Milton Friedman’s appreciation
In today’s WSJ ($), Milton Friedman writes a brief appreciation of Ronald Reagan. Friedman is as revered by economists as Reagan is by conservatives. Here are the main points in Friedman’s piece, for those without access to the Journal.
I first met Ronald Reagan in 1967, shortly after he had become governor of California. We talked about his plans for higher education in the state. He clearly understood the economics of higher education — a system in California whereby the residents of Watts subsidized the college education of the children from Beverly Hills — and was determined to do something about it.
I first realized what a truly extraordinary person he was in early 1973 when I spent an unforgettable day with him barnstorming across California … Gov. Reagan talked freely about his life and views. By the time we returned to our final press interview in Los Angeles, I was able to give an enthusiastic yes to a reporter’s question whether I would support Reagan for president. …
President Reagan [had] extraordinary success in changing the course of non-defense spending. The trend before Mr. Reagan is one of galloping socialism. Had it continued, federal non-defense spending would be more than half again what it is now. Mr. Reagan brought the gallop to a literal standstill. He did so in three ways:
First, by slashing tax rates and so cutting the Congress’s allowance.
Second, by being willing to take a severe recession to end inflation. In my opinion, no other postwar president would have been willing to back the Volcker Fed in its tough stance in 1981-82. I can testify from personal knowledge that Mr. Reagan knew what he was doing. He understood that there was no way of ending inflation without monetary restraint and a temporary recession. As in every area, he stuck to his principles and looked at the long term.
Third, and in some ways the least recognized, by attacking government regulations. … The Federal Register records the thousands of detailed rules and regulations that federal agencies churn out in the course of a year. They are not laws and yet they have the effect of laws and like laws impose costs and restrain activities. Here too, the period before President Reagan was one of galloping socialism. The Reagan years were ones of retreating socialism, and the post-Reagan years, of creeping socialism.
To Mr. Reagan, of course, holding down government spending was a means to an end, not an end in itself. That end was freedom, human freedom, the right of every individual to pursue his own objectives and values so long as he does not interfere with the corresponding right of others. That was his end in every phase of his remarkable career.
We still have a long way to go to achieve the optimum degree of freedom. But few people in human history have contributed more to the achievement of human freedom than Ronald Wilson Reagan.
I’ll buy that, but it doesn’t hurt to have people like Milton Friedman in your corner either.