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Friday, November 17, 2006

Milton Friedman dead at age 94

Probably one of the greatest men to promote individual freedom and fight against government economic tyranny against it’s own people died early yesterday. While he was an economist, and probably want people to remember as such, he was very much a public figure promoting the ideas of individual economic freedom and economic choice for individual and family. He fought against socialism and much vaulted wisdom of the few wise men in the government to control people lives.

Friedman's fight was against powerful giants in economic field who were promoting government intervention and take over of economic life of a country – giants such as the doyens of socialism John Maynard Keynes and John Kenneth Galbraith. He build on Adam Smith, Alfred Marshall, and Friedrich. A. Hayek’s economic models, and led the charge at University of Chicago with free market ideas that came to dominate the capitalist economic model (and in the process enable the school to capture lot of Nobel prizes in economics).

The peak of his popularity and message was probably in early 80s during early Reagan era when Thatcher was tearing up socialism in UK and Deng Xiaoping turn the communist China towards the path of capitalism. Washington Post columnist George Will wrote, in 1989, when cold war was over, that Soviet Union collapsed and University of Chicago and General Friedman has won.

Friedman never called himself a conservative, although they appropriated him. He was more a liberal in the classic sense – trying to get to the root of the problem, as he would say – instead on relying in government to solve problems, like the socialists world over do. He would probably call himself a libertarian.

Soon after Indian independence, US offered the expertise of Milton Friedman, a short, less than 5 foot man, with a complex set of idea on private enterprise and monetary policy, or John Kenneth Galbraith, a tall, good looking classic socialist - the government knows best - type of guy. Nehru, who already fell in love with British socialism, during his years in Britain and since, and was under the spell of Soviet collective economic miracle charade, chose the socialist John Kenneth Galbraith.

I think, under the advise of Galbraith, Nehru and Indira combined did more damage to Indian economy since 50s onwards than the British did since setting up East India Company three centuries prior. (Galbraith went on to advise Nehru not to fight the Chinese invaders of J&K (Aksi Chin), which according to him, was a desolate land and where a blade of grass would not grow, contributing to India’s defeat in 1962. One wonder why Nehru and other's didn't think, if that was so, why did the Chinese want that land.)

It would not be an exaggeration to say if Nehru chose Milton Friedman and his advise, India would have lot fewer poor people, superior infrastructure, better people participatory in civic life, and a stronger economy than we have now in 2006.

Here are some articles that Friedman wrote to GOI in the 50s trying to push Nehru and government towards better economic path:

Memorandum to GOI in 1955

On Nehru and Mahalanobis who jointly created the socialist Indian economy

Some bloggers have called for an economic mahatma in India to fight for and to explain better wealth creating economic policies to Indian people. Milton Friedman is the closest economic mahatma that US has had. While I disagree that we have to wait for an economic mahatama to deal with pressing issues, India would greatly benefit from such as person, if there were one.

Milton's last commentary published today in Wall Street Journal (registration needed).

CSPAN – an excellent three-hour In-Depth interview with Friedman in 2000 wherein he talks about his economic theory and philosophy.

IEB post with google and youtube links to Friedman interviews.

With my usual interest in good obituaries here are some:
New York Times (always excellent obits), Economist, and WSJ


Apun Ka Desh said...

Very well written.. do write more often!

India is a poor country today due to misplaced policies taken immediately after independence. And their continuation by successive govts inspite of their failure being obvious. The latter was the dangerous part. Nehru being a practical man.. wouldn't have been averse to reversing his own policies... but alas.. his successors were not that way ! Their goal always was ONLY to win elections - whatever the cost.

Chandra said...

Hey Thanks!