Miller was born in
Boston, Massachusetts to Joel and Sylvia Miller,
 an attorney and housewife. He worked during
World War II as an economist in the division of tax research of the Treasury Department, and received a
Ph.D. in economics from
Johns Hopkins University, 1952. His first academic appointment after receiving his doctorate was Visiting Assistant Lecturer at the
London School of Economics.
In 1958, at
Carnegie Institute of Technology (now
Carnegie Mellon University), he collaborated with his colleague
Franco Modigliani on the paper The Cost of Capital, Corporate Finance and the Theory of Investment. This paper urged a fundamental objection to the traditional view of
corporate finance, according to which a corporation can reduce its
cost of capital by finding the right debt-to-equity ratio. According to the
Modigliani–Miller theorem, on the other hand, there is no right ratio, so corporate managers should seek to minimize tax liability and maximize corporate net wealth, letting the debt ratio chips fall where they will.
The way in which they arrived at this conclusion made use of the "no
arbitrage" argument, i.e. the
premise that any state of affairs that will allow traders of any market instrument to create a riskless money machine will almost immediately disappear. They set the pattern for many arguments based on that premise in subsequent years.
Miller wrote or co-authored eight books. He became a fellow of the Econometric Society in 1975 and was president of the American Finance Association in 1976. He was on the faculty of the
University of Chicago's
Booth School of Business from 1961 until his retirement in 1993, although he continued teaching at the school for several more years.
His works formed the basis of the "Modigliani-Miller Financial Theory".
He served as a public director on the
Chicago Board of Trade 1983–85 and the
Chicago Mercantile Exchange from 1990 until his death in
Chicago on June 3, 2000. In 1993, Miller waded into the controversy surrounding $2 billion in trading losses by what was characterized as a rogue futures trader at a subsidiary of
Metallgesellschaft, arguing in the Wall Street Journal that management of the subsidiary was to blame for panicking and liquidating the position too early.
 In 1995, Miller was engaged by
Nasdaq to rebut allegations of price fixing.
Miller was married to Eleanor Miller, who died in 1969. He was survived by his second wife, Katherine Miller, and by three children from his first marriage and two grandsons.
 Three children by his first marriage: Pamela (1952), Margot (1955), and Louise (1958).