Who is Milton Friedman?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
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  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2019
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Milton Friedman was a controversial yet extraordinarily influential American economist of the 20th century. Among his notable achievements, Friedman won the 1967 Nobel Prize in Economics and served as an adviser to US President Reagan. A political libertarian unashamed of his controversial views, Friedman believed in an extensive free market economy and fought to end the draft and increase personal liberty through such measures as legalizing marijuana and prostitution.

Born to Jewish immigrants in 1916, Milton Friedman studied mathematics at several prominent schools, including Rutgers University, the University of Chicago, and Columbia University. A young adult during the Great Depression, Friedman found work as an economist through President Roosevelt's New Deal, but even while praising the job creation programs felt that Roosevelt made the wrong economic choice by fixing wages and prices to fight the economic crisis. In addition to teaching at universities, Milton Friedman helped create tax programs during World War II and also worked on weapons development as a statistician. Following the war, he became a professor at the University of Chicago and remained there for the next 30 years.


The landmark theory most often associated with Milton Friedman is called quantity theory or monetarism. This theory suggests that the economy of a region is directly related to and influenced by fluctuations in the money supply. As opposed to the popular theories of famed 20th century economist John Maynard Keynes, Friedman's theory rejected the idea that value, or supply and demand, should control the market. Instead, Friedman advocated a central bank that would have control over money supply; inflation, Friedman believed, was a direct result of too much money in the market.

Milton Friedman's concept of monetarism influenced economic policy in the United States and beyond for the rest of the 20th century. While his theories remained extremely controversial, they were quickly adopted into the mainstream. As the American economy has experienced frequent booms and busts regardless of what theory is employed, it is difficult to determine in practice whether Friedman's theories are credible or whether they are an improvement on Keynesian economic theory. They remain however, a major influence on economical theory.

In addition to his work with economic theory, Milton Friedman became an outspoken knight for the causes of personal liberty. He was a strong advocate of ending the US military draft, working on a Nixon-appointed team to determine the effects of transition to a volunteer army. Interestingly, he was a surprising opponent of laws regarding the US postal service, insisting that a free society should not allow government monopolies on a public service. He also hosted a public television show on the topics of economics and social philosophy.


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