While he was a young, “thoroughly Keynesian” Treasury official, Friedman promoted the withholding tax as a temporary, World War II revenue-raiser. This may have been his biggest regret.
“It never occurred to me at the time that I was helping to develop machinery that would make possible a government that I would come to criticize…as too large, too intrusive, too destructive of freedom,” Friedman wrote in Two Lucky People, his and Rose’s memoir. “There is an important lesson here. It is far easier to introduce a government program than to get rid of it.”
Rather than let Uncle Sam vacuum interest-free loans from workers’ paychecks, Americans should be free to send the Treasury monthly checks, along with their rent and power bills. Transparent tax collection likely would ignite a national tax revolt.
For a man awash in accolades, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom that Ronald Reagan awarded him in 1988, Friedman was incredibly modest. He could have been forgiven for having a swollen head; instead, he was disarmingly unassuming.
He also was a bouyant optimist. Asked in late 1999 for words of wisdom as the new millennium approached, Milton Friedman laughed and told me: “The millennium will take care of itself.”
— Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service, a media fellow with the Hoover Institution, and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.