Feb 6, 2008

Milton Friedman on public policy

Throughout my career, I spent most of my time on technical economics. This policy stuff has been a strict avocation. If you really want to engage in policy activity, don't make that your vocation. Make it your avocation. Get a job. Get a secure base of income. Otherwise, you're going to get corrupted and destroyed. How are you going to get support? You're only going to get support from people who are ideologically motivated. And you're not going to be as free as you think you're going to be.

One of the most important things in my career is that I always had a major vocation which was not policy. I don't regard what I've done in the field of monetary policy as on the same level as what I've done about trying to get rid of the draft or legalizing drugs. One is a technical byproduct of scientific work, and so that's the only sense in which my vocation has affected my policy. But by having a good firm position in the academic world, I was perfectly free to be my own person in the world of policy. I didn't have to worry about losing my job. I didn't have to worry about being persecuted.

I think you'll make a mistake if you're going to spend your life as a policy wonk. I've seen some of my students who have done this. And some of them are fine, and some of them, especially those who have gone to Washington and stayed, are not.

~ Milton Friedman, "Best of Both Worlds," Reason, June 1995

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