Milton Friedman: A Biography

By Pasour, E. C., Jr. | Freeman, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Milton Friedman: A Biography


Pasour, E. C., Jr., Freeman


Milton Friedman: A Biography by Lanny Ebenstein Palgrave Macmillan · 2007 · 286 pages $27.95

Reviewed by E. C. Pasour,Jr.

In Milton Friedman: A Biography, Lanny Ebenstein presents a highly readable account of Friedman's life and an introduction to his economics, including his advocacy of libertarian ideas and government reform. The book is based on published material and personal interviews, and it was completed shortly before Friedman's death in late 2006. The appendix contains a "Bibliographical Essay" further elaborating on Friedman's life, work, and influence.

The first chapters describe Friedman's youth and early career. His family life, the TV program and book Free to Choose, his Nobel Prize, the Friedman Prize, and his work as adviser to Barry Goldwater and Presidents Nixon and Reagan are all discussed, but the book's major focus is on Friedman's mature career (1946-1976) at the University of Chicago. This is followed by a discussion of his life as a public figure following retirement.

Personal interviews reveal a number of interesting tidbits about him that will be new to most readers. For example, his family was apolitical and for much of his early life he was not much interested in politics.

Friedman is known worldwide now for his view that "Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon." His early views on inflation, however, were quite different. In congressional testimony on how to avoid inflation during the early years of World War II, he focused on taxation as a way to reduce consumer spending.

Early on he proposed the free market as the most suitable vehicle to achieve "political freedom, economic efficiency, and substantial equality of economic power," even though he supported the welfare aspects of Roosevelt's New Deal as a young man. At the time the conventional wisdom among the public, as well as economists, was that government could manage the economy better than the market order could.

Friedman identified the Chicago school of economics with three attributes - efficacy of free markets, skepticism of government regulation, and emphasis on quantity of money in producing inflation. He contended that the University of Chicago was never primarily free market in outlook, but only seemed so; the distinguishing characteristic of Chicago "was not the presence of market-oriented scholars at Chicago but rather the absence of them elsewhere."

Friedman's A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, coauthored with Anna Schwartz, was a major critique of Keynesianism. That work suggested that the economic turmoil of the 1930s was not due to excesses in the market order, but Federal Reserve policy that allowed the money supply to fall, which turned what might have been an ordinary recession into the Great Depression. …

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