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Tribute to Milton Friedman

English Pages, 8. 9. 2008

Dear colleagues, dear friends,

(1) It is a great honor for me to be asked to say a few words to this distinguished and very knowledgeable audience about one of our greatest heroes, about one of the past Mont Pelerin Society presidents, about a friend of many of us, Milton Friedman. This is the first MPS General Meeting after his passing away in December 2006 and it is our duty to remember him here today and to say very clearly, loudly and explicitly how much we all owe him.

I am not sure I deserve to be privileged to speak on this very special occasion. Even though I met Milton many times in many places of the world in the past 19 years, I was not his long time colleague, collaborator or a close personal friend. I was probably chosen to speak here on behalf of his admirers and pupils. I am proud to declare that I am one of them.

My first opportunity to see him and exchange a few words with him was during the Munich meeting of our Society in 1990. For most of my life, which was spent in the communist era, I was just able to read about him and – what was much more important – to read him. Very early, he became one of my most important teachers – of course, at a distance. I considered and I do consider him, and I suppose most of you share my view, to be one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century.

As I said, I succeeded in meeting him personally for the first time after the collapse of communism, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, after those historic events he – directly or indirectly – but very substantially influenced. For us, who lived in the communist world, Milton was the greatest champion of freedom, of limited and unobtrusive government and of free markets. (2)

He was for many reasons important for the people in the West, North and South, but he was crucial for us in the East. We studied him very carefully. It was, of course, difficult to get his „Capitalism and Freedom“. It was not easy to see his Newsweek columns, but it was possible to get The Journal of Political Economy, The American Economic Review or the Journal of Money, Credit and Banking in the public library even in the darkest communist days. Some of us read such journals and some of us even understood that his contributions were more important than the writings of most of other economists. (3)

He was – without a doubt – one of the most influential academic economists of the second half of the 20th century. We certainly do not plan to analyze his achievements in economic theory here today but we should at least mention his theoretical works in the fields of the theory of money, of the theory of the consumption function, his arguments for flexible exchange rates and for free trade, his ideas on the methodology of science and his views on economic, especially monetary policy. His more general texts about freedom, about the relationship between the individual and the state, about markets and planning, about alternative economic systems were not less fundamental. The books „Capitalism and Freedom“ and „Free to Choose“ influenced millions of people all over the world.

We all admired him for the clarity of his thinking as well as for his intellectual stubbornness and – at the same time – for his personal kindness and charm. Nothing captures or summarizes his life better than the title of the book he wrote together with Rose: „Two Lucky People“. From what I know, I can confirm that they were lucky, that they were lucky together and I would add that we were lucky to have had Milton Friedman. Some of us were even privileged to know him personally, to play tennis with him or skiing together in Whistler mountains. We are really missing him. We all owe a lasting debt to him.

Václav Klaus, Tokyo, 8. September 2008


1 - Luncheon remarks, MPS General Meeting, Tokyo, September 8, 2008

2 - One of my first world-wide quoted statements (at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 1990, a few weeks after our Velvet Revolution) was very Friedmanite. When I was describing our plans to transform the country after four decades of communism I said „we want to reestablish markets, but markets without adjectives“ and the journalists immediately called me one of the „Chicago boys“.

3 - In the second half of the 1960s, I wrote an article comparing Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraight. I can assure you that already then my heart was fully on Milton’s side. I also published a paper comparing the quantity theory of money with the Keynesian macroeconomics, again with a clear preference of mine.


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