How come no economist on the right is asking "Where are the Galbraiths of yesteryear?"? It's because Milton Friedman won the debate, and John Kenneth Galbraith lost. Both Friedman (on the right) and Galbraith (on the left) were once leading public intellectuals and economists. I used to read them both. I wonder how many young economists have even heard of Galbraith?
[I wrote this a couple of days back, but wasn't sure whether to post it. Today I asked a colleague in Political Science/Political Economy about Galbraith's reputation as an academic, and he said it was high - in the same ballpark as Friedman's academic reputation in economics. Then, by sheer chance, I found a Brad DeLong post, recently hoisted from his archives, saying something similar. In an alternate universe, Galbraith won and Friedman lost, and economics would be very different today. So I decided to post this, FWIW.]
I can't think of any economist living today who has had as much influence on economics and economic policy as Milton Friedman had, and still has. Neither on the right, nor on the left.
If you had a time machine, went back to (say) 1985, picked up Milton Friedman, brought him forward to 2015, and showed him the current debate over macroeconomic policy, he could immediately join right in. Is there anything important that would be really new to him?
We are all Friedman's children and grandchildren. The way that New Keynesians approach macroeconomics owes more to Friedman than to Keynes: the permanent income hypothesis; the expectations-augmented Phillips Curve; the idea that the central bank is responsible for inflation and should follow a transparent rule. The first two Friedman invented; the third pre-dates Friedman, but he persuaded us it was right. Using the nominal interest rate as the monetary policy instrument is non-Friedmanite, but the new-fangled "Quantitative Easing" is just a silly new name for Friedmanite base-control.
We easily forget how daft the 1970's really were, and some ideas were much worse than pet rocks. (Marxism was by far the worst, of course, and had a lot of support amongst university intellectuals, though not much in economics departments.) When inflation was too high, and we wanted to bring inflation down, many (most?) macroeconomists advocated direct controls on prices and wages. And governments in Canada, the US, the UK (there must have been more) actually implemented direct controls on prices and wages to bring inflation down. Milton Friedman actually had to argue against price and wage controls and against the prevailing wisdom that inflation was caused by monopoly power, monopoly unions, a grab-bag of sociological factors, and had nothing to do with monetary policy.
Imagine if I argued today: "Inflation is dangerously low. In order to increase inflation, governments should pass a law saying that all firms must raise all prices and wages by a minimum of 2% a year, unless they apply for and get special permission from the Prices and Incomes Board to raise them by less." What are the chances my policy proposal would be accepted?
Friedman had a mountain to move, and he moved it. And because he already moved it, we simply cannot have a Friedman today.
Great men like Friedman require a great job to do, or else they can't become great men. They also require an aristocracy, oligarchy, or monarchy, where only a few voices can get heard, or else they can't become one of the few voices. The internet actually makes it harder to create great public intellectuals, which is probably a good thing, simply because it's harder to stand out as great, when there's lots of competition.
The right won the economics debate; left and right are just haggling over details. The big debate is no longer about economics (sadly for me); and it won't be held on the pages of the New York Times or in the economics journals.