The 100th Anniversary of the Birthday of Milton Friedman

The 100th Anniversary of the Birthday of Milton Friedman

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On November 16, 2006 the world lost one of the most influential economists of the twentieth century. Today, July 31, 2012, Milton Friedman would have celebrated his 100th birthday, which makes it perhaps a fitting time to stop for a moment and recall some of his contributions to the field.

Educated in the United States (BA 1932 Rutgers; MA 1933 Chicago; PhD 1946 Columbia), the majority of Friedman’s work focused on price theory, monetarism, and monetary history. He was a leading figure at the Chicago School of Economics, promoting free market economics and neoclassical price theory during his career as a professor at the University of Chicago. His school of thought was contrary to the dominating Keynesianism, and struggled to gain acceptance early in his career. But his theories gained traction most notably during the period of Stagflation in the US in the 1970s.

Many have written far more in-depth overviews of Friedman’s influence in 20th century economics and policy than I could ever endeavour to, so, instead, I am just going to point out a few interesting facts about him:

- In 1967 he served as the president of the American Economic Association.

- It is well known that he won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1976, but he was also awarded both the National Medal of Science and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988.

- His Nobel Prize was “for his achievements in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilization policy.”

- He retired from full time teaching at the University of Chicago in 1977 but continued to publish as a Senior Research Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute until his death in 2006.

 - Together with his wife, Rose, he published Free to Choose in 1980, based on a 10-episode television seriesfilmed in 1978 outlining their stance on economic and social policy. The book was voted top non-fiction that year and has been a best seller ever since. The television series can be found in its entirety online for example here.

- The Cato Institute named a biannual prize after him in 2002. The Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty,’ is awarded biannually to “an individual who has made a significant contribution to advancing human freedom.”

- Milton Friedman was voted ‘Most Influential Economist of the Second Half of the 20th Century… Possibly All of it…’ by The Economist, second only possibly to Keynes who died in 1946. Similarly, in a 2011 survey for “economic thinkers of the twentieth century and now deceased“ the American economists who responded placed him a close second behind Keynes.

This short list doesn’t do justice to the enormous impact that Milton Friedman had on the fields of economics and policy during his career. His influence and legacy is sure to continue, however, and his theories the subject of academic discussion and international debate among policy-makers for years yet to come.

Photo Credit: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice