Milton Friedman at 100

photo Milton Friedman

One hundred years ago today, the most powerful defender of economic liberty in American history was born in Brooklyn to poor Jewish immigrants.

Though he stood barely five feet tall, Dr. Milton Friedman was a giant in the field of economics and the most important friend of freedom America has seen in the past century -- perhaps even since the Founding Fathers.

A 1976 Nobel-prize winner for his research on monetary policy, he is best remembered for eloquently dismantling economic falsehoods. Because of Friedman, most Americans know that government can't spend its way out of economic trouble or create economic prosperity.

Well, most Americans except our current president, anyway.

At a time when half of the world's people were economically enslaved by communism, Friedman's writings laid the groundwork for the small government ideas of Barry Goldwater and, later, the Reagan Revolution.

Friedman's book "Capitalism and Freedom" is to free market principles what "The Communist Manifesto" is to communism. The biggest difference is that Marx and Engels' ideas are responsible for the deaths of more than 100 million people, while the free market philosophies championed by Friedman and others have resulted in worldwide improvements in quality and quantity of life.

With local, state and federal governments all dipping deeper into taxpayers' pockets and spending more money on less justifiable programs, it is a particularly worthwhile time to reflect on one of Dr. Friedman's most legendary statements.

"There are four ways in which you can spend money," Friedman said. "You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then, you really watch out what you're doing, and you try to get the most for your money.

"Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I'm not so careful about the content of the present, but I'm very careful about the cost."

"Then," he continued, "I can spend somebody else's money on myself. And if I spend somebody else's money on myself, then I'm sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else's money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else's money on somebody else, I'm not concerned about how much it is, and I'm not concerned about what I get. And that's government. And that's close to 40 percent of our national income."

Let's hope a few bureaucrats and elected officials read those words and show a little more concern for the people who furnish all of those dollars.

Though Friedman died in 2006, his birthday should be celebrated by every person who believes that people -- not government -- are the reason why we live in the richest, healthiest, safest, most prosperous time in the history of the world.