The Power of Friedman
By David Henderson
My main New Year’s resolution, which I’ve kept for two days so far, is not to waste time channel surfing but, instead, to watch interesting DVDs. On New Year’s Day, I watched the last half hour of the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice, my favorite two minutes of Casablanca (when the German soldiers sing their song and the French sing The Marsellaise and create a beautiful, if unintended, harmony), and the whole of The Power of Choice: The Life and Ideas of Milton Friedman. I was stunned by how good this last was.
I had always enjoyed my roughly twice-a-year short visits with Milton, typically at Hoover, and I missed him. That was my motive for watching the DVD. What I found striking was how accurately the documentary captured not just the man’s work, but also his character and personality. Many people who knew him said that he spoke the same way to Presidents and to students. It reminded me of when I was 19 and I dropped him on him at the University of Chicago. Milton gave me good advice about my career, most of which I took. He also, noted his daughter Janet, had a genuine curiosity about people and their lives. Again, I saw that in various meetings with him.
One of the best lines from his economic philosophy, which one of the producers, Bob Chitester, once told me is Bob’s favorite line, is delivered well: “The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a good measure of both.”
But my absolute favorite moment is when he is awarded the Nobel prize. You might say, “Well, of course,” but it’s not a given. I’m not a big fan of ceremonies; maybe I should be, but I’m not. What I liked was what happened when a young man who opposed Friedman over his visit to Chile stood up and yelled out, “Down with capitalism. Freedom for Chile” just as the King was about to award the prize to Friedman. I had seen this kind of thing happen at a debate on the draft at Hoover in 1979 and Friedman had deflected it easily and without rancor. But this was his moment and the young protestor had spoiled the moment. What was striking was the look of pure anger in Milton’s eyes as he looked out at the young man. I had never seen that look before and, in its purity, it was beautiful. Then Professor Lundberg, the representative of the Nobel Economics Committee, brought him back with his statement, “I apologize for that–but it could have been worse.” The audience laughed–and so did Milton. He was back.