There's a certain randomness to death. Famous people in varying roles die regularly, but often you see some interesting juxtapositions. I remember well a week in August, 1977, when we said goodbye to two very different American icons, Elvis Presley and Groucho Marx. Both geniuses, both sui generis.
This week we said goodbye to two very successful, but very different men. Milton Friedman, probably the most influential and consequential economist since Keynes, passed away on Thursday. Yesterday, Bo Schembechler, the longtime face of Michigan football, passed away on the eve of the one of the biggest games in Michigan history, their showdown with hated Ohio State.
What do they have in common? Not much, really, except for excellence. Friedman was the leading voice of free market economic theory during a time when such thinking was generally anathema in academe and in government. He spent most of his career swimming against a seemingly insurmountable tide of Keynesian economic theory. He had his acolytes, but they were generally a lonely bunch. History will record that he had one acolyte who mattered - Ronald Reagan. And Reagan, using Friedman's wisdom to a large degree, changed the way we think about the world. Even as the Democrats prepare to take power, they must account for Friedman's theories on monetary policy and the proper role of government.
Meanwhile, Bo brought Michigan back. It's easy to forget, and I only know this from research as I am too young to remember this, but the Wolverines were a dynasty in ruins in the 1960s, much like the New York Yankees were at that same time. Bo rebuilt the program and Michigan has been a standard for excellence ever since, dominating the Big Ten for most of the past 40 years, generally in tandem with Ohio State. We will celebrate this rivalry again today, but Bo's presence will be stronger in death than it might have been in any other way. Keith Jackson, the famed announcer, called the timing of Schembechler's death "spooky." It may be the hand of Fate. Anyway, it really adds a twist to a game that already had a surfeit of subplots.