Business: The Intellectual Provocateur

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Most forms of Government activity, Friedman holds, infringe on somebody's liberty. For example, he opposes restrictions on cigarette advertising, which the Senate voted last week to ban from TV and radio after 1970. He thinks that the individual should decide for himself whether to choose the pleasure of smoking over the chance of a longer life; his own decision was to give up smoking a dozen years ago. The draft, in his view, is an intolerable form of compulsion. To the applause of the New Left, he has called for an all-volunteer army—not after the Viet Nam War ends, as President Nixon now proposes, but "yesterday."

Friedman has achieved his status as an intellectual provocateur by sheer force of mind. His parents were immigrants from Ruthenia, a corner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now largely part of the U.S.S.R. He sometimes speculates that if Franz Joseph had instituted a minimum-wage law, his family might have stayed put and he would be a Soviet citizen. In fact, he was born in Brooklyn and grew up on the border of poverty in Rahway, N.J. A scholarship paid his tuition at Rutgers ($300 a year). After graduating in 1932, he held a variety of teaching and research jobs in economics and mathematics, which intensified his talent for abstract thought. As a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin in 1940-41, he so impressed a graduate assistant named Walter W. Heller that Heller led an unsuccessful campaign by a group of students to persuade the university to hire him permanently. Heller, now a frequent opponent of Friedman in debates, remains a great admirer of his technical competence.

Friedman's life is lived largely on the lecture platform and in the classrooms at the University of Chicago. His biography consists mostly of the titles of the 14 books that he has written or coauthored; his wife Rose, an economist herself, is his editor. For all his love of books and ideas, however, he will drop everything to visit the circus, his secret passion. He also exercises his analytic faculties by building things with his hands—including a color TV set that he put together last summer from a kit. Despite his highly organized mind, he is not able to keep a clean desk. David Friedman says that his father got his papers in order only once, when he spread them out over the entire surface of a pingpong table. The young man views his father as a "fulltime intellectual" whose major enjoyment comes from debate. Says David: "I was brought up with the feeling that the normal way of conversation was to argue with people."

When he argues or lectures, Friedman can be quite engaging, using professorial wit to win over his audience. His appearance heightens the academic impression: his short frame, bald head and crooked smile give him a gnomish look. His humor relies on economic in-jokes and strategic pauses before startling conclusions. For example, Monetary Champion Friedman told his Harvard fan club last week: "I believe that fiscal policy is very important [long pause]—but not in its effect on inflation." That cracked up the fan club.

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