A Conversation with Milton Friedman
Recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, Milton Friedman (1912-2006) has long been recognized as one of our most important economic thinkers and a leader of the Chicago school of economics. He is the author of many books and articles in economics, including A Theory of the Consumption Function and A Monetary History of the United States (with Anna J. Schwartz). Friedman also wrote extensively on public policy, always with a primary emphasis on the preservation and extension of individual freedom. His most important books in this field include (with Rose D. Friedman) Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose. Friedman also wrote a popular column for Newsweek magazine from 1966 to 1983. In this 2003 interview with his former student and fellow Nobel laureate Gary Becker, Friedman discusses his economics, his public outreach, and his thoughts on economic education.
Below are some discussion prompts to correspond to the video:
Milton Friedman’s Economics
How does fellow Nobel laureate Gary Becker describe the style of economics Friedman was known for at the University of Chicago? What appeals to you about this tradition, and why?
Capitalism and Freedom
What does Friedman regard as the most notable contributions from Capitalism and Freedom, and why? To what extent do you support each of these proposals? Explain.
Both Becker and Friedman agree that ideas can wield great influence. But how can one know when ideas will have their greatest influence? Discuss some of the experiences Friedman describes in your answer.
Social Security, Chile, and Washington
What is the relationship between crisis and (sound) economic policy, according to Friedman? What role does he think economists should play in the policy process? How convincing is he on this point?
Why does it seem to be so difficult for economists to return to research after a stint in policy?
How does Friedman regard John Maynard Keynes? Keynes’ General Theory? To what extent do you agree with Friedman’s assessment?
Economic and Political Freedom
What is the relationship between economic and political freedom as described by Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom? What dimension did he later wish he had added, and how does it differ from the first two? How does the addition of this third dimension change the relationship initially posited?
Why does Friedman argue that increased political freedom tends to lead to an erosion of economic freedom? To what extent do you agree? What evidence can be brought to bear on this question?
The End of History
What does the “End of History” theory suggest, and on what grounds does Friedman dispute it? Have the intervening years strengthened or weakened Friedman’s case?
Why is Friedman relatively pessimistic about the possible ascendance of socialist ideas? How accurate do you find his prediction to be more than a decade later, and why?
Friedman argues that much depends on what happens with China and India. In what respects do they differ, according to Friedman, and what does this suggest about the future prospects for economic and political freedom in each country?
Becker points to recent financial scandals often evoked by those opposed to the market. How does Friedman think we should respond to such crises?
What’s wrong with referring to the “profit economy,” according to Friedman?
Friedman argues that all progress throughout history has primarily benefited the poor. To what extent do you agree? What evidence might you cite in making your case?