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Milton Friedman was a Nobel Prize-winner economist and an influential thinker in the 20th century. He advocated for free markets, limited government, and minimal regulation. Friedman strongly believed that economic freedom is essential for a society to thrive. Milton was an advisor to both President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. His research on consumption analysis, monetary history and theory, and the complexity of stabilization policy, influenced policies and economies around the globe.
Milton was born in Brooklyn, New York; the son of Jewish immigrants. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers, and then his Master’s from the University of Chicago, where he would later end up teaching.
One of Milton’s most popular works, A Theory of the Consumption Function, introduced the phrase “permanent income” to the masses. This work questioned the commonly held beliefs of Keynesian economics. One of these was that people within a household would modify their expenditures to correlate with their current income levels. Milton believed that the income people expected to earn over a few years would impact their level of consumption. These Milton Friedman quotes educate us on matters involving government, economics, and life.
Milton Friedman Quotes
“Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.” – Milton Friedman
“Only government can take perfectly good paper, cover it with perfectly good ink, and make the combination worthless.” – Milton Friedman
“Most of the energy of political work is devoted to correcting the effects of mismanagement of government.” – Milton Friedman
“I think the government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem and very often makes the problem worse.” – Milton Friedman
“One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” – Milton Friedman
“If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand.” – Milton Friedman
“The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem.” – Milton Friedman
“The Great Depression, like most other periods of severe unemployment, was produced by government mismanagement rather than by any inherent instability of the private economy.” – Milton Friedman
“Government should be a referee, not an active player.” – Milton Friedman
“The greatest advances of civilization, whether in architecture or painting, in science and literature, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralized government.” – Milton Friedman
“Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” – Milton Friedman
“The world runs on individuals pursuing their self-interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way.” – Milton Friedman
“Government has three primary functions. It should provide for the military defense of the nation. It should enforce contracts between individuals. It should protect citizens from crimes against themselves or their property.”- Milton Friedman
“When government – in pursuit of good intentions – tries to rearrange the economy, legislate morality, or help special interests, the cost comes in inefficiency, lack of motivation, and loss of freedom.” – Milton Friedman
“Inflation is taxation without legislation.” – Milton Friedman
“I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible.” – Milton Friedman
“Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.” – Milton Friedman
“The lack of balance in governmental activity reflects primarily the failure to separate sharply the question what activities it is appropriate for government to finance from the question what activities it is appropriate for government to administer a distinction that is important in other areas of government activity as well.” – Milton Friedman
“Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom.” – Milton Friedman
“The black market was a way of getting around government controls. It was a way of enabling the free market to work. It was a way of opening up, enabling people.” – Milton Friedman
“The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.” – Milton Friedman
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” – Milton Friedman
“Columbus did not seek a new route to the Indies in response to a majority directive.” – Milton Friedman
“One man’s opportunism is another man’s statesmanship.” – Milton Friedman
“Governments never learn. Only people learn.” – Milton Friedman
“Is it really true that political self-interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest?” – Milton Friedman
“Many highly schooled people are uneducated, and many highly “educated” people are unschooled.” – Milton Friedman
“Society doesn’t have values. People have values.” – Milton Friedman
“The combination of economic and political power in the same hands is a sure recipe for tyranny.” – Milton Friedman
“Anybody who was easily converted was not worth converting.” – Milton Friedman
“Sloppy writing reflects sloppy thinking.” – Milton Friedman
“Asking economists for investment advice is like asking a physicist to fix a broken toilet. Not their field, though sort of related.” – Milton Friedman
“The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.” – Milton Friedman
“The preservation of freedom is the protective reason for limiting and decentralizing governmental power.” – Milton Friedman
“There seems little correlation between poverty and honesty. One would rather expect the opposite; dishonesty may not always pay but surely it sometimes does.” – Milton Friedman
“The source of tolerance is the recognition that none of us have the absolute truth. There can be no tolerance without humility.” – Milton Friedman
“We have a system that increasingly taxes work and subsidizes non-work.” – Milton Friedman
“Most economic fallacies derive from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another.” – Milton Friedman
“History suggests that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom. Clearly, it is not a sufficient condition.” – Milton Friedman
“The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm, capitalism is that kind of a system.” – Milton Friedman
“The most important ways in which I think the Internet will affect the big issue is that it will make it more difficult for government to collect taxes.” – Milton Friedman
“The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.” – Milton Friedman
“Indeed, a major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it… gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.” – Milton Friedman
“The only way that has ever been discovered to have a lot of people cooperate together voluntarily is through the free market. And that’s why it’s so essential to preserving individual freedom.” – Milton Friedman
“So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear. That there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.” – Milton Friedman
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Essential Milton Friedman: Who was Milton Friedman?
Milton Friedman was an American economist who, despite his humble origins, rose to become one of the most influential economists of the 20th century. A Nobel Laureate, Friedman revolutionized the way economists think about consumption, money, stabilization policy and unemployment. Watch this video to learn more about Friedman’s life and work.
Related: Ronald Reagan’s Best Quotes
These Milton Friedman quotes show why he is regarded as one of the most influential economists of our time. Friedman became one of America’s most famous economists, having influenced both academic and political discourse during his lifetime.
Milton Friedman was a decorated economist, particularly well known for his work with the Chicago school of economics and his staunch defense of free markets. His economic theories played an important role in the very heated political debates of the 20th century.