Milton Friedman, RIP

by Mark Skousen

I was at the New Orleans Investment Conference when I learned that free-market economist extraordinaire Milton Friedman, died on November 16. He was a dear friend. I was probably the last person to go out to lunch with Milton.

We met at his favorite restaurant in San Francisco, where I showed him a picture of him standing next to John Kenneth Galbraith, the premier Keynesian and welfare statist of the 20th century.

Galbraith towered over the diminutive Friedman. Beneath the picture was a funny line by George Stigler: “All great economists are tall. There are two exceptions: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman.” Milton was so pleased with the photo and caption that he sent it to all his friends only two weeks before his passing.

“All great economists are tall. There are two exceptions: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman.” –George J. Stigler

(Left to right: George Stigler, Milton Friedman, John Kenneth Galbraith.

Creation of Mark Skousen. Technical assistance by James Durham.)

Milton had just turned 94, yet his mind was sharp. We discussed the latest Nobel Prize in economics. He said, “We’re running out of good names.” What about the new field of behavior economics that Richard Thaler (Chicago), Robert Shiller (Yale), and Jeremy Siegel (Wharton)? “Yes,” he agreed. “They are making an important contribution. Siegel worked with me at Chicago in the 1970s and is doing brilliant work.”

I asked Milton if he wouldn’t mind giving me a blurb for my next book, “The Big Three in Economics.” He loved my previous history, “The Making of Modern Economics,” and agreed to give me a quote. It saddens me to know he never got to it.

For the past few years, he walked with a cane. He suffered from pain in his legs, a weak heart (after two heart surgeries in the 1980s), and was losing his eyesight. As we left, I asked him, “Do you think you’ll live to be 100?” He answered quickly, “I hope not!”

A few days later he fell and was taken to the hospital. He died a couple weeks later of a heart attack.

Friedman was not only a great economist, but a memorable quotesmith. Besides the standard bearers, such as “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon” and “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” here are some others less well known:

“Competition is a tough weed, but freedom is a rare and delicate flower.” — (with George J. Stigler)

“If a tax cut increases government revenues, you haven’t cut taxes enough.”

“I favor tax reductions under any circumstances, for any excuse, for any reason, at any time.”

“A society that puts equality ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality or freedom.”

“Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”

“Inflation is taxation without legislation.”

“The economy and the stock market are two different things.”

“If government is to exercise power, better in the county than in the state, better in the state than in Washington.”

“The great advances of civilization, whether in architecture or painting, in science or in literature, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralized government.”

“The minimum wage law is one of the most, if not the most, anti-black laws on the statute books.”

“Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.”

“The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem.”

I will miss our lunches and dinners together. He was one of the most unforgettable people I ever met.

P. S.  At our luncheon last month, Milton Friedman and I also talked about the upcoming FreedomFest.  He was a big fan and was looking forward to it. He wrote me this statement to all freedom lovers:  “FreedomFest is a great place to talk, argue, listen, celebrate the triumphs of liberty, assess the dangers to liberty, and provide that eternal vigilance that is the price of liberty. We have so much to celebrate but also much to be concerned about.”  We are going to have a special tribute to Milton Friedman at FreedomFest 2007, set for July 5-7, 2007, at Bally’s in Las Vegas.  For more information, go to