Friedman Samuelson: The Frenemies
By Amy Willis
On the surface, Milton Friedman and Paul Samuelson have a lot in common. They each did pathbreaking work in economics; both won Nobel prizes. Each had a column in Newsweek on alternating weeks for eighteen years. And they were, by their own admission, each other’s greatest rivals- Samuelson, the “High Priest of Keynesianism, and Friedman, the practical free market ideologue. In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomed author Nicholas Wapshott to talk about his new book, Samuelson Friedman: The Battle Over the Free Market.
Wapshott tells a story of friendly rivalry, professional ambition, and lasting legacies. One wonders who could fill the shoes of either Samuelson or Friedman today. Let’s hear what you took from this episode. Use the prompts below to start a conversation here in the comment, or with your fav friend (or frenemy?) offline. As always, we love to hear from you.
1- How does Wapshott characterize the respective academic contributions of Samuelson and Friedman? How does he compare the motivations of each relative to their success? What does he imply in describing Friedman as “seductive” and Samuelson as “patrician?” What were the greatest sorts of disagreements between the two on economic issues?
2- Samuelson was probably most famous for his textbook. What does Roberts mean when he says that despite not having a textbook of his own, Friedman was continually “percolating” through Samuelson’s textbook revisions?
3- Roberts described Friedman’s influence on monetary policy as immortal. What was the substance of Friedman’s influence in this area? How does Wapshott characterize Friedman’s influence here differently? Who do you think better characterizes Friedman’s legacy here, and why?
4- Wapshott and Roberts agree that of the two, Friedman was more directly engaged in policy. How does each evaluate Friedman’s successes and failure with regard to his policy proposals? What do you think has been Friedman’s greatest policy success? His greatest failure?
5- Roberts suggests that ultimately, Hayek has been more influential in the policy sphere than Friedman. To what extent do you agree? Who do you think has had a more lasting influence on economic policy between Friedman and Samuelson? And more broadly, what do you think the role of economists should be with regard to public policy?
6- Roberts and Wapshott spend a good bit of time discussing the Hoover Institution toward the end of the conversation, and both seem to suggest they find something “missing” in its atmosphere today, as compared to when Friedman and George Shultz were in residence. What do you think they’re missing, and how might any institution recover what they feel has been lost?