New book publishes little-seen essays by Milton Friedman

Jamie Weinstein | Senior Writer

Libertarian economist and Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman would have turned 100 years old last July, and to celebrate his birthday, a new book is out with a series of essays he wrote that few have seen.

“As I was writing my biography of Friedman, I recognized there were a number of his essays that had not been republished that it would be a substantial advantage if they were easily accessible,” economist Lanny Ebenstein, who has written a biography of Friedman, told The Daily Caller about his new book, “The Indispensable Milton Friedman: Essays on Politics and Economics.”

“There are two parts to the essays — those on politics and those on economics,” he said. “The essays span Friedman’s entire career. A number of the essays are philosophical and historical. The criteria for selection were the intrinsic significance of the essays and their representativeness of Friedman’s career.”

One essay in the book is a 1989 letter to conservative commentator Bill Bennett, who was then the director of National Drug Control Policy for President Ronald Reagan. In the essay, Friedman urges Bennett to reconsider the war on drugs.

“Friedman supported the complete legalization of all drugs,” Ebenstein explains. “He took this position for both practical and philosophical reasons. From the philosophical standpoint, he believed that individuals should have the right to put in their body whatever they wish. From the practical standpoint, he thought that the costs of the war on drugs exceed the benefits.”

See the rest of TheDC’s interview with Ebenstein below on what Friedman would have advocated to fix our health care system, if Friedman ever met economist and liberal commentator Paul Krugman, what Friedman thought of John Maynard Keynes, and much more:

Why did you decide to put this together?

As I was writing my biography of Friedman, I recognized there were a number of his essays that had not been republished that it would be a substantial advantage if they were easily accessible.

How did you choose what essays of Friedman’s to include in this compilation?

There are two parts to the essays — those on politics and those on economics. The essays span Friedman’s entire career. A number of the essays are philosophical and historical. The criteria for selection were the intrinsic significance of the essays and their representativeness of Friedman’s career.

Why does Friedman matter? What is his legacy?

Friedman matters greatly! He has a tremendous legacy. His contributions during the second half of the twentieth century in economics were unparalleled. He championed an all-volunteer army, flexible international exchange rates, no inflation, less government, lower taxes, less regulation, drug legalization, school vouchers and welfare reform.

How would Friedman have fixed our health care system?

Friedman would have opposed Obamacare. The last thing he would have thought would have benefited health care in the United States would be its nationalization. Friedman favored health savings accounts through which individuals would purchase their own routine health care services combined with catastrophic insurance. He thought that this would lower the cost of health care and improve its efficiency and quality.

There is an essay in the book from the 1980s urging Bill Bennett, then director of National Drug Control Policy, to rethink the war on drugs. Why did Friedman oppose the drug war and did he believe in the complete legalization of all drugs?

Friedman supported the complete legalization of all drugs. He took this position for both practical and philosophical reasons. From the philosophical standpoint, he believed that individuals should have the right to put in their body whatever they wish. From the practical standpoint, he thought that the costs of the war on drugs exceed the benefits.

What policies would Friedman have recommended to get us out of our current economic predicament?

Friedman would have recommend lower taxes rather than government spending to increase economic activity. He would have favored less government regulation, particularly of small business. He would have advocated increased domestic energy production. He would have advocated reform of Social Security and Medicare. He would have opposed the excessive compensation of public employee unions.

Who were Friedman’s most important economic disciples? With Friedman gone, who is the most important living conservative/libertarian economist?

Friedman’s most important disciples certainly include Robert Lucas and Gary Becker of the University of Chicago and Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution at Stanford. Of these three, Sowell is probably the most important living conservative/libertarian economist.

What would Friedman have made of the two current presidential candidates’ economic policies?

Friedman would undoubtedly have endorsed Mitt Romney for president. Friedman was a strong supporter of many Republican presidential candidates, especially Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Friedman undoubtedly would have supported aspects of Romney’s economic policies calling for less government spending and lower taxation. With respect to President Obama, Friedman undoubtedly would have opposed both Obamacare and the fiscal stimulus.

What did Friedman think of John Maynard Keynes?

One of the essays in “The Indispensable Milton Friedman” is on Keynes. Friedman thought that Keynes was a great technical economist, but that he was wrong on the facts. His hypotheses were not confirmed by experience.

There aren’t too many economists who are also public commentators like Friedman was. Perhaps the most famous today is Paul Krugman. Did the two know each other? Do we know what Friedman thought of Krugman? 

Friedman knew Krugman slightly. Somewhat like Keynes, Friedman had regard for Krugman’s technical prowess but thought that he is wrong on the facts.  In particular, Friedman would have opposed Krugman’s Keynesian call for increased government spending.

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