Milton Friedman: Remembering a man who changed the world

Victor Joecks

We can all recall that one teacher who had a life-changing impact on us. For some, it happened in grade school; others, college.

One person, however, managed to influence individuals not only in the halls of academia, but in magazines, newspapers, television channels, the U.S. Congress and even the White House. And still, after his passing, he is changing the world.

Milton Friedman is considered by many to be the most influential economist of the 20th Century. His contributions have had a lasting impact on monetary policies, taxing models, government spending and education reforms. And yet, even with the proven effectiveness of Dr. Friedman’s ideas, we have moved away from them in recent years in favor of a more centralized decision-making system. The case for individual freedom must be made again, and as strongly as Dr. Friedman did.

“Many people want the government to protect the consumer,” Friedman said. “A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government. … The great tragedy of the drive to centralization, as of the drive to extend the scope of government in general, is that it is mostly led by men of good will who will be the first to rue its consequences.”

Nowhere is this on display more than the current controversy concerning the IRS. Or take last year’s historic cheating scandal in Atlanta public schools. Government is becoming so big it is forgetting its boundaries and failing to do what it was meant for: serving and protecting the individual.

That is precisely why Dr. Friedman, along with his wife, Rose, made his legacy education reform — specifically school choice. The Nobel laureate saw the grave effects a centralized, government-run system was having on our nation’s children and particularly on minority families. He determined freedom of choice was the best alternative. And indeed it is.

States’ experiences, empirical research and parental satisfaction are proving that a market-based approach to education is far better than one coming from monopolistic state structures. By focusing our efforts on education the way Dr. Friedman did, we can reignite the drive toward individual freedom that has served our country so well.

Milton Friedman said that maintaining a free society “requires a willingness to put up with temporary evils on the basis of the subtle and sophisticated understanding that if you step in to do something about them you not only may make them worse, you will spread your tentacles and get bad results elsewhere.”

That is happening far too often today, as evidenced by our high unemployment rate, surging gas prices, ballooning health-care costs, increased food-stamp requests and unacceptable educational outcomes. And still, the reaction to such ills typically focuses on government doing more.

We remember Milton Friedman for his principled stance against government overreach. And we will continue to keep his voice alive. “Milton 101” is a lesson more individuals need to learn. Its teachings are simple, but its effects are profound.

Those who learn it will be today’s Milton Friedmans — advocates for freedom and teachers of liberty.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute is participating in the 2013 “Friedman Legacy Day,” a worldwide day of remembrance for Milton Friedman on what would have been his 101st birthday. Learn more here or register now.

Victor Joecks is communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more, visit