Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

The Uniqueness of Milton Friedman


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That there is no Milton Friedman today is not a mystery; the mystery is how Milton Friedman could have been. The facts of Friedman’s biography make him unique among twentieth-century public figures. He had extensive knowledge and expertise in mathematics and statistics. Yet he became a critic of ‘formal’ theory, exemplified by mathematical economics, that failed to engage with real-world facts and data, and of econometric modeling that presumed more knowledge of economic structure than Friedman thought economists had. He was trained by a leading American Progressive, but became the leading critic of Progressive and New Deal institutions and programs. Having little prior interest in politics and political philosophy, he emerged in the 1950s as the foremost advocate of classical liberalism. He was looked on by the intelligentsia as a public enemy, but he repaid calumny with good will. Will there be another Milton Friedman? Not likely in today’s intellectual and political culture.