sexta-feira, 17 de novembro de 2006

Milton Friedman RIP II

By Walter Block

"...Instead, I wish to focus on the positive, and to relate a few personal experiences I have had with him. I shall end with a joke that gives a taste of the kind of embattled professional life he led.

Here's the positive. Milton was a beacon of light on issues such as the minimum wage law, free trade, and rent control. This might not seem like much to radical libertarians, but, what with the Democrats recently seizing more power, and promising to impose wage levels on those who can least afford them, the unskilled poor, and with hundreds of economists signing a petition in support of this truly vicious and pernicious legislation, Milton's valiant, witty, wise, eloquent and yes, I'll say it, inspirational analysis on this issue must stand out as an example to us all.

Another of the high points of his career, for me, was his "Open Letter" to then drug czar Bill Bennett" (Wall Street Journal, September 7, 1989) in which he alienated many of his conservative followers with his clarion call for drug legalization. The US government has truly unleashed the whirlwind on this matter. It is responsible for untold incarcerations of innocent people and tens of thousands of needless deaths around the world. When one day we as a society come to our senses and repeal drug prohibition as we previously did for alcohol prohibition, we will owe that happy day to Professor Friedman as much as to any man.

My favorite essay in his Capitalism and Freedom is chapter 9, where Milton rips into the AMA for its policies of restrictive entry into the field of medicine. With the Democrats taking over both houses of congress, and with that harridan Hillary the front runner for its presidential ticket in 2008, we will likely face some mighty battles against the imposition of fully socialized medicine. Thanks to this insightful analysis of Milton's, we will not be without intellectual ammunition in this regard.

Here's the personal. The honor once befell me in the 1980s to serve as Milton Friedman's chauffeur. I drove him around Vancouver, British Columbia during the day of one of his speaking engagements there that evening. The trip was part tourist and part business: pick up at the airport, lunch, a few radio and television interviews during the day, setting up the podium for his evening's speech, etc. I was amazed and delighted at his pugnaciousness in defense of liberty. He would engage seemingly everyone in debate on libertarian issues: waitresses, cameramen, the person placing the microphone on his lapel. He was tireless, humorous, enthusiastic.

Another vignette. He once made a statement at a meeting of the American Economic Association that made me very proud indeed to be an economist. He stated (this is a paraphrase from memory) as follows: "Thanks to economists, all of us, from the days of Adam Smith and before right down to the present, tariffs are perhaps one tenth of one percent lower than they otherwise would have been." Dramatic pause goes here. A very long pause. He then continued: "And because of our efforts, we have earned our salaries ten-thousand fold." What could put matters in better perspective?..."

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