Milton Friedman, R.I.P. There is no such thing as a free lunch
“There is no such thing as a free lunch” said Milton Friedman, the cheerful warrior for the value of free markets four decades before his death on November 16th. How simply he expressed great insight! Friedman helped create the Chicago school of economics, which in turn came largely out of an extraordinary group of men who belonged to what has been called the Austrian School of Economics and which included men like Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.
Milton Friedman had the gift for explaining in ordinary language how freedom works in our lives. There is, indeed, no such thing as a free lunch (something many of us hoped Republican congressional leadership would not have forgotten during the last twelve years.) Costs are relative and the world is full of bargains, but nothing is free.
Friedman also had the gift for talking as a brilliant academician to lesser minds without talking down to them at all. He was amiable, funny and pleasant. His general love of life and people was not hidden between his slight and professorial frame.
It is to Friedman that we owe the true story of how a downturn in the American economy in 1929 began the Great Depression, and a corresponding understanding that government can do very little positive to create prosperity but can do a great deal of damage trying (or pretending to try) to help the economy.
It is largely to Friedman we owe the intellectual foundations for the spirit of President Reagan’s economic revolution, and the retreat of the failures of Leftism into hollow sounding platitudes and scurrilous insults in place of anything resembling thought: Milton Friedman had explained what other economists knew, that the intellectual war against government control of human activity was a dismal failure.
Thankfully, Milton Friedman, unlike so many other heroes of conservatism, did not die alone and forgotten, despised and mocked, unhappy and unhopeful. He lived during a period in which Academia had not yet become Orwellia, and in which genuine genius was still appreciated. He lived later during years in which the repudiation of Marx and other half-wits was so obvious that people were hungry for truth, which Friedman could feed to them (well, maybe that was a free lunch.) Milton Friedman died appreciated and liked by nearly everyone.
We have much to learn from Friedman, not only about economics but about human activity, not only about human activity but about how to live a good and honorable life. He set an example for us to fight with promise and confidence against those who would run our lives, whether with good intentions or not, and, increasingly, to demonstrate that those who continued to try to control our lives did not – could not – have but bad intentions.
Social conservatives would not agree with all his positions. He favored, for example, the decriminalization of drugs. But all people of good will surely must cherish his smiling and unblinking search for truth and plain speaking. We will miss him.
Bruce Walker has been a published author in print and in electronic media since 1990. He is a regular contributor to WebCommentary, Conservative Truth, American Daily, Enter Stage Right, Intellectual Conservative, NewsByUs and MenŐs News Daily. His first book, Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie by Outskirts Press was published in January 2006.