Václav Klaus: Remarks at Milton Friedman Memorial Service

University of Chicago, Rockefeller Chapel, 29.01.2007

published: 29.01.2007, read: 5582×


Dear Rose, Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the University of Chicago Faculty, Ladies and Gentlemen,

it is a great honor for me to be with all of you here today, especially with Rose. Nevertheless, I am not sure I deserve to be privileged to be one of the speakers on this very special occasion, because I did not have the chance to be a long time colleague or a close personal friend of Milton Friedman. I was probably chosen to speak here on behalf of his admirers and pupils. I am proud to declare that I am one of them.

For much of my life, which was spent in the communist era, I was just able to read about him and – what was more important – to read him. Very early, he became one of my heroes. I considered him to be one of the greatest thinkers and economists of the 20th Century. However, I did not dream that I would meet him or talk to him. When I had an opportunity to be at Cornell University in the spring of 1969, I took a Greyhound bus tour across the United States and spent twenty four hours in Chicago. I visited the University, walked around the campus and tried to figure out where Milton Friedman could be. Just to be here, in the vicinity of this great man, was thrilling.

I succeeded in seeing him personally for the first time after the collapse of communism, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, after those historic events he – directly or indirectly – but very substantially influenced. For us, who lived in the communist world, Milton Friedman was the greatest champion of freedom, of limited and unobtrusive government and of free markets. Because of him I became a true believer in the unrestricted market economy. One of my first world-wide quoted statements (at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 1990, a few weeks after our Velvet Revolution) was very Friedmanite. When describing the ambition to transform the country after four decades of communism I said "I want to reestablish markets, but markets without adjectives" and the journalists immediately recognized that I am one of the "Chicago boys". I helped them because I had a Chicago Graduate School of Business tie.

Milton Friedman was the most influential economist of the 20th Century. It is not my role here to analyze his achievements in economic science. As a diligent student of economics I try to follow the law of comparative advantages and know that at the University of Chicago, in front of his colleagues, I do not have the comparative advantage to speak about Milton’s role and achievements in economic science. The day after the sad news of Milton’s death I wrote an article for the main Czech daily on this subject and three weeks later I spoke about him at a seminar in one of the most important Czech think-tanks.

Milton was extremely important for us behind the Iron Curtain. It was unimaginable to meet him then. It was impossible to get his "Capitalism and Freedom". It was not easy to see his Newsweek columns, but it was possible to get The Journal of Political Economy or The American Economic Review in the public library even in the darkest communist days. Some of us read such journals and some of us understood that his contributions were more important than the writings of most of other economists. In the second half of the 1960s, during the so-called Prague Spring era, I wrote an article comparing Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraight. I can assure you that already then my heart was fully on Milton’s side. I also published a paper comparing the quantity theory of money with Keynesian macro-economics, again with a clear preference of mine.

We should mention his theoretical works in the field of the theory of money, of the theory of the consumption function, his arguments for flexible exchange rates and for free trade, his ideas on the methodology of economic science and his views on economic, especially monetary policy. His more general texts about freedom, about the relationship between the individual and the state, about markets and planning, about alternative economic systems were, of course, also fundamental. The books "Capitalism and Freedom" and "Free to Choose" influenced millions of people all over the world. During my recent state visit to Mongolia I was positively surprised to find the Mongolian translation of "Free to Choose" in a bookstore on the main street in the capital.

We all admired him for the clarity of his thinking as well as for his intellectual stubbornness and – at the same time – for his personal kindness and charm. Nothing expresses his life better than the title of the book he wrote together with Rose: "Two Lucky People". From what I know, I can confirm that they were lucky, that they were lucky together and I would add that we were lucky to have had Milton Friedman. Some of us were even privileged to know him personally. We are really missing him. We all owe a lasting debt to him.


Václav Klaus

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