Sunday, November 19, 2006

A giant of liberty dies

Although I first met Milton Friedman's son, David, in 1967, in Washington, D.C. -- he used to go down to Dupont Circle almost every night to try to convince the hippies that if they were consistent about the values and preferences they espoused they should be free-market libertarians -- I didn't meet Milton Friedman until sometime in the 1980s, probably at a Pacific Research Institute seminar or banquet. After that I saw him a few times at Hoover Institution events, and usually had a few minutes with him one on one. Those were some of my most charished memories.

Milton Friedman looked you in the eye, with that little twinkle in his, and listened to questions, then answered them in a way that you knew he had really listened and understood -- sometimes including implications you hadn't thought of. When he was talking to you he treated you as if yopu were the only person in the world at that particular moment. In fact the only person for him was his wonderful wife Rose, with whom I also had the privilege of speaking a few times, trying to reassure her that the freedom movement would live on after her generation got old and was no longer able to contribute much anymore.

I guess Milton's 1962 book, "Capitalism and Freedom," along with Hayek's "Road to Serfdom," was a major contributor (for better or worse) to my intellectual and ideological development. Hayek taught a class at UCLA when I was there. Having read his book I knew he was a big deal, but since he taught (as I remember) a graduate seminar I couldn't take his class and thought it would be presumptuous just to drop into his office and say I would just like to meet him. I've regretted that decision ever since, as the occasion to meet him never arose again.

Lesson: If you want to meet somebody you admire -- or who just interests you -- take advantage of opportunities, even if it means being a tad pushy. The person will probably be flattered. Of course, being impolite should not be an option.

Milton Friedman's discipline was economics but his passion was liberty. He was still writing things, and writing them well, at age 93. May we all be so coherent at that age. He will be missed.

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