Milton Friedman and Historical Landmarks

Time flies, and with it the memory of the late economist Milton Friedman, who would have been 99 years old this year. However, we at the Mackinac Center and the Foundation for Educational Choice hope to revive Friedman’s legacy by hosting some lectures this Friday on his monetary policy. It is also the 15oth anniversary of the American Civil War, an issue encompassing a context for economic analysis.

Friedman’s free-market principles are vital to comprehending monetary supply during the Civil War. An entire generation of brothers hammered their plowshares into swords. As Northern factories shaped rifles and Southern farmers smelt bullets, the strain on local economies was enormous. Like a plague of locusts, the “terrible swift sword” burned through the Virginian Shenandoah Valley and across Georgia, destroying Southern crops and vegetation. Along the Western front, raiders on both sides wreaked havoc on the civilian populace. In the words of a song, “not now for songs of a nation’s wrongs,
not the groans of starving labor; Let the rifle ring and the bullet sing to the clash of the flashing sabre!” The elephant in the room was big government, as usual. Both North and South inflated their money supplies, causing a rise in prices. Southern currency especially suffered a significant decrease in value due to the printing of excess Confederate money. As was apparent to Friedman, inflation is most often the fault of central banks, like those during the Civil War, that print more money than reflects actual market demand.

As a historian, I have always found Friedman’s work to be historically pertinent. His view of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as an era of prosperity deserves more academic acceptance than it gets. I agree with Friedman’s impression that America during the Victorian era was a beacon to all those persecuted peoples throughout the earth who wished simply for the freedom to work hard for their existence. It was not a “gilded age” as historians want to paint it but a golden one. Friedman’s love for America’s heritage and his presumption of good will to all people, even his enemies, are his two qualities I admire most.

This Friday will be a day of both celebration and solemn reflection, as we remember Friedman’s legacy and the many thousands of lives lost during the Civil War. History often repeats itself in various forms. If we do not apply absolute principles to past events, we will be subject to repeating the same mistakes that history contains. We must remember those who are important in the history of our freedom, and reclaim our historical landmarks of liberty.

E. Wesley – Mackinac Center Intern

Image of CivilWarFifeandDrum from Wikipedia