A personal tribute to Milton Friedman
The Danish free market think tank CEPOS will later in the spring republish the Danish edition of Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose. I am extremely honoured that the good people at CEPOS have asked me to write the preface for “Det Frie Valg” as “Free to Choose” is known in Danish. I now finalised writing the preface and it has surely been a joyand I would like to share it in a slightly revised English version of the Danish preface with my readers here. Those strictly interested in monetary policy should probably stop reading now and for the rest of you please bare with me - I am not completely rational when I speak about my wife, my son and Milton Friedman. Here goes…
I have no doubt that the Free to Choose changed my life. I read the Danish version of Milton Friedman's now-classic bestseller first time in the last half of the 1980s when I was 16-17 years old. It was one of the first books about politics and economics that I had ever read and it shaped the views of the world that I maintain to this day. I am therefore very grateful that not only has CEPOS chosen to reprint the Danish edition of Free to Choose, but has asked me if I would write this preface. It makes me happy. Since I read Free to Choose almost 25 years, I have constantly spoken, read and written about Milton Friedman, and there is no doubt that the Free to Choose was a key reason why I later decided to study economics. Miton Friedman's crucial strength is in addition to being one of the twentieth century's most important economists is his great teaching abilities. Friedman talks about political, social and economics issues in an enormous engaged and engaging way. He sells his message of freedom and free choice forcefully and effectively. It's incredibly hard not to be convinced of the correctness of his message. That at least was the case or me. I agreed with Friedman in most of what he wrote, and almost 25 years later not much have changed. I still consider Milton Friedman to be the biggest impact on my political and economic thinking. In my 2001 book about Milton Friedman I called him a pragmatic revolutionary. It is meant as an honorary title and the title was very much inspired by the Free to Choose. Friedman's message of freedom and especially freedom of choice may seem radical, even revolutionary to a European and especially to a Scandinavian reader. We are not accustomed to any questions about the size and tasks of government. In Denmark, the "Welfare State" is virtually non-negotiable, but if you read Free to Choose you will be left with the feeling and the knowledge that there is something fundamentally wrong with the cradle-to-grave society we have created not only in Denmark, but also in large parts of Europe and indeed in the US. Friedman is revolutionary because he was questioning the social order, but he's also pragmatic. His was always eager to engage supporter of big government and supports of the welfare state. He would not compromise his fundamental believes but he would talk to people that had other view than he did. He confronted – in always polite and humorous fashion - but also agreed that their motives may have been sincere. He told to them "If you want the best education for school children, why will you not make the schools compete? Why will you not let parents choose the school. " Friedman shows in Free to Choose that if we let parents choose the schools for their children, we will get better schools, happier and smarter children. But what makes Friedman's arguments so strong is that if the Free Choice works for education, why should not it work for hospitals? For nursing homes? And if private schools are free to compete public schools why not private hospitals and private nursing homes. Yes, if the free choice is the right thing when we go shopping in the supermarket and when we send our children to school why should not it be the foundation of our society? Friedman's argument for school choice through the use of vouchers is undoubtedly one of the things that made the biggest impression on me because it totally convinced me of the importance of individual sovereignty. The rights of the individual should also be above the “right” of the government. It is the individual's free choice, which should be at the core of any social order. A society that does not respect the free choice is not only inefficient, but it also becomes totalitarian. Another thing that made an enormous impression on me in Free to Choose was Milton Friedman's discussion of monetary policy. One topic that was somewhat foreign to me as a 16 year old, but since then has been the economic policy issue that has intrigued me the most - both intellectually as professionally. Friedman is the founder of the monetarist school, which stresses the importance of monetary policy on development in particular inflation, but also the business cycle and other macroeconomic conditions. I was convinced by reading Free to Choose that I was a monetarist, and to this day I will unhesitatingly tell anyone who will listen that I am monetarist. The present economic crisis can only be understood if one understands monetary economics and there is no better teacher for monetary theory than Milton Friedman. It was of course especially for his contribution to the monetary policy research that he was awarded the 1976 Nobel Prize in economics. Free to Choose is not monetary textbook but it does offer a good introduction to the topics, which especial today is so important. And is just yet another confirmation that Free to Choose is exactly as important as when it was first published in 1980. Free to Choose is not just a book. There was actually produced a television series of the same name - paradoxically by the American public broadcaster PBS (also in 1980). The book is based on the TV series. Although it is a great TV series, it was not TV series but the book that convinced me why the freedom of choice must be the foundation of our society. I'm not the only one who has been convinced of the Free to Choose. When the book was published in 1980 it was a huge success and the book is probably one of the best-selling books about economics and politics ever and has since been translated into several languages. Finally I would like once again to thank CEPOS for getting this very important book republished in Danish on occasion that Milton Friedman in 2012 would have turned 100 years and I hope the book will make as big an impression on today's readers as it did on me almost 25 years ago.I would be happy to hear what my readers have to say about how Milton Friedman impacted their thinking and their choices in life. Furthermore, have a look at Pete Boettke’s excellent comment on Free to Choose here. Finally I would like note that The Free to Choose Network is honouring Milton Friedman's Century all through 2012. I plan on doing the same thing. Update: Friedman in Free to Choose on the Fed: "In one respect the System has remained completely consistent throughout. It blames all problems on external influences beyond its control and takes credit for any and all favorable occurrences. It thereby continues to promote the myth that the private economy is unstable, while its behavior continues to document the reality that government is today the major source of economic instability."