Choosing Freely: The Friedmans' Influence On Economic and Social Policy
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At Milton Friedman's sixtieth birthday conference, in 1972, George Stigler, the dinner speaker and Milton's friend and colleague, discussed economists' or academics' influence, particularly Milton Friedman's influence. As I recall the lecture after more than thirty years, Stigler began by noting that Milton Friedman was among the most influential of all economists. Then he asked how influential that might be. The implicit answer was that maximizing individuals recognized their self-interest and acted accordingly. There was limited room for influence or persuasion. Influence had, at most, the modest role of hastening the adoption of better solutions.
To bolster his argument, Stigler chose the role of economists in repealing the British Corn Laws. With his typical irony, he drove home the point. "How heartening a tale! Economists turned a great nation from error to truth, from inefficiency to maximum output." Stigler (1975 as quoted in Schwartz, 1993, 207) George Stigler then gave his own explanation of the repeal of the Corn Laws. Economists' defense of free trade had a modest role