Yesterday was Milton Friedman Day. Teachers and admirers gathered to remember the legacy of the Nobel Laureate who some would say was the greatest economist of the 20th Century. His achievements were too numerous to list, but among them were these: Understanding and conquering the scourge of inflation, ending conscription to help make the US military the greatest fighting force in the world, and ultimately dispensing advice that would help lift millions around the world out of poverty through economic freedom.
It was nice to see the legislature honor Friedman yesterday. Recognition is laudable but action speaks louder than words. How might our actions pay tribute to a humble, soft-spoken man whose ideas nevertheless brought so much good to the world? We remember that in the last decades of his life, Friedman was devoted to one issue: improving American schools. And his answer to improving American schools was as simple as his answer to most other American political problems: let free people choose. Friedman was convinced that letting parents choose schools was the surest way to make sure that schools improve and children get the best education possible. From one of his final interviews:
“The fundamental thing that’s wrong with our present setup of elementary and secondary schooling is that it’s a case in which the government is subsidizing a product,” he says. “If you subsidize the producers, as we do in schooling, they have every incentive to have a status quo, and a non-progressive system, because they are a monopoly.” …
But he is just as ticked off by what he sees as the great unfairness to poor kids.
“It’s very clear that the people who suffer most in our present system are people in the slums — blacks, Hispanics, the poor, the underclass.”
When I ask him about the “achievement gap” separating low-scoring black and Latino students from better-scoring whites and Asians, he blames my “friends in the union.”
“They are running a system that maximizes the gap in performance. . . Tell me, where is the gap between the poor and rich wider than it is in schooling? A more sensible education system, one that is based on the market, would stave off the division of this country into haves and have-nots; it would make for a more egalitarian society because you’d have more equal opportunities for education.”
Friedman’s commitment to his idea led him to devote the last decade of his life to creating, building, and supporting a foundation for a parent’s right to choose the best school for their child. You can learn more about Friedman’s views on the prospects for school choice here, here, here and even here. Volume 6 of Free to Choose (“What’s Wrong with Our Schools?”) is available as streaming video here.
But if you really share Friedman’s vision for improving schools, increasing liberty, and promoting opportunity, you’ll continue his work to ensure that every parent has the right to chose the best school for their child. Anything less is merely words.