I just received my review copy of Lanny Ebenstein’s The Indispensable Milton Friedman. It’s a compilation of less-well-known, but, nevertheless, often very interesting, essays by Friedman. Yesterday morning, I did a “drop-in interviewer” spot on a local libertarian/conservative talk show on Salinas-based KION-AM 1460. I interviewed Lanny about the book.

He and I noted two things:

First, as the opening essay, written in 1951, shows, Milton got more radical with age. He saw a bigger role for government then than he did in, say, 2000.

Second, and the point of this post, Milton had an interesting comparison between the University of Chicago and Columbia University. Here are the two quotes about Chicago. Lanny and I focused on the second, only because we didn’t get to the first. They are from Milton’s 1974 essay, “Schools at Chicago.”

In 1964, during the Johnson-Goldwater presidential elections, my friend and colleague George Stigler remarked that Chicago was one of the few major universities, if not the only one, that without difficulty could staff a highly qualified Council of Economic Advisers for both Johnson and Goldwater.

Second quote:

In 1964–to the disgust and dismay of most of my academic friends–I served as an economic adviser to Barry Goldwater during his quest for the Presidency. That year also, I was a Visiting Professor at Columbia University. The two together gave me a rare entree into the New York intellectual community. I talked to and argued with groups from academia, from the media, from the financial community, from the foundation world, from you name it. I was appalled at what I found. There was an unbelievable degree of intellectual homogeneity, of acceptance of a standard set of views complete with cliche answers to every objection, of smug self-satisfaction at belonging to an in-group. The closest similar experience I have ever had was at Cambridge, England, and even that was a distant second.

The homogeneity and provincialism of the New York intellectual community made them pushovers in discussions about Goldwater’s views. They had cliche answers but only to their self-created straw-men. To exaggerate only slightly, they had never talked to anyone who really believed, and had thought deeply about, views drastically different from their own. As a result, when they heard real arguments instead of caricatures, they had no answers, only amazement that such views could be expressed by someone who had the external characteristics of being a member of the intellectual community, and that such views could be defended with apparent cogency. Never have I been more impressed with the advice I once received: “You cannot be sure that you are right unless you understand the arguments against your views better than your opponents do.