cover image Samuelson Friedman: The Battle Over the Free Market

Samuelson Friedman: The Battle Over the Free Market

Nicholas Wapshott. Norton, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-28518-5

Journalist Wapshott (Keynes Hayek) returns with another lucid and character-driven account of the rivalry between two leading economists. From 1966 to 1981, MIT professor Paul Samuelson, author of a popular Keynesian economics textbook, and Milton Friedman, a leader of the conservative Chicago school of economics, debated their differences of opinion in a series of alternating columns for Newsweek. Wapshott details the “generosity and civility” Samuelson and Friedman showed each other, and chronicles the waning of Keynesian economics as the U.S. confronted “stagflation” (high inflation coupled with stagnant economic growth) in the 1970s. Friedman was a “street fighter” eager to see his monetarist theories put into practice, while the more moderate Samuelson attempted to synthesize Keynesian economics and the free market principles of the Chicago school. Both men won the Nobel prize, but Wapshott contends that the Great Recession primarily vindicated Samuelson and “shook the commonly held belief that free-market forces, left to their own devices, would act to ensure the perpetual prosperity, full employment, and growth that Americans demanded.” Wapshott briskly explains the underlying economic theories and enlivens his account with cultural history and colorful character sketches. The result is an accessible and nuanced introduction to two of the most influential economists of the 20th century. (June)