Krugman on Friedman in 2007

I recently stumbled over Paul Krugman’s 2007 article “Who was Milton Friedman?” from the New York Review of Books. In his otherwise very appreciative and balanced biography (not according to all), Krugman writes the following when commenting on Friedman the-free-market-advocate-rather-than-academic-economist:

“What’s odd about Friedman’s absolutism on the virtues of markets and the vices of government is that in his work as an economist’s economist he was actually a model of restraint. As I pointed out earlier, he made great contributions to economic theory by emphasizing the role of individual rationality—but unlike some of his colleagues, he knew where to stop. Why didn’t he exhibit the same restraint in his role as a public intellectual?

The answer, I suspect, is that he got caught up in an essentially political role. Milton Friedman the great economist could and did acknowledge ambiguity. But Milton Friedman the great champion of free markets was expected to preach the true faith, not give voice to doubts. And he ended up playing the role his followers expected. As a result, over time the refreshing iconoclasm of his early career hardened into a rigid defense of what had become the new orthodoxy.”

I couldn’t help thinking that these more or less same words some day in the future may be written by another great economist, writing about the economist who first came up with these words.

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