Who would you say could be ranked as the most influential intellectual of the 20th century? Albert Einstein is often mentioned, and rightfully so.
Other names that often meet the criteria include the polymathic logician Bertrand Russell, psychoanalysis pioneer Sigmund Freud, and the ground-breaking crystallographer Rosalind Franklin.
Each thinker above had introduced a new paradigm shift in their own thematic field and are thus eligible for consideration as the 20th centuries most influential thinker. In general, these scientists and philosophers often reappear in polls dedicated to this honourable distinction. For example, Albert Einstein was recently named Person of the Century by Time Magazine as he is credited with revolutionizing the field of theoretical physics.
Often left out of these polls, however, is a man who rapidly shaped the American socioeconomic landscape, that subsequently permitted the nation to prosper in the second-half of the 20th century. As the leading economist of the Chicago School of Economics, Milton Friedman can be considered one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. Largely thought of as the patriarch to the neo-liberal political economy, Friedman pushed for reduced government intervention arguing that such measures will eventually lead to widespread economic growth.
It should be noted that Friedman was undertaking a task that was widely unpopular at the time. Preceding the advent of neo-liberal prosperity, John Maynard Keynes promoted vigorously the political ‘Welfare State’. The Welfare State which was popularized under the designation of Keynesianism, maintained that the free market was heavily unstable and largely unpredictable. As such, the government must coerce itself into the natural flow of supply and demand, arguing that such measures will allow any modern economy to reach a desired economic equilibrium. In retrospect, we now know that Keynesianism is not pragmatic for an economy that largely defines the global political economy. Similarly, the Welfare State is not practical nor applicable to an economy as large and diverse as the United States.
Milton Friedman knew the ramifications for implementing an economic system that did not rely on competitive capitalism, and he thus fought tirelessly with his economic counterparts to ensure that impeding taxations would not hinder on any prosperity for the nation. This was often a lopsided battle for Friedman, as academia was (as it is today), largely favourable towards leftist predispositions.
It is thus important for us to recognize the magnitude of Friedman’s influence. As the intellectual heir of monetarism, Friedman is a rational giant and as such is deserving of some recognition.