Sometimes we are reminded that brilliant people we disagree with were, indeed, brilliant. And if not brilliant, at least great writers. Today I stumbled on a Milton Friedman quote in a reprinted article from the 1970s about economists’ role in policy-making (available at Econ Journal Watch here). The Friedman quote is one of the two epigraphs, and speaks to the need to moderate the claims of economic policy and theory:
A major problem of our time is that people have come to expect policies to produce results that they are incapable of producing. …we economists in recent years have done vast harm—to society at large and to our profession in particular—by claiming more than we can deliver. We have thereby encouraged politicians to make extravagant promises, inculcate unrealistic expectations in the public at large, and promote discontent with reasonably satisfactory results because they fall short of the economists’ promised land.
Friedman wrote that in 1972, in “Have Monetary Policies Failed” (AER). The article begins amusingly enough with a reference to a passover Seder:
The topic for this session reminds me of the first of the four questions that the youngest male at the Jewish Passover Seder traditionally asks the head of the household: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In like fashion, we are asked: “Are this recession and expansion different from all other recessions and expansions?”
Agree or disagree, Friedman certainly could write!