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Milton Friedman: Think independently

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Milton Friedman liked a good argument. He never wanted yes men around, and he worked at turning the University of Chicago into a place where unconventional views would be tolerated and even encouraged—as long as proponents could support their views with evidence.

Until his death in 2006, Friedman kept up with opposing points of view, a practice being lost today as people find it increasingly easier to retreat into communities of interest reflecting only their own entrenched opinions.

By contrast, Friedman read a range of material from conservative to liberal.

“It seems to me more important to read stuff you disagree with than to read stuff you agree with,” he said.

Flush with facts, the conservative economist enjoyed tossing out ideas that at first seemed outlandish but became more logical as he made a case for them.

For instance, he posited that corporate philanthropy was bad, offering as an example a supermarket chain that donated 5% of its profits to charity. “What reason is there to suppose that the stream of profit distributed in this way would do more good for society than investing that stream of profit in the enterprise itself?” he asked.

The lesson: Broaden your scope of incoming information. Even if you find alternative views infuriating, you’ll develop a wiser and more accurate perspective. At the very least, you’ll have a better-stocked arsenal from which to slay your enemy.

— Adapted from “Economist Milton Friedman,” Curt Schleier, Investor’s Business Daily.

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