July 31 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great American economist, Milton Friedman. Born in Brooklyn, New York, to immigrant parents, Friedman helped revolutionize the economic science.
He also brought economic analysis from the Ivory Tower to the everyman with his books and a Public Broadcasting Service video series known as “Free to Choose.” In doing so, he inspired many to work toward a freer world, including this author.
The book “Free to Choose: A Personal Statement” was published in 1980 and became the most popular nonfiction book of that year in the United States. It was authored in part from transcripts of the video series. The program was aired over 10 weeks and ultimately re-aired in many other countries, save for France due to staunch cultural opposition.
Try as they might, opponents of Friedman’s views — both in Europe and in the United States — were unable to thwart the popularity of the series, which drew some 3 million viewers each week. I watched the program and read the book in 1986, and it inspired me to become an economist myself. In fact, it ultimately motivated me to seek work at the Mackinac Center.
Friedman’s work did not start and stop with academic papers or educating the public about economic concepts and sound public policy. Milton and Rose Friedman both put their own money where their ideas were. As early as 1955, Milton Friedman was advocating a system of school vouchers to increase competition and improve education. In 1996, he and Rose founded “The Foundation for Educational Choice” to help advocate for greater school choice, something the Mackinac Center has done since we opened our doors.
Indeed, the Mackinac Center is more than a friend of freedom; it is a friend of Friedman. Each year the Center works to educate its class of research interns to Friedman’s ideas and ideals. This year, it co-hosted a luncheon forum with Northwood University titled “100 Years of Milton Friedman” to discuss the economist’s ideas and influence. Several of our interns also traveled to Chicago this year to attend “The Power of One” dinner, which celebrated Friedman’s life. The power of one to help the many, in fact, motivates the Mackinac Center every day in its defense of personal liberty.