The Corner

Remembering Milton Friedman

The last chapter in my friend Laurence Jarvik’s terrific book “PBS: Behind the Screen” explains how Milton Friedman’s groundbreaking PBS series “Free to Choose” made such an impact. It certainly did on 16-year-old me. Jarvik reported the free-market series on PBS was given, as you might expect, a difficult berth on the taxpayer-funded liberal network, as in New York, where it was shown opposite the Super Bowl:

“Yet in at least one case, PBS aired a blockbuster miniseries unwillingly, a program it neither purchased, funded, nor commissioned, and which it fought to keep off the national schedule every step of the way – as it had with the Mobil Masterpiece Theatre production of the similarly successful ‘Upstairs, Downstairs.’ The year was 1980, the same year Cosmos aired, and the program was Milton Friedman’s ten-part documentary miniseries Free to Choose: The Importance of Free Markets to Personal and Political Freedom. Despite its scheduling problems, the series was extremely successful. The companion volume by Friedman, and his wife, Rose, was on the New York Times bestseller list for a year and was the best-selling nonfiction book of 1980. The sales, which made Friedman a millionaire, did much to expose American audiences to economic ideas that were crucial to understanding what would be called the Reagan revolution…

[Friedman friend] Allen Wallis said, ‘I wasn’t particularly aware of it at the time, but I do know now that it had a tremendous influence, because I often run into people who say how much it influenced them.’ The broadcast of Free to Choose brought the ideas of one of Ronald Reagan’s principal economic advisers to a larger audience than ever before and might even have played a role in his winning the 1980 election.

Tim GrahamTim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center, where he began in 1989, and has served there with the exception of 2001 and 2002, when served ...


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