These Milton Friedman quotes show why he is regarded as one of the most influential economists of our time.
Nobel prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman, was an advisor to both President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. His research on consumption analysis, monetary history and theory, and the complexity of stabilization policy influenced policies and economies around the globe.
Milton was born in Brooklyn, New York; the son of Jewish immigrants. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers, and then his Master’s from the University of Chicago, where he would later end up teaching.
One of Milton’s most popular works, A Theory of the Consumption Function, introduced the phrase “permanent income” to the masses. This work questioned the commonly held beliefs of Keynesian economics. One of these was that people within a household would modify their expenditures to correlate with their current income levels.
Milton believed that the income people expected to earn over a few years would impact their level of consumption. These Milton Friedman quotes educate us on matters involving government, economics, and life.
Milton Friedman quotes about problems and government
1. “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand.” – Milton Friedman
2. “The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem.” – Milton Friedman
3. “The Great Depression, like most other periods of severe unemployment, was produced by government mismanagement rather than by any inherent instability of the private economy.” – Milton Friedman
4. “Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.” – Milton Friedman
5. “Only government can take perfectly good paper, cover it with perfectly good ink, and make the combination worthless.” – Milton Friedman
6. “Most of the energy of political work is devoted to correcting the effects of mismanagement of government.” – Milton Friedman
7. “I think the government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem and very often makes the problem worse.” – Milton Friedman
8. “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” – Milton Friedman
Milton Friedman quotes that focus on government power
9. “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” – Milton Friedman
10. “The world runs on individuals pursuing their self-interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way.” – Milton Friedman
11. “Government has three primary functions. It should provide for the military defense of the nation. It should enforce contracts between individuals. It should protect citizens from crimes against themselves or their property.”- Milton Friedman
12. “When government – in pursuit of good intentions – tries to rearrange the economy, legislate morality, or help special interests, the cost comes in inefficiency, lack of motivation, and loss of freedom.” – Milton Friedman
13. “Government should be a referee, not an active player.” – Milton Friedman
14. “The greatest advances of civilization, whether in architecture or painting, in science and literature, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralized government.” – Milton Friedman
15. “The lack of balance in governmental activity reflects primarily the failure to separate sharply the question what activities it is appropriate for government to finance from the question what activities it is appropriate for government to administer—a distinction that is important in other areas of government activity as well.” – Milton Friedman
16. “Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom.” – Milton Friedman
Witty Milton Friedman quotes
17. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” – Milton Friedman
18. “Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.” – Milton Friedman
19. “Columbus did not seek a new route to the Indies in response to a majority directive.” – Milton Friedman
20. “One man’s opportunism is another man’s statesmanship.” – Milton Friedman
21. “Governments never learn. Only people learn.” – Milton Friedman
22. “Is it really true that political self-interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest?” – Milton Friedman
If you’re enjoying these quotes, make sure to check out our collection of political quotes that show all perspectives.
Milton Friedman quotes about taxes and capitalism
23. “Inflation is taxation without legislation.” – Milton Friedman
24. “I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible.” – Milton Friedman
25. “We have a system that increasingly taxes work and subsidizes non-work.” – Milton Friedman
26. “Most economic fallacies derive from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another.” – Milton Friedman
27. “History suggests that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom. Clearly, it is not a sufficient condition.” – Milton Friedman
28. “The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm, capitalism is that kind of a system.” – Milton Friedman
29. “The most important ways in which I think the Internet will affect the big issue is that it will make it more difficult for government to collect taxes.” – Milton Friedman
Milton Friedman quotes about markets
30. “The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.” – Milton Friedman
31. “Indeed, a major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it… gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.” – Milton Friedman
32. “The only way that has ever been discovered to have a lot of people cooperate together voluntarily is through the free market. And that’s why it’s so essential to preserving individual freedom.” – Milton Friedman
33. “So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear. That there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.” – Milton Friedman
34. “The black market was a way of getting around government controls. It was a way of enabling the free market to work. It was a way of opening up, enabling people.” – Milton Friedman
35. “The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.” – Milton Friedman
Meaningful Milton Friedman quotes
36. “Concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it.” – Milton Friedman
37. “The power to do good is also the power to do harm.” – Milton Friedman
38. “The only relevant test of the validity of a hypothesis is comparison of prediction with experience.” – Milton Friedman
39. “Universities exist to transmit knowledge and understanding of ideas and values to students, not to provide entertainment for spectators or employment for athletes.” – Milton Friedman
40. “And what does reward virtue? You think the communist commissar rewards virtue? You think a Hitler rewards virtue? You think, excuse me, if you’ll pardon me, American presidents reward virtue? Do they choose their appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed, or on the basis of their political clout?” – Milton Friedman
41. “Well, first of all, tell me, is there some society you know of that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed?” – Milton Friedman
42. “Every friend of freedom must be as revolted as I am by the prospect of turning the United States into an armed camp, by the vision of jails filled with casual drug users and of an army of enforcers empowered to invade the liberty of citizens on slight evidence.” – Milton Friedman
43. “I’m in favor of legalizing drugs. According to my values system, if people want to kill themselves, they have every right to do so. Most of the harm that comes from drugs is because they are illegal.” – Milton Friedman
44. “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.” – Milton Friedman
45. “If all we want are jobs, we can create any number—for example, have people dig holes and then fill them up again, or perform other useless tasks. Work is sometimes its own reward. Mostly, however, it is the price we pay to get the things we want. Our real objective is not just jobs but productive jobs—jobs that will mean more goods and services to consume.” – Milton Friedman
46. “When everybody owns something, nobody owns it, and nobody has a direct interest in maintaining or improving its condition. That is why buildings in the Soviet Union—like public housing in the United States—look decrepit within a year or two of their construction.” – Milton Friedman
47. “Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody uses somebody else’s resources as carefully as he uses his own. So if you want efficiency and effectiveness, if you want knowledge to be properly utilized, you have to do it through the means of private property.” – Milton Friedman
48. “On the other hand, a society that puts freedom first will, as a happy by-product, end up with both greater freedom and greater equality. Though a by-product of freedom, greater equality is not an accident. A free society releases the energies and abilities of people to pursue their own objectives. It prevents some people from arbitrarily suppressing others. It does not prevent some people from achieving positions of privilege, but so long as freedom is maintained, it prevents those positions of privilege from becoming institutionalized; they are subject to continued attack by other able, ambitious people.” – Milton Friedman
49. “Even though the men who wield this power initially be of goodwill and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp.” – Milton Friedman
50. “The chief contemporary manifestation of this idea is the advocacy of ‘democratic socialism’ by many who condemn out of hand the restrictions on individual freedom imposed by ‘totalitarian socialism’ in Russia, and who are persuaded that it is possible for a country to adopt the essential features of Russian economic arrangements and yet to ensure individual freedom through political arrangements.” – Milton Friedman
More Milton Friedman quotes
51. “Society doesn’t have values. People have values.” – Milton Friedman
52. “The combination of economic and political power in the same hands is a sure recipe for tyranny.” – Milton Friedman
53. “Anybody who was easily converted was not worth converting.” – Milton Friedman
54. “Sloppy writing reflects sloppy thinking.” – Milton Friedman
55. “Asking economists for investment advice is like asking a physicist to fix a broken toilet. Not their field, though sort of related.” – Milton Friedman
56. “The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.” – Milton Friedman
57. “The preservation of freedom is the protective reason for limiting and decentralizing governmental power.” – Milton Friedman
58. “There seems little correlation between poverty and honesty. One would rather expect the opposite; dishonesty may not always pay but surely it sometimes does.” – Milton Friedman
59. “The source of tolerance is the recognition that none of us have the absolute truth. There can be no tolerance without humility.” – Milton Friedman
60. “Many highly schooled people are uneducated, and many highly “educated” people are unschooled.” – Milton Friedman
What did you learn from these Milton Friedman quotes?
Capitalism and Freedom, Milton’s book that focused on the parts of economics that didn’t focus on math, has sold over 400,000 copies worldwide.
The book stressed the importance of a free market and limiting the power of the government. It has shaped the libertarian view of government and economic theories.
His three decades of teaching experience, coupled with his views and reach, have made him one of the most influential economists of our time.
Friedman retired from teaching in 1977 but continued to travel the world and make appearances on television. He was a proponent of the monetarist school of economics and co-authored a book titled, A Monetary History of The United States.
A good deal of his work focused on money supply, the role of government, and consumer markets. Feel free to share any other Milton Friedman quotes and sayings you like that didn’t make the list in the comment section below.
March 4, 2021 6:00 AM EST