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A Milton Friedman student disarms Keynesian theorists

A former student of the University of Chicago economics professor comments on what he learned from Milton Friedman about government intervention during economic slumps.

Thomas Sowell, a former Friedman student, Marxist and now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, claims that Friedman was a liberal on liberty.

In an opinion piece picked up by the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Tuesday, Sowell outlined his thoughts. “I was a Marxist when I was a student in Professor Friedman’s course...,” said Sowell. “I was still a Marxist after taking Professor Friedman’s class.

“What Friedman is best known for as an economist was his opposition to Keynesian economics, which had largely swept the economics profession on both sides of the Atlantic,” Sowell said.

According to Sowell, Friedman saw the flawed thinking behind Keynesian economics. Friedman challenged the notion that the relationship between inflation and unemployment held only in the short term, when the inflation was unexpected. “But, after everyone got used to inflation, unemployment could be just as high with high inflation as it had been with low inflation.

“There are still some die-hard Keynesians today who keep insisting that the government’s ‘stimulus’ spending would have worked if only it was bigger and lasted longer,” Sowell stated. “This one of those heads-I-win-and-tails-you-lose arguments.”

He contends that Keynesians would stick to their claims even if the federal government spends itself into bankruptcy. An ideal that is held by the current administration’s economic gurus. Keynesians would argue that their economic philosophy would have worked if only the government had spent more stimulus.

Sowell recalls that Milton Friedman considered himself a liberal in the original sense of the word — “someone who believes in the liberty of the individual, free of government intrusions.”

Sowell suggested that, “It is liberals who want to conserve and expand the welfare state.

“Like many, if not most, people who became prominent as opponents of the left, Professor Friedman began on the left. No one converted Milton Friedman, either in economics or in his views on social policy. His own research, analysis and experience converted him,” said Sowell.

Keith Hansen

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
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