Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Milton Friedman-A Personal Recollection

As it happens, I am in San Francisco today to be MC at tonight’s annual dinner for the Pacific Research Institute, featuring special guest, Thank You for Smoking author, Christopher Buckley. Ordinarily I would convey our greetings to Milton from the podium, as he was a regular guest at these dinners. Now, instead, a eulogy.

The first time I ever spoke with Friedman was when I was an intern in DC right out of college, and I foolishly decided to get up and challenge him during question time at a large dinner about the gold standard (which he always opposed). I was swiftly, but nicely, dispatched into the shadows, where I learned that it was a stupid idea to argue with a Nobel Prize winner about the subject for which he won the prize. What was I thinking?

Years later after I went to work for PRI in San Francisco I got to see Milton many times, often up close and on intimate terms. Sally Pipes often hosted small dinners with Milton to which she would gracious include me, and I would try to follow Milton’s theological distinctions between M1 and M2. I once rode with him back to his apartment in his Lexis (Milton, remember, is a Hobbit: he sat on a telephone book). Behind the wheel, he seemed to forget everything he knew about cost-benefit analysis or risk assessment. It was more like riding with Steve McQueen in "Bullet." He sent me several kind notes about my work from time to time, especially The Age of Reagan, where I had included a number of the snide dismissals of Friedman that appeared in 1964 when he was advising Goldwater.

We all know who got the last laugh. Keynes famously said that in the long run we’re all dead. Turned out the long run belonged not to Keynes but to Milton. And it still does, even though he is gone. RIP.

Discussions - 2 Comments

I had included a number of the snide dismissals of Friedman that appeared in 1964 when he was advising Goldwater.

Something that has always mystified me about 1964, and I am wondering if perhaps Hayward can help me out here, is that LBJ ran with a supply-side platform of cutting taxes that year, while Goldwater clearly opposed the idea as irresponisible (like Dems today do).

This was no back-burner issue, as LBJ, in the summer of 1964, gave the tax bill first priority to the great Civil Rights Act passage. In fact, the co-author of the Civil Rights Act, Rep McCulloch (R-Oh) accused LBJ that summer saying "The President was more interested in passing a tax bill to benefit some segments of the economy than in passing a civil rights bill for all of us." Now, this was forty years ago... does it not sound very much like the opposite of what we see today?

But my confusion arises not with the political parties, who’ll embrace the Taliban if it would get ’em elected, but with folks like Friedman, and other supply-siders who were around in 1964. Why did they advise and support a pro-tax guy like Goldwater?

Cattle die, kindred die,

Every man is mortal:

But the good name never dies

Of one who has done well.

-- David D. Friedman, on the passing of his father

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