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Sat, Jan. 25

The defender of capitalism is gone

WASHINGTON ­ The death of Milton Friedman, pre-eminent champion of free markets, free trade and low taxes, has silenced the world's most articulate defender of capitalism and individual freedom.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist's passing leaves a gaping hole in the science of economics on many fronts, but perhaps none more pivotal and troublesome than the continuing battle on behalf of free-market policies that have led to a new wealth of nations.

Friedman's vast academic contributions to monetary policy, controlling inflation and numerous other economic issues are legendary and lasting. But it was his robust and heroic defense of the power of the marketplace here and around the world that will be his most important legacy.

It is hard to think of another economist who wrote and spoke about economic issues with more clarity and intellectual heft than Friedman or with more influence on a global stage.

He helped to promote, nurture and expand the worldwide movement to privatize state-owned enterprises, lower tariffs and other obstacles to the free exchange of goods and services and foreign investment. In the process, he moved many countries away from the socialist, protectionist policies that had kept them locked in a perpetual state of poverty and social decay.

He certainly had a huge impact on Ronald Reagan, who embraced his economic prescriptions for lowering tax rates and free-trade agreements with other nations, which led to a North American Free Trade Agreement and similar pacts with other nations.

He advised countries to free their economies from anticompetitive rules and oppressive taxation that prohibited foreign investment, new enterprise, job creation and economic growth. The dramatic economic changes helped lift global economies to a higher level of freedom and prosperity.

Those policies, however, remain under attack from the forces of statism, socialism and pessimism here and abroad.

When I interviewed Friedman this past year, he acknowledged that we must teach the benefits of economic freedom to each succeeding generation. While Friedman's teachings live on in his books, columns and TV lectures, they critically need reinforcements.

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