Bill and I are grateful to the people of the Friedman Foundation for inviting us to this dinner. Many of you know that Bill is a staunch supporter of the Friedman philosophy of limited government and unlimited opportunity for the individual — and that any man or woman who is lucky enough to be in the United States should be able to rise as far as his God-given talents allow. I’m sorry that Bill had to be in New York City tonight, but I’m honored to speak in his place in tribute to two wonderful people.
Milton & Rose, what a serendipitous moment it must have been — for yourselves and ultimately for all of us — when you met at the University of Chicago. I can’t imagine a more perfect match — you are truly a model for other couples to emulate. And this is perhaps why, in your memoirs about a shared life of astounding achievement, you use the book’s title to describe yourselves as “Two Lucky People.”
I would simply like to say that the people of the United States and indeed the world are lucky to have Milton & Rose Friedman. And tonight, Milton & Rose, you grace us with your presence.
We — and future generations of Americans — are indebted to the years of work and all that you have accomplished together. There isn’t much time for me to delve into the details tonight, but your record of extraordinary success, personal and professional, is well-known. Your service in pursuit of the truth has enriched the future of our country and the futures of freedom-loving countries around the world.
Your speeches and writings have influenced countless policy makers at all levels of government in free societies everywhere. By explaining the genius of the American system, you have encouraged us not to stray from the free enterprise principles that helped make our country great.
The Nobel Prize brought you international acclaim, but you have also redefined the realm of public policy, advised presidents, and shaped the course of world events. You proved that it’s possible to change the world by changing the way people think about economics, politics, and the role of markets. You are living proof that the power of ideas has immeasurable force and that our adherence to free market principles has been beneficial, especially considering the tremendous levels of economic growth we have enjoyed over the past 3 decades.
With your breakthroughs in the areas of monetary policy and macro-economic analysis, you helped a host of other economists gain a better understanding of economic fundamentals, which, in turn, has engendered more stable domestic and international economies. Our downturns are less severe and our growth more sustainable.
For me, Milton & Rose — intellectual partners as well as life partners — you are the father and mother of modern economics.
We come together tonight to celebrate 50 years of an idea — the anniversary of the Friedman essay on the need for public school vouchers.
America’s universities and colleges — public and private — are among the best in the world because students have a choice as to where to spend their tuition money. They must compete for students. As a result, there is hardly one university, one college, or one community college, that doesn’t put forth a first-rate product — an educated graduate.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for America’s system of public education in the K through 12 grades. 50 years ago, Milton observed that the public schools desperately needed an injection of what’s found in the American business model — competition.
For the same reasons we recently witnessed in our special election, reforming the public schools around the country has not been easy. Those who benefit from the status quo have fought school vouchers every step of the way. But where school vouchers are now available, there has been dramatic improvement in the performance of both teachers and students.
Government at the local, state, and federal level has attempted to improve public education by increasing funding, implementing standards and testing, and requiring the credentialing of teachers; but much more reform is necessary. The present model is not only broken, it is wrong-headed and un-American. Too many schools are failing too many children in districts where there’s no incentive to change. School choice provides that incentive.
If we can introduce competition into the system, we can generate more innovative and creative educational methods; and as our children do better, they might develop a genuine love of learning, which — as we know — is the key. Like the private sector, public school systems will benefit from increased competition. And this, most importantly, means that our public school students will benefit. Today, 50 years hence, school choice in the form of vouchers is still being debated, but we know that it is an idea whose time has come.
Milton & Rose, we thank you both for your outstanding record of public service and we thank you for what you have done on behalf of the American people. The United States is a better place because of you.