January 30, 2007

Milton Friedman remembered

[img id="80145" align="alignleft"] Family, friends, and colleagues of the late economist and University of Chicago professor emeritus Milton Friedman joined members of the University community yesterday to commemorate the Nobel laureate’s life.

The memorial service, which took place in a somber but reverent Rockefeller Chapel, was jointly convened by the University of Chicago and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). University President Robert Zimmer, economists Gary Becker and Arnold Harberger, Czech President Václav Klaus, Chairman Emeritus of the CME Leo Melamed, and Michael Walker of the Fraser Institute reflected on Friedman’s work as a preeminent economist, an advocate, and a friend.

Zimmer called Friedman “an extraordinary scholar and leader at the University” where he taught for 36 years.

“Milton Friedman represents the best of what the University is and what it aspires to everyday. He was willing to stand alone if necessary against commonly accepted paradigms,” he said. “No other university holds these ideals so close to its core. Milton Friedman and the University of Chicago were made for each other.”

Zimmer also read a statement from Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve. The statement discussed Friedman’s advocacy against the draft, adding that the nation will “forever be in debt” to him for his role in abolishing the “indentured servitude” of the 1970s.

Walker added that Friedman’s theories, despite initial rejection by the financial community, now permeate all aspects of the world. “The best way to remember Milton Friedman is simply to look around,” he said.

Walker cited the revolutionized economies of Mongolia, Iceland, the former USSR, and China as proof of Friedman’s global influence.

Friedman’s free market theories transformed the former Czechoslovakia after four decades of communist rule, Klaus said.

“For us who lived in the communist era, Milton Friedman was the greatest champion of political freedom. He was extremely important to us behind the Iron Curtain,” he said.

In a recent visit to Mongolia, Klaus said he was surprised to find a Mongolian translation of Friedman’s Free to Choose in a mainstream bookstore and that the experience is proof that Friedman’s ideas have “influenced millions of people all over the world.”

Others reflected on their interactions with Friedman at the University. Much of the audience consisted of professors and students who had worked and studied with the economist.

Becker, U of C professor of Economics and Sociology, spoke fondly of his tutelage under Friedman.

“I came to Chicago believing I knew a fair bit of economics.…I wasn’t sure if I had to take [Friedman’s] course,” Becker said. “I came out of lecture thinking, ‘It’s so simple. It couldn’t be right.’”

However, Becker said his professor’s clarity of argument and willingness to discuss his revolutionary ideas finally convinced him to “relearn economics from the ground up.”

“I devoted the next six years to studying economics at Milton’s feet,” Becker said.

Becker said that although he eventually became Friedman’s colleague, and then his friend, Friedman’s influence as a teacher never ceased. “In a fundamental sense, I was always his student,” he said.