Tag Archives: Great Depression

Jew of the Week: Milton Friedman

The Great Liberator

Milton Friedman (1912-2006) was born in Brooklyn to poor Jewish immigrants from what is today Ukraine (then part of Hungary). He graduated high school at just 15 and earned a big scholarship to Rutgers University. Initially wishing to be a mathematician, the Great Depression inspired Friedman to become an economist instead. After post-graduate studies at the University of Chicago, and a fellowship at Columbia University, Friedman headed to Washington to work as an economist for the government. To help pay for World War II, it was Friedman who introduced the payroll withholding tax system (“pay-as-you-earn”), where income taxes are deducted automatically from an employee’s paycheck. (Friedman later regretted it very much and said he wished it hadn’t been necessary.) He also spent much of the war working on weapons design and military statistics. He finally earned his Ph.D from Columbia after the war, following which he took a professorship at the University of Chicago, where he taught for the next 30 years. He wrote a popular weekly column for Newsweek, for which he won a prestigious award. His 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom was an international bestseller and made Friedman world-famous, while his A Monetary History of the United States became the standard textbook for understanding the Great Depression and the effects of monetary policy. Friedman argued passionately for a free-market economy and for the government to stay out of business. He proposed such important concepts as the permanent income hypothesis, the quantity theory of money, floating exchange rates, sequential sampling, and the natural rate of unemployment. He also argued for abolishing the Federal Reserve, whom he blamed for many economic ills. He was opposed to minimum wages and foresaw that they would actually lead to increases in unemployment. He is also credited with bringing an end to America’s military draft, transitioning the US military into an all-volunteer paid army. He believed conscription was unethical and prevented young men from choosing their own life path. Friedman later said abolishing the draft was his greatest and proudest accomplishment. Friedman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976. After retiring from the University of Chicago the following year, he continued to do research in San Francisco, and also worked on a popular ten-part TV show called Free to Choose (the companion text of which was the bestselling nonfiction book of 1980). Friedman was an economic advisor to Ronald Reagan, and was called the “guru” of the Reagan administration. In 1988, he won a National Medal of Science and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Friedman stayed busy until his final days, and his last article for The Wall Street Journal was published a day after his death! He has been called “the Great Liberator” and has been compared to Adam Smith. The Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty is named after him. He is widely considered one of history’s most significant economists. Today was his yahrzeit.

The End of World War I and the Beginning of the Jewish State

Words of the Week

A society that aims for equality before liberty will end up with neither equality nor liberty.
Milton Friedman

Jew of the Week: Adolph Zukor

“Napoleon of Motion Pictures”

Adolph Zukor

Adolph Zukor

Adolph Zukor (1873-1976) was born in Hungary, and orphaned by the time he was just 7 years old. He was raised by his uncle, the local rabbi, and once had dreams of becoming a rabbi himself. At the young age of 16, he set out on his own and immigrated to the US with just $40. He first got a job sweeping floors for $2 a week at an upholstery store, and then apprenticed as a fur-maker. He set off on his own once again when he was 20, heading to Chicago to start his own fur business with a friend. Zukor was soon a noted clothing designer, and a wealthy man. In 1903, he partnered with his cousin to open an arcade. Of all the entertainment at his arcade, Zukor was most fascinated by movies, and decided to focus his efforts on the new medium. By 1912, he founded his own film distribution company, ‘Famous Players’, which soon premiered the first feature-length film in America. By 1919, Zukor had sole control of his company, later to be known as Paramount Pictures, and owned hundreds of theatres across the country. He also made it the first company to both produce films and distribute them, as well as show them at its own theatres, making Paramount a revolutionary film industry giant. Zukor personally signed some of Hollywood’s earliest stars, though he himself was not a fan of the spotlight, and was a humble, modest businessman. At one point, his Publix movie theatre chain had over 2000 screens across the country, and was showing over 60 new Paramount flicks each year. Unfortunately, the Great Depression hit the film industry hard, and Paramount went bankrupt. Despite no longer being the company’s president, Zukor helped to save Paramount, and continued to play a critical role in the company until 1959, when he officially retired. He remained on the board as an honourary chairman until his passing at the age of 103 – of natural causes, while taking a nap. (He once said, “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”) Zukor continues to be remembered as the greatest of Hollywood pioneers, and has been called ‘the Napoleon of motion pictures’, and ‘the true founding mogul of Hollywood’.

Words of the Week

Creativity is intelligence having fun.
– Albert Einstein

Jew of the Week: William Fox & Joseph Schenck

William Fox

Wilhelm Fried (1875-1952) was born in Hungary to German-Jewish parents that soon immigrated to the U.S. Growing up in New York City, Fried worked in various odd jobs in the fur and garment industry, and even as a newspaper boy. In 1904, having renamed himself William Fox, he purchased a “Nickelodeon” – the earliest kind of movie theatre (often just a converted store front) that showed short films for five cents (hence the term nickelodeon). In 1915 he founded Fox Film Corporation, which originally focused more on building theatres and studios than producing movies. In 1929, Fox attempted to buy out a major share in fellow company MGM. However, a scandal ensued and Fox’s opponents convinced the Justice Department to investigate him for violating anti-trust laws. At the same time, Fox was severely injured in a horrific car accident. Immediately after this, the stock market crashed (sparking the Great Depression). The combination of these three events drove Fox into total bankruptcy, and by 1930 he lost all control of his company. During his bankruptcy hearing several years later, Fox attempted to bribe the judge, and was thus sent to six months in prison. He never returned to the film industry, and died quietly with no Hollywood producers at his funeral.

Joseph Schenck

Fox Film would be taken over by Joseph Michael Schenck (1878-1961), a fellow Jew, born in Russia. Like Fox, Schenck’s family immigrated to New York City. While working at the concession stand of Fort George Amusement Park, Schenck saw the potential of film, and saved up money, together with his brother, to buy Palisades Amusement Park in 1909. Soon after, the brothers parted and Joseph headed to Hollywood for a fresh start. He rose to become president of United Artists (a company co-founded by Charlie Chaplin). He later founded his own company – 20th Century Pictures – in 1933, together with Darryl Zanuck. Two years later, they took over Fox Film to create ’20th Century Fox’. This giant production company is behind such classics as Star Wars, Die Hard, Planet of the Apes, the Simpsons, Family Guy, the X-Files and countless other hits

Words of the Week

Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place.
Pirkei Avot 2:4