an American economist, statistician, academic, and author who taught at the University of Chicago for more than three decades. He was a recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Among scholars, he is best known for his theoretical and empirical research, especially consumption analysis, monetary history and theory, and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilization policy. He was an economic advisor to U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Over time, many governments practiced his restatement of a political philosophy that extolled the virtues of a free market economic system with little intervention by government. As a leader of the Chicago school of economics, based at the University of Chicago, he had great influence in determining the research agenda of the entire profession. Milton Friedman’s works, which include many monographs, books, scholarly articles, papers, magazine columns, television programs, videos, and lectures, cover a broad range of topics of microeconomics, macroeconomics, economic history, and public policy issues. The Economist described him as “the most influential economist of the second half of the 20th century…possibly of all of it.”

Friedman was originally a Keynesian, a supporter of the New Deal and an advocate of government intervention in the economy. However, his 1950s reinterpretation of the Keynesian consumption function challenged the standard Keynesian model of that time. At the University of Chicago, Friedman became the main advocate opposing activist Keynesian government policies. During the 1960s he promoted an alternative macroeconomic policy known as “monetarism”. He theorized there existed a “natural rate of unemployment,” and argued that governments could not change this natural rate. He argued that the Phillips Curve was not stable, and predicted that then-existing Keynesian policies would cause high inflation and minimal growth (later termed stagflation). Friedman’s claim that monetary policy could have prevented the Great Depression was an attempt to refute the analysis of Keynes, who argued that monetary policy is ineffective during depression conditions, and that large-scale deficit spending by the government is needed to decrease mass unemployment. Though opposed to the existence of the Federal Reserve, Friedman argued that, given that it does exist, a steady, small expansion of themoney supply was the only wise policy, and he warned against efforts by a treasury or central bank to do otherwise.

Influenced by his close friend George Stigler, Friedman opposed government regulation of many types. He once stated that his role in eliminating U.S. conscription was his proudest accomplishment, and his support for school choice led him to found The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Friedman’s political philosophy, which he considered classically liberal and libertarian, emphasized the advantages of free market economics and the disadvantages of government intervention and regulation, strongly influencing the opinions of American conservatives and libertarians. In his 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman advocated policies such as a volunteer military, freely floating exchange rates, abolition of medical licenses, a negative income tax, and education vouchers. His books and essays were well read and were even circulated illegally in Communist countries.

Most economists during the 1960s rejected Friedman’s economic views, but since then they have had an increasing international influence. Some of his laissez-faire ideas concerning monetary policy, taxation, privatization and deregulation were used by governments, especially during the 1980s.
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