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About Milton Friedman
Photo by The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (RobertHannah89) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.
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How can we benefit from the promise of government while avoiding the threat it poses to individual freedom? In this classic book, Milton Friedman provides the definitive statement of his immensely influential economic philosophy—one in which competitive capitalism serves as both a device for achieving economic freedom and a necessary condition for political freedom. The result is an accessible text that has sold well over half a million copies in English, has been translated into eighteen languages, and shows every sign of becoming more and more influential as time goes on.
"The major social problems of the United States—deteriorating education, lawlessness and crime, homelessness, the collapse of family values, the crisis in medical care—have been produced by well-intended actions of government. That is easy to document. The difficult task is understanding why government is the problem. The power of special interests arising from the concentrated benefits of most government actions and their dispersed costs is only part of the answer. A more fundamental part is the difference between the self-interest of individuals when they are engaged in the private sector and the self-interest of the same individuals when they are engaged in the government sector. The result is a government system that is no longer controlled by "we, the people." Instead of Lincoln's government "of the people, by the people, and for the people," we now have a government "of the people, by the bureaucrats, for the bureaucrats," including the elected representatives who have become bureaucrats. At the moment, term limits appear to be the reform that promises to be most effective in curbing Leviathan."
Writing in the June 1965 issue of theEconomic Journal, Harry G. Johnson begins with a sentence seemingly calibrated to the scale of the book he set himself to review: "The long-awaited monetary history of the United States by Friedman and Schwartz is in every sense of the term a monumental scholarly achievement--monumental in its sheer bulk, monumental in the definitiveness of its treatment of innumerable issues, large and small . . . monumental, above all, in the theoretical and statistical effort and ingenuity that have been brought to bear on the solution of complex and subtle economic issues."
Friedman and Schwartz marshaled massive historical data and sharp analytics to support the claim that monetary policy--steady control of the money supply--matters profoundly in the management of the nation's economy, especially in navigating serious economic fluctuations. In their influential chapter 7, The Great Contraction--which Princeton published in 1965 as a separate paperback--they address the central economic event of the century, the Depression. According to Hugh Rockoff, writing in January 1965: "If Great Depressions could be prevented through timely actions by the monetary authority (or by a monetary rule), as Friedman and Schwartz had contended, then the case for market economies was measurably stronger."
Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976 for work related to A Monetary History as well as to his other Princeton University Press book, A Theory of the Consumption Function (1957).
In this “lively, enlightening introduction to monetary history” (Kirkus Reviews), one of the leading figures of the Chicago school of economics that rejected the theories of John Maynard Keynes offers a journey through history to illustrate the importance of understanding monetary economics, and how monetary theory can ignite or deepen inflation.
With anecdotes revealing the far-reaching consequences of seemingly minor events—for example, how two obscure Scottish chemists destroyed the presidential prospects of William Jennings Bryan, and how FDR’s domestic politics helped communism triumph in China—as well as plain-English explanations of what the monetary system in the United States means for your personal finances and for everyone from the small business owner on Main Street to the banker on Wall Street, Money Mischief is an enlightening read from the author of Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose, who was called “the most influential economist of the second half of the twentieth century” by the Economist.
Economics is sometimes divided into two parts: positive economics and normative economics. The former deals with how the economic problem is solved, while the latter deals with how the economic problem should be solved. The effects of price or rent control on the distribution of income are problems of positive economics. The desirability of these effects on income distribution is a problem of normative economics.
Within economics, the major division is between monetary theory and price theory. Monetary theory deals with the level of prices in general, with cyclical and other fluctuations in total output, total employment, and the like. Price theory deals with the allocation of resources among different uses, the price of one item relative to another.
Prices do three kinds of things. They transmit information, they provide an incentive to users of resources to be guided by this information, and they provide an incentive to owners of resources to follow this information. Milton Friedman's classic book provides the theoretical underpinning for and understanding of prices.
Economics is not concerned solely with economic problems. It is a social science, and is therefore concerned primarily with those economic problems whose solutions involve the cooperation and interaction of different individuals. It is concerned with problems involving a single individual only insofar as the individual's behavior has implications for or effects upon other individuals. Price Theory is concerned not with economic problems in the abstract, but with how a particular society solves its economic problems.
Central to the new theory is its sharp distinction between two concepts of income, measured income, or that which is recorded for a particular period, and permanent income, a longer-period concept in terms of which consumers decide how much to spend and how much to save. Milton Friedman suggests that the total amount spent on consumption is on the average the same fraction of permanent income, regardless of the size of permanent income. The magnitude of the fraction depends on variables such as interest rate, degree of uncertainty relating to occupation, ratio of wealth to income, family size, and so on.
The hypothesis is shown to be consistent with budget studies and time series data, and some of its far-reaching implications are explored in the final chapter.
"…the most influential economist of the second half of the 20th century...possibly of all of it.”—The Economist
"Friedman argued that the best way to make sense of saving and spending was not, as Keynes had done, to resort to loose psychological theorizing, but rather to think of individuals as making rational plans about how to spend their wealth over their lifetimes...The details are a bit technical, but Friedman’s ‘permanent income hypothesis’ and the Ando-Modigliani ‘life cycle model’ resolved several apparent paradoxes about the relationship between income and spending, and remain the foundations of how economists think about spending and saving to this day."—Paul Krugman, New York Times
Milton Friedman on Economics: Selected Papers collects a variety of Friedman’s papers on topics in economics that were originally published in the Journal of Political Economy. Opening with Friedman’s 1977 Nobel Lecture, the volume spans nearly the whole of his career, incorporating papers from as early as 1948 and as late as 1990. An excellent introduction to Friedman’s economic thought, Milton Friedman will be essential for anyone tracing the course of twentieth-century economics and politics.
Friedman and Schwartz's A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, published in 1963, stands as one of the most influential economics books of the twentieth century. A landmark achievement, the book marshaled massive historical data and sharp analytics to support the claim that monetary policy--steady control of the money supply--matters profoundly in the management of the nation's economy, especially in navigating serious economic fluctuations. The chapter entitled "The Great Contraction, 1929-33" addressed the central economic event of the century, the Great Depression. Published as a stand-alone paperback in 1965, The Great Contraction, 1929-1933 argued that the Federal Reserve could have stemmed the severity of the Depression, but failed to exercise its role of managing the monetary system and ameliorating banking panics. The book served as a clarion call to the monetarist school of thought by emphasizing the importance of the money supply in the functioning of the economy--a concept that has come to inform the actions of central banks worldwide.
This edition of the original text includes a new preface by Anna Jacobson Schwartz, as well as a new introduction by the economist Peter Bernstein. It also reprints comments from the current Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, originally made on the occasion of Milton Friedman's 90th birthday, on the enduring influence of Friedman and Schwartz's work and vision.