By Richard Vedder
The world has lost its greatest economist, Milton Friedman. Milton was a giant among men intellectually, even as he, literally, shrunk physically (always a small person, when I shook hands with him last summer I had to almost bend down). He was very important to me personally, but also to the work of CCAP.
Milton Friedman had enormous faith in people and in their judgment, and he believed that markets work --they allocate resources far better than any other alternative. In his magisterial Capitalism and Freedom Professor Friedman accepted the premise that some government support of higher education was justified because of the alleged positive external spillover effects, but he still felt that efficiency would be gained by promoting private initiative and markets in education by use of educational vouchers to consumers, rather than giving money to government schools. That is the CCAP position today.
His advocacy of vouchers was an extraordinary example of how an idea can have consequences, and defined the modern educational reform movement in primary and secondary schools. Friedman started the Friedman Foundation to continue to spread this great idea after his death.
In writing Going Broke By Degree, I corresponded with Professor Friedman, who revealed that his thinking on the efficacy of government support of higher education had changed, since he had become more aware that education can have negative as well as positive externalities. Indeed, he said a careful analysis of the subject might lead one to conclude that we should tax rather than subsidize universities. That, in turn, has led to CCAP's most important research effort, which is to, in effect, measure some of the economic externalities in higher education. To date, our research is leading us to confirm the observation in my book, namely that higher education government spending often has more negative than positive economic effects.
Milton Friedman was a kind man, a brilliant man, an optimist who loved humanity and trusted its basic judgments, a lover of freedom who did more to transform modern economics than any other human being. The world's greatest economist has died. We are fortunate to have had his rich legacy.