I Miss Milton Friedman
Like many young people who read and loved Ayn Rand’s works, I adopted not just her ideas, but also some of her baggage. The problem was that it was hard for me, at 17, to decide what was baggage and what wasn’t. Rand sometimes went overboard but not always. Her denunciations as “evil” of certain people and ideas were justified: Hitler and Nazism and Stalin and communism come to mind. But what about my great Aunt Ruby, one of the neatest old people I knew? Was she evil for voting for the New Democratic Party, Canada’s socialist party? For a while I thought so. I don’t think that distorted thinking would have lasted long had I never heard of Milton Friedman. But Friedman hastened my transition.
This one of the paragraphs in my article “Milton Friedman: A Personal Tribute,” The Freeman, May 2007. I came across a hard copy while trying to organize the chaos that is my office.
Rereading the article made me realize how much I miss him. We corresponded from 1973 to the early 2000s. In much of the correspondence he would give firm but benevolent advice. He once referred to his role as that of a “Dutch Uncle.” I don’t like unsolicited advice, as my friends know, and I rarely asked Milton for advice. But he was the exception. I welcomed it because he cared enough to take time from his busy day to give it.
He was nice; and he didn’t isolate himself among those who agreed with him but, instead, stepped out in the bigger world. I know that niceness doesn’t mean much to many people who spend their lives steeped in ideas, but it meant a lot to me. I had already sensed, from reading and reading about Rand and Rothbard, that there seemed to be a package deal in libertarianism: to hold the idea of freedom in the world, one needed to attack those who disagreed and surround oneself with those who agreed. I didn’t want to be that way. I had always wanted to be nice and, except for the few months after I read The Fountainhead, when I announced to my mother that I would no longer go to the supermarket for her because that would be self-sacrifice, I was nice.
I also wanted to avoid the kind of isolation from intellectual and generational equals that Rand and Rothbard had chosen, and to be in the bigger world. I later saw, when watching Friedman’s TV series Free to Choose in 1980, just how well Friedman did at disagreeing without being disagreeable. He welcomed all comers, no matter how they disagreed, and he never hit below the belt. I was becoming this way too, but he helped me get there faster.
Read the whole thing, which isn’t long.
P.S. Here’s my bio of Milton in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.