Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman: The Epic Battle that Wasn’t

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The British journalist Nicholas Wapshott’s Samuelson Friedman, a sequel to his earlier Keynes Hayek, promises an exciting Shootout at the OK Corral but doesn’t deliver. (The silly book titles don’t help either.) Nobel laureates Paul Samuelson, left of center, and Milton Friedman, firmly on the right, had much more in common than not — they were both passionate believers in the efficiency and rightness of the supply-demand-price system, which is the organizing principle for any voluntary economy. They were friends and admired each other’s work. While their policy views differed substantially, if they had not had alternating columns in Newsweek from 1966 until 1984 they would probably not have been cast as opposites in this or any book.

The two men differed on how large a role government should have in society. Don’t we all? Put two economists, or two political thinkers, or two ordinary citizens in a room and you’ll have at least three opinions on the question.

They also differed on whether Keynesian (Samuelson) or neoclassical (Friedman) economics painted a more accurate picture of the forces that shape the economy. In an interview, Wapshott said that Samuelson Friedman was conceived as a sequel to his earlier book, Keynes Hayek, which portrayed two men with similarly contrasting views.

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