Henderson on Milton Friedman
What were Friedman’s other characteristics that mattered? I’ll explain by telling my own tale of discovering Milton Friedman.
In the summer of 1968, when I was 17 and had just finished reading almost all of Ayn Rand’s works, fiction and non-fiction, I happened to pick up an issue of Newsweek. In a column titled “The Public Be Damned,” accompanied by a photo of a smiling, bald-headed economist, Friedman argued that the attitude expressed in that title, far from being businessmen’s attitude toward the public, is actually the attitude of the U.S. Post Office. I loved the column and started working through the old Newsweeks in the University of Winnipeg library, finding quickly that Friedman wrote in the magazine every three weeks. I liked virtually every piece of his I read, although, truth be told, I wondered why he kept giving advice to the Federal Reserve Board on how to centrally plan the money supply, rather than advocating getting rid of the Fed.
This is from my article “Why Milton Friedman Was Rare,” published in the latest issue of Econ Journal Watch. It’s part of a symposium. We were asked to write on why there is not another Milton Friedman today. I started to write about that why there couldn’t be another Milton Friedman, but, within a few paragraphs, changed my mind. The writing process sometimes does that. I found myself unconvinced that there couldn’t be another Milton Friedman. I think the odds of one are very low, but I’m not willing to say there couldn’t be.
Milton Friedman not only existed–and thrived–at the University of Chicago,
but also had a huge impact in the bigger world beyond academe. Why did he do so well and have so much influence in that bigger world? I came to see that it had to do with his rare combination of abilities and personal characteristics. I’ve mentioned his brilliance. The three other characteristics that I think mattered most were: his integrity, his passion, and his warmth. I don’t know if they should be in that order–they were all important, and related.
I’m still a little in shock from reading their pieces. If I have something to say in response, a possibility that is highly likely, I’ll post on it.