Friedman, Heller, and the Audience
By David Henderson
Here’s an interesting discussion between Keynesian Walter Heller and monetarist Milton Friedman in 1978. It was one of the early productions of Bob Chitester who, in the next year, put together the famous PBS series “Free to Choose.” The moderator, Marina von Neumman Whitman, does a good job. I found her more impressive on this show than I did when she was one of my bosses at the Council of Economic Advisers in 1973, when I was a summer intern.
27:45: Heller criticizes the minimum wage, which was then $2.65 an hour.
34:40: A young audience member Laura Tyson, later the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under Bill Clinton, asks a question from the audience.
45:30: Heller says “Milton’s quite right.”
46:20: Heller calls for taxes on pollution rather than regulation, and Friedman agrees. Then Marina makes a great point about valuing human life. (She does get the “dismal science” point wrong, but the reality is that we didn’t know at the time the source of that term.)
53:20: Marina really nicely addresses the “you’ve got the statistics but what about real people?” charge that economists often get. Indeed, I think her answer, including her example, is one of the nicest statements I’ve seen on this.
There’s a point in the discussion, but I forgot to write down the time, at which Heller notes a discussion with a smaller group years earlier where he and Friedman agreed on a number of policy issues.
By the way, as I document in this entry in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, Heller wrote some great analysis of the German economic miracle in the late 1940s. Here’s the bio of Heller in the Encyclopedia. He died way too soon.
Also, here’s an earlier post that contains some fond reminiscences of Heller, whom I never met but talked to on the phone and found to be a real gentleman. My reminiscences of Milton Friedman are too numerous to list. Here’s what I got with a search.
Note: The picture above is of Friedman and Heller at their 1968 debate, not one of them in the 1978 video.