Wednesday, April 25, 2007

We're all Friedmanians now! And we're all from Transylvania...

This is a very concise, very well written and largely accesible (to non-economists as well) text of Robert Barro on Milton Friedman and (part of) his work. To join my other blog entries on Milton Friedman. Here's the intro excerpt, meant as an appetizer:

When my son Jason was an economics Ph.D. student at Harvard in the 1990s, he said: “I have observed that only two economists can push you around, Milton Friedman and Gary Becker.” I agreed but argued that it was a good thing. Everyone needed heroes, and Gary had only Milton. Milton had no one, except Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, but Reagan did not really qualify as an economist. Arthur Burns may once have been the economist hero—as an instructor at Rutgers, he apparently helped to persuade the undergraduate Milton not to be an actuary. However, Burns’s exalted status ended in 1971 when he went over to the dark side by endorsing Richard Nixon’s outrageous price controls. Milton tells me that Frank Knight was also his “god,” presumably between 1932 and 1935 when Milton was a graduate student at the University of Chicago and after 1946, when Milton joined the Chicago faculty.

And below there's another fragment from this text that I'd like to emphasize, since I really had no clue about this until now (and for obvious, very objective, reasons that have to do with the fact that I myself am from Transylvania :-)). As it turns out, both Barro and Friedman have Hungarian parental origins and not only that, but, amazingly, Barro's father's origins are in Transylvania. And I wouldn't be surprised if many more current (it is clear that there'll be a few more in the future! :-)) top world economists had their origins somewhere in Transylvania (as some of you might know, there are a bunch of top scientists from various natural sciences, that are originally from Transylvania: one famous exemple that immediately springs to my mind is Albert-László Barabási). So the Vampire Empire should be also famous for other things than the vampires :-). But still, don't get too excited and take it with a humorous note (if you didn't catch that meaning by now): I'm the least likely to believe, a priori, in genetic explanations, ancestry influence and all that, though there's an open empirical question here :-).

I cannot resist noting some intriguing personal linkages between Milton and me. First, we both have Hungarian parental origins from territory that is now part of the Ukraine. (My mother was from Munkacs, now Mukacevo; Milton’s parents were from Beregszasz or Berehovo.) Second, I have the name Friedmann in my ancestry, although from my father’s origins in Transylvania.

Thanks to Greg Mankiw for the link to Barro's paper.

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