Economist Milton Friedman Dies at 94 Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who advocated an unfettered free market and had the ear of three U.S. presidents, died today at age 94.
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Economist Milton Friedman Dies at 94

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Economist Milton Friedman Dies at 94

Economist Milton Friedman Dies at 94

Economist Milton Friedman Dies at 94

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Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who advocated an unfettered free market and had the ear of three U.S. presidents, died today at age 94.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

He was a Nobel Laureate, an advisor to presidents and he certainly welcomed the kind of economic liberalization that's taken place in Vietnam over the last few years. Economist Milton Friedman died today. He was 94.

Friedman was born in New York. He went on to become a leader of what was known as the Chicago School and he was one of the most influential economists of the last century. NPR's Elaine Korry has this remembrance.

ELAINE KORRY: Milton Friedman defied the economic establishment of his day and turned it on its head. In the late 1940s when Friedman began teaching at the University of Chicago, Keynesian economics dominated. Followers of John Maynard Keynes believed government should intervene to fine-tune the economy. But Friedman railed against government interference. And according to David Boaz, vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute, he promoted liberty in all human spheres.

Mr. DAVID BOAZ (Vice President, Cato Institute): He was the academic who did the most to promote human freedom around the world during the 20th century and I think, aside from his academic work, you can look at a whole range of issues, the volunteer army, school choice, drug prohibition, sound money in which Milton Friedman is either the most important scholar, the most effective public advocate or both.

KORRY: Friedman wrote more than a dozen books and scores of articles. He advised Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan plus the governments of Chile, China and Peru. And in 1976, the Bank of Sweden awarded Friedman the Nobel Prize in economics.

(Soundbite of trumpets)

Unidentified Announcer: Praise, silence for Professor Milton Friedman.

(Soundbite of applause)'

KORRY: In his acceptance speech before a crowd filled with central bankers, Friedman displayed the sly humor that disarmed even some of his intellectual foes.

Mr. MILTON FRIEDMAN (Economist; Nobel Laureate): My monetary studies have led me to the conclusion that central banks could profitably be replaced by computers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Geared to provide a steady rate of growth in the quantity of money. Fortunately, for me personally, that conclusion has had no practical impact, else there would have been no Central Bank of Sweden to have established the award I am honored to receive.

KORRY: Friedman may have been foremost a scholar of such arcane theories as price stabilization and the role of the money supply but he was also a policy maker, with his finger in all sorts of pies. He argued forcefully for school vouchers to give parents more choice in education. He favored decriminalizing prostitution. And Friedman helped spearhead the shift to a paid all-volunteer army. According to Grover Norquist, president of the anti big government group, Americans for Tax Reform, that position won him some unlikely supporters.

Mr. GROVER NORQUIST (President, Americans for Tax Reform): He was one of the central characters in driving to get rid of the draft which of course attracted a whole different group of individuals who go oh, you mean the guys who want you to be free to have contracts and own property and run businesses also want you to be free from being kidnapped by the military for two years? I get it. He was consistently for freedom.

KORRY: In 1980, he hosted a ten-part PBS series called Free to Choose based on a best-selling book he wrote with his wife Rose, also an economist. The series opened in New York City, where Friedman made the case that America's greatness sprang from its climate of freedom which brought waves of immigrants, including his own parents, to U.S. shores.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: There were few government programs to turn to and nobody expected them. But also, there were few rules and regulations. There were no licenses, no permits, no red tape to restrict them. They found, in fact, a free market and most of them thrived on it.

KORRY: In extolling the virtues of free enterprise, Friedman argued that its benefits outweighed the hardships workers had to endure, as in this scene set in a crowded garment factory in New York's Chinatown.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: The irony is that this place violates many of the standards that we now regard as every worker's right. It's poorly ventilated, it's overcrowded, the workers accept less than the union rate. It breaks every rule in the book, but if it were closed down, who would benefit? Certainly, not the people here.

KORRY: And that's where many of Friedman's critics part company with him. They say he took a sensible argument - markets are good, markets are efficient - to an illogical extreme - free markets can do no wrong. And according to Robert Kutner, that's nonsense.

Mr. ROBERT KUTNER (Co-editor, American Prospect Magazine): We know that when markets are allowed to run wild, all kinds of things go haywire.

KORRY: Kutner, is co-editor of the American Prospect magazine. He says a brand of capitalism that protects workers and invests in society also expands human liberty, a story Milton Friedman chose not to tell.

Mr. KUTNER: If you think about it, job security offers a kind of freedom, the freedom to know that you're not going to be destitute next week, the freedom to know that if you've worked 20 years faithfully on a job, they're not going to throw you out with the trash tomorrow morning. So, it's a more complicated story, I dare say.

KORRY: But Friedman was an absolutist who made no apologies for his views, and he remained a steadfast free-market radical to his final days. Elaine Korry, NPR News.

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Friedman on Free Markets, Communism's Collapse

Economist Milton Friedman (seen here in 2002) received numerous recognitions during his lifetime, including the Nobel Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Brooks Kraft/Corbis hide caption

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Brooks Kraft/Corbis

Economist Milton Friedman (seen here in 2002) received numerous recognitions during his lifetime, including the Nobel Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Brooks Kraft/Corbis

Friedman on Free Markets, Communism's Collapse

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Friedman on the Lasting Impact of the Fall of Communism

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Milton Friedman, the economist who died Thursday, was asked in December 1999 to choose a 20th century development that he thought would endure into the 21st century. The 1976 Nobel Laureate told NPR's special correspondent Susan Stamberg that the fall of communism would have the most lasting impact. Below is an excerpt from that interview.

MILTON FRIEDMAN: Because it marked the philosophical supremacy of the idea of free markets and private enterprise over the idea of collective central planning. The collapse of communism in essence added tens and tens of millions of people to the world labor supply, and the people who were added had previously been getting very low income, but they were not unskilled. Many of them were fairly well educated.

SUSAN STAMBERG: Professor, let's take a look, though, at a major consequence of the end of the Cold War and that was the disintegration of the Soviet Union. There were consequences there that were extremely painful. Russia, the other Eastern European countries, hardships in all kinds of places. And they didn't have institutions in place to handle what they did, which was this kind of rapid deregulation, and so what you've got is corruption, their own invention of what capitalism -- a very ruthless kind of capitalism -- and a Mafia essentially running a country like Russia.

FRIEDMAN: That's certainly true about Russia. Russia is a disaster. But on the other hand, look at Poland; look at Hungary; look at the Czech Republic; look at the other former Soviet satellites. All of them are doing vastly better. Moreover, look at the other Communist country, China. China has seen a great deal of economic progress. It's certainly rather of a miracle how much in the past 10 to 15 years. And I believe that the growing role of the market in the economy will force China to open up its political system over time and to move toward a more democratic society. So taken as a whole, the one real failure in this whole business has been Russia, no question about that.

STAMBERG: Professor Friedman, let's talk some, though, about the human cost of the free market, because we all know that everything free comes with a price, and very often the price has been tremendous hardships and insecurities. I wonder what it would take to make the free-market system work and not take too heavy a toll on the extremely poor, the people at the very bottom rungs?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I can't agree with the assertions you're making. You have to compare one system with another. There's no point in comparing an actual, operating system with an ideal system that doesn't exist. I would say that, in contrary to your generalization, the free market has involved less hardship, has imposed far less of a cost than almost any alternative system. Can you compare any of the costs of the free market with the costs that were imposed by, let's say, either the Soviet Union or China?

STAMBERG: You know, lots of people are lucky to get their wisdom by sitting in your classroom over the years and reading your books. Others of us get our wisdom by talking to taxi drivers. Now this goes back to the Russian model again, and I'm sure you'll incorporate that in your answer. But I don't know how many Russian cabbies in New York have told me -- in the course of a really bumpy, pothole-filled ride -- how dreadfully tough their lives are here, having made that transition from a government which took care -- yes, in very brutal, cruel ways -- but took care of most of their human needs, and try to fight it out on the streets of the major city of capitalism.

FRIEDMAN: And why did they come there?

STAMBERG: Gold in the streets, was it?

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. Why didn't they stay in the Soviet Union?

STAMBERG: Of course, they saw more opportunities. That's true, Professor, but in terms of...

FRIEDMAN: Do they regret having come?

STAMBERG: Well, I think they did. I'm not saying...

FRIEDMAN: Don't you think that the most meaningful vote is a vote with your feet?

STAMBERG: So you're saying pack up and go back if it's so tough for you here?

FRIEDMAN: Well, how many have done so?... Don't misunderstand me. I'm saying if you really want to know what they really believe about the relative merits of the two systems, see what they do, not what they say. And what they do is to stay here. They don't go back. I think of my own family. My parents came here from Europe at the age of 14 and 16. And they had a hard time, a very difficult time, but it opened up a world of opportunity for them. And the same thing with these cab drivers whom you're talking about who are bitching about it. Look at what they do, not what they say.