Irony

The New York Review of Books has on archive a rather interesting short biography of Milton Friedman. It is, on the whole, well-written, and I don’t know nearly enough about the facts here to question it’s accuracy, although Tyler Cowen, who should, does express some doubts. It contains the following passage:

Milton Friedman played three roles in the intellectual life of the twentieth century. There was Friedman the economist’s economist, who wrote technical, more or less apolitical analyses of consumer behavior and inflation. There was Friedman the policy entrepreneur, who spent decades campaigning on behalf of the policy known as monetarism—finally seeing the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England adopt his doctrine at the end of the 1970s, only to abandon it as unworkable a few years later. Finally, there was Friedman the ideologue, the great popularizer of free-market doctrine.

Did the same man play all these roles? Yes and no. All three roles were informed by Friedman’s faith in the classical verities of free-market economics. Moreover, Friedman’s effectiveness as a popularizer and propagandist rested in part on his well-deserved reputation as a profound economic theorist. But there’s an important difference between the rigor of his work as a professional economist and the looser, sometimes questionable logic of his pronouncements as a public intellectual. While Friedman’s theoretical work is universally admired by professional economists, there’s much more ambivalence about his policy pronouncements and especially his popularizing. And it must be said that there were some serious questions about his intellectual honesty when he was speaking to the mass public.

The review was written -of course- by Paul Krugman.

PS: It’s still an eminently readable article, though, if only for this quote: “Everything reminds Milton of the money supply. Well, everything reminds me of sex, but I keep it out of the paper” -by Robert Solow himself.

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2 thoughts on “Irony

  1. 🙂 interesting, if only tangentially connected. Loved the part about “asking the Pope to recommend a good contraceptive”. 😀

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