11/22/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Milton Friedman, Socialist

If John McCain or Sarah Palin had written Milton Friedman's obit in 2006, would they have vilified the Nobel laureate economist widely regaled as the father of modern conservatism as some kind of anti-capitalist who was bent on spreading the wealth around?

Or are they simply unaware that it was Friedman, the laissez-faire icon and dean of neoconservative economics, who first advanced what he called the "negative income tax" as the most efficient means of alleviating poverty?

Friedman's notion, which Barack Obama has reincarnated under a slightly different rubric, was to use the tax system not just to collect revenue but also (egad) to redistribute wealth.

Imagine how McCain and Palin would play at, say, a meeting of the American Economic Association if they substituted "Friedman" for "Obama" in their recent campaign rhetoric:

"Milton Friedman's tax plan would convert the IRS into a giant welfare agency, redistributing massive amounts of wealth at the direction of politicians in Washington." -- McCain.

"Friedman's plans to raise taxes on some in order to give checks out to others is not a tax cut, it is more government growth and it's another government giveaway. Whatever you call his tax plan and that redistribution of wealth, it will destroy jobs. It will hurt our economy. And it's about time that we all called Milton Friedman on it." -- Palin.