Byline: Arnold Beichman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Milton Friedman, the only economist I know with a sunny disposition, was in great shape the other night at the Stanford, Calif. home of George Shultz. They tell me that the former secretary of state threw a wonderful party for his longtime close friend on the occasion of the Nobel laureate's 90th birthday. Officially, Milton was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 31, so the party was premature by a week. But that's the way it has always been with Milton. He was always right - prematurely.
What was being celebrated was the birthday of a great American civic leader and an economist with a global reputation (Norman Pearlstine, Time Magazine editor, has described Milton as "the economist of the century"), and one whose intellectual achievements in the 20th century were not based on 19th-century promises of a rosy future a la Marx, but on measurable benefits in the here and now for millions and millions of Americans and people the world over.
The "official" verdict on Milton's achievements and on those of men like Friedrich Hayek came a dozen years ago from the Marxist economist, Robert Heilbroner, in 1989 in the pages of The New Yorker magazine where - two years before the Soviet Union slid into oblivion - he wrote that the Marxist era was over, no longer the wave of the future. Mr. Heilbroner's essay opened with this thunderclap sentence: "Less than 75 years after it officially began, the contest between capitalism and socialism is over: capitalism has won." The triumph of entrepreneurial capitalism brought to power believers in a free economy like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
Milton's books (many of them written with his wife and colleague, Rose) helped start the capitalist counter-revolution in America. They created the television mini-series based on their best-selling "Free to Choose." When "Capitalism and Freedom," which emphasized the indissoluble link between political and economic liberty, came out in 1963, it was ignored by the mainstream press. In the Marxist miasma of the 1960s, Mr. Friedman's ideas were regarded as reactionary, backward-looking and enslaving. No major newspaper bothered to review the book.
Eventually, however, it sold more than 500,000 copies and was translated into 18 languages. And then, in 1976, came the Nobel Prize for his seminal work in economics. The citation read: "The fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilization policy. …