Milton Friedman: More Than Just a Thinker

A few days have passed since the world learned of Milton Friedman’s death, and most obituaries have focused on his monumental contributions to the field of economics. Some tributes have also touched upon Friedman’s influence on leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Yet, few, if any, of the articles I have seen on Friedman’s life adequately appreciate his ongoing contributions to the formation of public policy. As a columnist for Newsweek for 17 years, he brought the concepts of a market economy, free trade, and limited government to millions of Americans who would have never been exposed to such ideas outside of political opinion publications.

Equally important was his ongoing relationship with the policy community. Dr. Friedman was a trusted advisor to the National Taxpayers Union for nearly three decades, and exerted his active leadership on behalf of palpable goals. As early as 1979, he helped us to organize an open statement from distinguished economists who opposed President Carter’s energy policy as being bureaucratically top-heavy, expensive, and oblivious to market forces. This powerful message helped to pare back some of the worst elements in the Carter plan, and later provided part of the intellectual foundation for repeal of policies such as the windfall-profit tax.

Fast forward 20 years to 1999, when the Justice Department began aggressive antitrust practices against Microsoft and other firms as a way of trying to shape the private sector. Here again, Friedman immersed himself in the issue, providing public commentaries as the Microsoft case and others advanced through the courts. He prepared a videotaped statement on antitrust that became a staple at gatherings NTU representatives attended. His authorship and signature for more recent statements on issues ranging from repeal of the estate and inheritance tax to oil price controls. Friedman’s concepts helped to form the basis of several NTU policy papers as well as testimonies before Congress, such as budget process reform.

Most of us in the fields of economics and politics will remember Milton Friedman through his books and the founding of the “Chicago School

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