Krugman on Friedman

In the New York Review of Books, Paul Krugman deconstructs the late Milton Friedman in his essay: Who was Milton Friedman?

If Keynes was Luther, Friedman was Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. And like the Jesuits, Friedman's followers have acted as a sort of disciplined army of the faithful, spearheading a broad, but incomplete, rollback of Keynesian heresy.

If Economics was a Church, Friedman is already on the fast-track to canonization (his zealous followers are seeing to it). No one disagrees that Friedman was one of the greatest economists of the 20th century; however, Friedman is lionized by economists and the general public for different reasons:

Moreover, Friedman's effectiveness as a popularizer and propagandist rested in part on his well-deserved reputation as a profound economic theorist. But there's an important difference between the rigor of his work as a professional economist and the looser, sometimes questionable logic of his pronouncements as a public intellectual. While Friedman's theoretical work is universally admired by professional economists, there's much more ambivalence about his policy pronouncements and especially his popularizing. And it must be said that there were some serious questions about his intellectual honesty when he was speaking to the mass public.

So, the lay public can hardly be blamed since Friedman himself was responsible for much of the misrepresentation and subsequent misperception of his ideas by public. The disconnect between Friedman's bold rockstar-like public and his more cautious academic pronouncements reveal Friedman to be a more complex than the simple tag-line 'biggest champion of liberty and capitalism' suggests.

The larger issue the article bring up is: if you wish to market yourself as a public intellectual then there better not be any ambiguity and self-doubt. Your band of followers are looking for a clear message and once you get on the roller-coaster there is no getting out.

1 comment:

Ashutosh said...

that's a great article