The Milton Friedman Show

By Mangu-Ward, Katherine | Reason, May 2007 | Go to article overview

The Milton Friedman Show


Mangu-Ward, Katherine, Reason


Bob Chitester was a public TV station manager in Erie, Pennsylvania, in the late 1970s when he had the idea to make an original series about the libertarian economist Milton Friedman's ideas. To produce the programs he raised the current equivalent of $8 million--entirely from private sources, in keeping with the spirit of the project. The series, Free to Choose, was a huge breakthrough for Friedman, introducing his ideas to viewers across America. Shortly before Friedman's death last November, Chitester finished another project with him: The Power of Choice, a 90-minute biographical documentary on his friend's life and thought. It debuted on PBS stations in January.

Chitester currently is working on two one-hour TV programs with development economist Hernando de Soto. He is in the early stages of producing a series with Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Q: What has changed in the 26 years since you made Free to Choose?

A: The media have changed dramatically. Today getting anyone out there in the world to commit the time necessary for 10 one-hour segments of Free to Choose is almost a nonstarter.

Free to Choose was a direct visual essay on Milton Friedman's ideas, but today that's less attractive to people. Biographies are very appealing. Milton agreed to do The Power of Choice because he understood that we were going to use the story of his life in order to try to convey as much as we could of the impact and the substance of his ideas.

In terms of the ideas, markets are looked upon in a much more favorable way today than they were in 1980. [Former Harvard President] Larry Summers has indicated to me that he feels there needs to be a great deal of effort to persuade people of the degree to which markets promote growth, which is really the solution to poverty and physical misery in the world. In that sense there had been a significant change.

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