Milton Friedman’s impact isn’t readily apparent. It is easy to take the preeminence of the U of C economics department as a given. Many learn basic macroeconomics without understanding the importance of his contributions. And Friedman didn’t stop there. He was a prominent public intellectual who offered an educated voice that has widely affected the U.S. and world.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was truly spot-on about more than just Friedman’s economic theories when he described them as having “so permeated modern macroeconomics that the worst pitfall in reading him today is to fail to appreciate the originality and even revolutionary character of his ideas.”
Friedman was the father of the Chicago School of Economics, the intellectual powerhouse that has brought the U of C the Nobel prizes and academic prestige in which we take such pride. He shaped the principles that continue to make the U of C’s economics department the top in the world. He helped instill the guiding principles of the economics department, namely a belief in rigorous analysis and uncompromising standards and an aim at producing ideas of incredible potency and longevity. This intellectual tradition has served and continues to serve as one of the cornerstones of our university’s reputation as an institution at the forefront of academia.
Friedman was a fearless academic who wasn’t afraid to take on the orthodoxy of his field. A man who stood out against his peers’ dominant theories to propose some of the most revolutionary and influential theories in his field, Friedman fundamentally changed the landscape of modern economics.
He also wasn’t afraid to apply his theories to prominent public issues, and to do so in a way that was accessible to the public. From introducing the ties between unemployment and inflation, to advocating for voluntary military enlistment, to supporting the introduction of competition with the package delivery, his range of influence was both deep and broad in its impact, affecting us today in ways we often take for granted.
Not only was he a preeminent scholar in his field, Friedman was also a prominent public academic, setting an example by using academic theory to affect public policy. Though he often courted controversy, he truly set the gold standard for academics at the U of C and all around the world.