Thursday, August 20, 2009

Soulmates: Milton and Rose Friedman

I always cry over a good love story. Right now I'm in tears over the end of one about Rose and Milton Friedman.

Milton and Rose were married 68 years, partners in every sense. They'd met in Professor Jacob Viner's 1932 Economic Theory class at the University of Chicago; she the daughter of Jewish immigrants who'd escaped their Russian village of Charterisk just ahead of World War I, settling in Portland, Oregon; he a native of Rahway, New Jersey who'd never been west of the Delaware River.

They were seated alphabetically, Rose Director next to Milton Friedman. Their romance flourished, but they waited six years to marry, on June 25, 1938, until they were confident that they could be securely self-reliant financially. It was this staunch belief in independence and initiative that echoed throughout their professional collaboration, books, articles, presentations in the field of economics that shaped generations of policy and set thousands of young people, usually without their realizing it, off to create their fortunes. They promoted freedom and options--especially in the field of school choice, and millions came to understand the value of enterprise, and its role in fostering synergy and advancement through their co-written 1980 book, later to become a 10-part PBS TV series, "Free to Choose."

When my husband was writing his new book on business, he asked me to find and transcribe a famous little musing by Milton that capsulizes the astounding impact of economic cooperation--and underscores why any impediments to such associations (eg taxes, lobbies, unions) chop the creative spirit and stifle progress.

Sitting casually in front of the camera, Milton Friedman contemplates a pencil--and the hundreds, even thousands of people whose work had a role in producing and bringing it to his hand. The illustration inspires profound gratitude for the efforts of others, and a respect for the industriousness that seeks success and reward for providing things we need and desire.

Rose, meanwhile, didn't seem to mind that her husband was more in the spotlight. According to a statement by the Friedman Foundation, "Milton acknowledged Rose as having been a crucial partner in nearly all his economic and public policy work. And, in addition to her many other accomplishments, Rose had the distinction of being the only person ever known to have won an argument against Milton Friedman."

The couple called their joint 1998 memoir "Two Lucky People." "We've had our ups and downs--the downs early, the ups later," they write, "but our love and confidence in each other was strengthened and deepened by the downs as well as by the ups." During the years, the couple was often photographed holding hands.

The love between them produced two children, Janet and David, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, as well as a banter that gives hope to all who believe love can endure. In a July, 2006 Wall Street Journal interview, the Friedmans answered reporter Tunku Varadarajan's question, "Had it helped their marriage -- [then] in its 68th year -- that they are both economists? Rose (nodding affirmatively): 'Uh-unh. But I don't argue with him . . . very much.' Milton (guffawing): 'Don't believe her! She does her share of arguing . . .' Rose (interrupting): '. . . and I'm not competitive, so I haven't tried to compete with you.' Milton (uxoriously): 'She's been very helpful in all of my work. There's nothing I've written that she hasn't gone over first.'"
At left is a photo of the couple waltzing at the news of Milton's 1976 Nobel prize.

Milton died on November 16, 2006 at 94. Rose joined him two days ago, on August 16, age 98. The conclusion of these remarkable entwined lives evokes in me the same indescribable emotion of a wedding--deep sentiment inspired by the melding of two opposites--male and female--into one superior combination. Soulmates forever.


  1. That is so sweet. I like a good, real love story. They are so inspiring.
    My dad told me and my husband we would never make it and so far we proved him 37 years wrong.
    You and your husband are also inspiring to me.

  2. Good see to them, I am very happy about them and should continue still their death.
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  3. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!