Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Friedmans honored at Chapman

I did a couple of posts about this over at the Register's Orange Punch commentary blog, here, and here, but it was such a peak experience for me that I wanted to say a little more. Yesterday Chapman University dedicated the Milton and Rose Friedman Reading Room in its Leatherby Library, and I was honored to be asked to speak both at the dedication and at the lunch that followed. The first talk was about the Friedmans' involvement in education issues, especially school choice and vouchers, to which they dedicated the Friedman Foundation in 1996. It seemed to me that I did rather well, having steeped myself in information and spoken without notes. The university's head librarian told me later that Rose Friedman was nodding and smiling through most of the talk, so that pleases me.

Rose Friedman, now 97, is a phenomenon. She did better with an arm to lean on, but she can still get around, if slowly. She is incredibly tiny. Her mind is still quite sharp. Her mother lived to 103, so I hope the world can enjoy the pleasure of her company for a long time to come. I remember having a fairly lengthy discussion with her, probably in the late 1980s at a Pacific Research Institute function in San Francisco (about what she thought were diminishing prospects for liberty) and thinking that Milton Friedman was a lucky man to have found such an exceptional person as a life partner. The title of their joint autobiography, "Two Lucky People," bore out my intuition.

I first met David Friedman, Milton's son, in 1967, the summer I was a journalism intern at Human Events. One night I went to Dupont Circle, the closest Washington came to having a countercultural gathering place back then, and there was this comnpact, curly-headed young man earnestly explaining to somewhat befuddled but fascinated hippies and longhairs that if they really wanted freedom and self-actualization, they should be fans of free markets. It was David Friedman. I still don't know what he was doing in Washington that summer, but we formed an immediate bond, even though he is one of the few people I have met about whom I think that his brain operates on a rather different and decidedly higher plane than mine. (Among the others are Durk Pearson and Richard Epstein). We haven't been close since then, but run into one another every few years. He at least expressed something like relief in the lobby yesterday at seeing a familar face (though I wouldn't be surprised if he was checking out my name tag to be sure).

The dedication was folowed by a panel discussion, featuring David, Nobel Prize economist Vernon Smith (now at Chapman) , and veteran UCLA profs Harold Demsetz and Arnold Harberger (who told me later that Bill Niskanen was a student of his) on the general topic of "What Would Milton Do?" about the current financial crisis. I'll report further on it in future posts.


David Friedman said...

I was spending the summer in Washington as a congressional intern, working (in theory) for Tom Curtis. He lent me out to the Joint Economic Committee, which lent me to their Committee on State and Local Finance (aka several others things--the same people with multiple hats). It was an interesting experience.

I had a room near Dupont Circle, so sometimes went there looking for people to talk with.


Mike Freitas said...

I agree with you about the minds of Friedman and Pearson. A few years ago in Vegas, 2004?, I had the pleasure of having dinner with David, Durk, Bill Bradford, Stephen Cox and other's. Since David sat across from me and I was between Bradford and Cox, I spent my time listening and talking to them. I was a great.

A couple of years later I came across the phrase, "The smartest guy in the room." I thought of that night and thought that David and Durk were probably always, "The smartest guys in the room. So I wondered who was smartest guy in that room.

I wrote David Friedman an e-mail and mentioned that night. I asked him, "Who was the smartest guy in the room that night?"

He replied quickly with a riddle instead of an answer and I deleted the thing a while ago. He didn't say who was or who wasn't, but he wasn't conceding the floor either. He's a good man.