Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I was at a meeting this afternoon, a start of a new year for a volunteer board with new people, and as an ice-breaker we were to draw slips of paper with one of three questions. The one I drew was, who would you like to have dinner with most, but with the condition that that person is deceased. Given the events of the day, I could not think of anyone but Rose Friedman, who had died earlier in the day.

She was an accomplished economist of her own when she agreed to marry Milton, having worked on projects in Washington and New York relating to banking and bonds for new institutions like the FDIC and the National Bureau of Economic Research. She delayed their wedding until she had finished the Washington part of her FDIC work. And yet, in Two Lucky People, she wrote that following her husband was to be her lot, and one she gladly accepted.
Although we both started our life together as economists, there was a difference. From the beginning, I never questioned whose career came first. I left my job at the FDIC because I have never wanted a part-time marriage and Milton was not interested in a Washington career. When we left New York for Wisconsin [where he took an academic post before WW2 --kb], I gave up my job. In part this attitude on my part was probably a reflection of the times. Women's lib was not yet on the horizon. Few married women with families had full-time careers that involved being away from their families most of the day. ... Both Milton and I felt strongly that when we had a family, which we were anticipating, my primary career would be as a mother; the economist would come second.

In addition, in all of life's activities, the personal element is crucial. From the beginning, I have never had the desire to compete with Milton professionally (perhaps because I was smart enough to recognize that I couldn't). On the other hand, he has always made me feel that his achievement is my achievement. In an interview for the San Francisco Sunday Examiner on March 18, 1984, I was asked, as I often am, how I deal with the fact that we do not share equally in the popular limelight. My answer: "Fortunately, I was not born with a strong competitive gene, so his fame is our fame. I will never be a Nobel laureate, but I am very proud to be the wife of one. In addition, he is more gregarious and outgoing and less self-conscious than I, so he is better suited for the limelight." (p. 87)
It is noteworthy that many of Milton's greatest work, Free to Choose, Tyranny of the Status Quo, and Capitalism and Freedom, all bore her name as well as his. You read in Two Lucky People that it was Rose that encouraged Milton to follow through in making Free To Choose as a PBS series over his misgivings, encouraging him not to compromise on the idea that the American people, and eventually the world, was ready for a real intellectual argument for freedom. I left reading their memoirs thinking that the phrase "behind every great man stands a great woman" did not apply to them. She stood alongside.

The cover of Free to Choose has "Winner of the Nobel Prize" below his name and before hers. She never wanted it any differently. They will now share the limelight in eternity, their names forever together.