Nov

28

The following is from Gary Becker and Richard Posners' Blog. It is a piece by Becker on Milton Friedman, who sadly passed away this month. [Read the NYTimes Obituary]

I will not dwell here on what a remarkable colleague he was. However, I do want to describe my first exposure to him as a teacher since he enormously changed my approach to economics, and to life itself. After my first class with him a half-century ago, I recognized that I was fortunate to have an extraordinary economist as a teacher. During that class he asked a question, and I shot up my hand and was called on to provide an answer. I still remember what he said, "That is no answer, for you are only restating the question in other words." I sat down humiliated, but I knew he was right. I decided on my way home after a very stimulating class that despite all the economics I had studied at Princeton, and the two economics articles I was in the process of publishing, I had to relearn economics from the ground up. I sat at Friedman's feet for the next six years– three as an Assistant Professor at Chicago– learning economics from a fresh perspective. It was the most exciting intellectual period of my life. Further reflections on Friedman as a teacher can be found in my essay on him in the collection edited by Edward Shils, Remembering the University of Chicago: Teachers, Scientists, and Scholars, 1991, University of Chicago Press……

To conclude on a more personal level, I was most impressed by Milton Friedman's sterling character–he would never soften his views to curry favor–his perennial optimism, his loyalty to those he liked, his love of a good argument without any personal attacks on his opponents, and his courage in the face of prolonged and virulent attacks on him by others. I cannot count the number of times I participated with him in seminars, nor how many visits my wife and I shared with Milton and Rose, his wife of almost 70 years. Rose, a fine economist, would not hesitate to differ with her husband when she believed his arguments were wrong or too loose. When I spoke on the phone with him last Monday, he sounded strong and a bit optimistic about his health, even though he had just returned from a one-week hospital stay with a severe illness, an illness that a few days later took his life. Although his ideas live on stronger than ever, it is hard to believe that he is not here. I can no longer seek his opinions on my papers, but I will continue to ask myself about any ideas I have: would my teacher and dear friend Milton Friedman believe they are any good?

Sam Humbert adds:

I also like these vignettes from Ben Stein:

When I was a Columbia undergrad in the early '60s, Friedman taught there for a year and was a good friend to me. He even used applied statistics to save me from romantic desperation when I was worried about replacing a girlfriend. If there were only one right woman for every right man, he advised, they would never find each other. Another time, he stopped me from crossing against the light on Broadway and 116th Street, telling me, "Why risk your whole life to save 10 seconds?"

Archives

Resources & Links

Search