Milton Friedman


Milton Friedman : biography

July 31, 1912 – November 16, 2006

Upon the death of Friedman, Harvard President Lawrence Summers called Friedman "The Great Liberator" saying "… any honest Democrat will admit that we are now all Friedmanites." He said Friedman’s great popular contribution was "in convincing people of the importance of allowing free markets to operate."

In 2013 Stephen Moore, a member of the editorial forward of the Wall Street Journal said, "Quoting the most-revered champion of free-market economics since Adam Smith has become a little like quoting the Bible." He adds, "There are sometimes multiple and conflicting interpretations." Stephen Moore, What Would Milton Friedman Say?" Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2013 p A13]

Hong Kong

Friedman once said, "If you want to see capitalism in action, go to Hong Kong." He wrote in 1990 that the Hong Kong economy was perhaps the best example of a free market economy.

One month before his death, he wrote the article "Hong Kong Wrong – What would Cowperthwaite say?" in the Wall Street Journal, criticizing Donald Tsang, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, for abandoning "positive noninterventionism." Tsang later said he was merely changing the slogan to "big market, small government," where small government is defined as less than 20% of GDP. In a debate between Tsang and his rival, Alan Leong, before the 2007 Chief Executive election, Leong introduced the topic and jokingly accused Tsang of angering Friedman to death.


During 1975, two years after the military coup that ended the government of Salvador Allende, the economy of Chile experienced a severe crisis. Friedman accepted the invitation of a private foundation to visit Chile and speak on principles of economic freedom. He spent seven days in Chile giving a series of lectures. One of the lectures was entitled "The Fragility of Freedom," and according to Friedman, "dealt with precisely the threat to freedom from a centralized military government." Friedman encapsulated his philosophy in a lecture at Universidad Católica de Chile, saying: "free markets would undermine political centralization and political control."

Friedman also met with military dictator President Augusto Pinochet during his visit. He never served as an adviser to the Chilean government, but did write a letter to Pinochet outlining what Friedman considered the two key economic problems of Chile. The letter listed a series of monetary and fiscal measures deemed a "shock program" to end hyperinflation and promote a market economy. His letter suggested (among other, more specific prescriptions) that a brief period of cutting government spending would reduce its fiscal deficit and thus reduce the rate of increase of the quantity of money in the country that was driving inflation. The economist did however admit his knowledge of Chile was "too limited to enable [him] to be precise or comprehensive" and that the measures he outlined were "to be taken as illustrative." Friedman felt that there might be a brief period ("measured in months") of higher unemployment, followed by recovery once inflation was tamed. His letter also suggested that cutting spending to reduce the fiscal deficit would result in less transitional unemployment than raising taxes to do so. Later, Friedman said he believed that market reforms would undermine Pinochet.

Chilean graduates of the Chicago School of Economics and its new local chapters had been appointed to important positions in the new government soon after the coup, which allowed them to advise Pinochet on economic policies in accord with the School’s economic doctrine.

According to his critics, Friedman did not criticize Pinochet’s dictatorship at the time, nor the assassinations, illegal imprisonments, torture, or other atrocities that were well known by then. In his 1980 documentary Free to Choose, he said the following: "Chile is not a politically free system, and I do not condone the system. But the people there are freer than the people in Communist societies because government plays a smaller role. … The conditions of the people in the past few years has been getting better and not worse. They would be still better to get rid of the junta and to be able to have a free democratic system.", debate, 1980, YouTube. In 1984, Friedman stated that he has "never refrained from criticizing the political system in Chile."