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Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.
October 21, 2008 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Friedman under attack More than 100 faculty at the University of Chicago, where Milton Friedman won the 1976 Nobel Prize in economics, are trying to stop the university from putting Mr. Friedman's name on a $200-million (U.S.) research centre. The opponents argue that the Milton Friedman Institute would compromise the academic integrity of the university and serve as a monument to Mr. Friedman's world outlook, which they say has largely been discredited.

Supporters say it's unfair to use today's economic troubles to tarnish Mr. Friedman or scrap the project. They have organized a counterpetition and set up websites, including Friedmanfacts.com, to challenge opponents.
posted by KokuRyu (31 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dueling Laureates.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:37 PM on October 21, 2008


I've always found the Chicago School to not be so much wrong as very narrow: a very narrow understanding of what is economic progress. His idea of a "good economy" is simply not the same as many other people's.

And the more I hear about the directions that economic research is going in, I think Milton Friedman's economics will be not so much discredited as found to be very incomplete, as economists learn more about the complex (and often illogical) ways in which people act and how economic systems interact. The data are driving new theories, which aren't as neat, but are better models.

But I don't know that that's a good reason not to name an institute after him. He has been deeply influential. And if it attracts money from certain people - well, just make sure it's going to solid research, and let the data sort them out.
posted by jb at 7:38 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


The first three words had me hoping that ol' Flathead had been bombarded with pies. Oh well, we live in hope.
posted by Zonker at 7:42 PM on October 21, 2008


This is rotten. Friedman has become the patron saint of rapacious capitalists, but it's not his fault. He's an example of the best sort of thinker--careful and honest, and willing to follow his premises wherever they lead; for example, he opposed the Mickey Mouse Copyright Protection Act of 1998.
posted by Nahum Tate at 7:49 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Krugman:

Milton Friedman played three roles in the intellectual life of the twentieth century. There was Friedman the economist's economist, who wrote technical, more or less apolitical analyses of consumer behavior and inflation. There was Friedman the policy entrepreneur, who spent decades campaigning on behalf of the policy known as monetarism—finally seeing the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England adopt his doctrine at the end of the 1970s, only to abandon it as unworkable a few years later. Finally, there was Friedman the ideologue, the great popularizer of free-market doctrine.

Did the same man play all these roles? Yes and no. All three roles were informed by Friedman's faith in the classical verities of free-market economics. Moreover, Friedman's effectiveness as a popularizer and propagandist rested in part on his well-deserved reputation as a profound economic theorist. But there's an important difference between the rigor of his work as a professional economist and the looser, sometimes questionable logic of his pronouncements as a public intellectual. While Friedman's theoretical work is universally admired by professional economists, there's much more ambivalence about his policy pronouncements and especially his popularizing. And it must be said that there were some serious questions about his intellectual honesty when he was speaking to the mass public.


I think it's reasonable to raise the concern that an Institute dedicated to Friedman could easily morph from an economic research center into a politically partisan propaganda factory. As an alum I don't necessarily distrust the university, which on the whole strongly favors academics over party politics, but considering that a good bit of the founding money will be coming from the endowment there should definitely be some set of safeguards in place to prevent politicization within the Institute.

And some set of matching funding for humanities research would also be nice.
posted by The Straightener at 7:52 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is like a group of astrologers trying to keep another one's name off a building because he thinks Libra signifies freedom of spirit.
posted by Malor at 7:52 PM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Friedman’s work influenced policies of many countries, including:

Iceland

Friedman’s ideas lead to monetary and fiscal stabilization, privatization, tax rate reduction, among other things. This lead to Iceland’s move from 53rd to 9th on Economic Freedom of the World rankings.


So, how's that faith in markets working out for Iceland lately?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:41 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh, hey, yeah, got me my pitchfork rightcheer, you bet! boil up the tar! Who's got the rail?
posted by mwhybark at 8:42 PM on October 21, 2008


The U of C recently purchased my school to house this new facility.
They're building us a nice, shiny, new campus to make up for it. Which I suppose is swell.

When I first read that we would be the new home of the Milton Friedman Institute I thought it was some kind of hyper-ironic, cruel April Fool's joke.

CTS is a bastion of Marxist, progressive, liberation theology and generally sets itself against almost everything this new project will profess. Regardless, I sincerely hope our ghosts will haunt these dastardly free-market fascists.

James chapter 5.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:49 PM on October 21, 2008


Milton Friedman played three roles in the intellectual life of the twentieth century...

You're forgetting a fourth: Friedman, the inspiration for the dreadful "Henry Spearman" economic murder mysteries. (Don't believe Amazon's four star ratings, by the way. Fatal Equilibrium is by some distance the most incompetent mystery I've ever read. )
posted by Iridic at 8:49 PM on October 21, 2008


Can't blame the U of C faculty, really. It would be a bit like building a Richard M. Nixon College of Political Science.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:41 PM on October 21, 2008


Academic economist dissent: film at 11.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:41 PM on October 21, 2008


economists

Dammit.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:42 PM on October 21, 2008


This is a political battle as much as an intellectual argument. Much like the push to name every airport, office building, school and park after Ronald Reagan to immortalize his glory.
posted by JackFlash at 9:51 PM on October 21, 2008


Anyone remember the old Bloom County strip where the scariest thing to ever come out of Milo Binkley's anxiety closet were two economists debating the economy?

No, don't say it!
What, the economy? Oh, it's getting better.
No it isn't.
But what of the deficit?
Oh, phooey, the deficit!
AIYEEE!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:01 PM on October 21, 2008


Maybe we can have a plaque at the front door of this research centre in honour of those thousands of innocent human beings who were murdered and disappeared by the Chilean dictatorship that Milton Friedman advised.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:03 PM on October 21, 2008 [8 favorites]


Dueling Laureates indeed. Although I work professionally in banking, since 2003 I've been teaching finance (econometrics) at a University here in London, and about one month ago picked up a second position with a different Business School. Holy shit some of that academic infighting is surely intense and viscous and, well, I'll just say I spent a lot of time working in Africa and was caught up in more than one firefight. I'd almost sooner face real bullets than the barbs, innuendo and backstabbing some of those folks get up to. I can't imagine the battles behind closed doors that led to this public display.

While I was in Business School one of my economics professors was an unabashed disciple of Friedman. I not only had this guy for three classes, I got a widespread exposure to Friedman's ideas. I agree fully with jb upthread about the relatively simplicity of Friedman's models but we had to start someplace.

In any case, some perhaps lesser known facts about Milton Friedman:

  • Friedman was one of the architects of the current system of Federal Withholding Taxes [ .pdf] . Before this approach of incremental payments was devised Americans paid all their taxes in a single lump sum due at the end of the year. Critics claim this approach was not only created to mask one's overall tax burden, but effectively turned employers into tax collectors.


  • In 1946 Friedman & Stigler published Roofs or Ceilings, an essay arguing against the system of postwar rent controls that were in place in many American cities.
    "For those, like us, who would like even more equality than there is at present, not alone for housing but for all products, it is surely better to attack directly existing inequalities in income and wealth at their source than to ration each of the hundreds of commodities and services that compose our standard of living. It is the height of folly to permit individuals to receive unequal money incomes and then to take elaborate and costly measures to prevent them from using their incomes."


  • However Friedman wasn't totally without a heart; for example, in 2003 he cited his role in eliminating the Vietnam era draft as his greatest achievement.

    In 1988 Friedman and his wife published a joint memoir, Two Lucky People, in which Friedman recounted a heated exchange with General Westmoreland:
    "In the course of his testimony, he made the statement that he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. I stopped him and said, 'General, would you rather command an army of slaves?'

    He drew himself up and said, 'I don't like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves.'

    I replied, 'I don't like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries.' But I went on to say, 'If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher.'

    That was the last that we heard from the general about mercenaries."

  • Friedman also opposed the War on Drugs, arguing that "...we ought to recognize the harm that we are now doing, and not let the tyranny of the status quo prevent us from making some changes that can stop the killing in the slums, and ghettos of our cities ... ".



  • Although Friedman didn't seek the limelight, his seemingly incessant publishing across a wide spectrum of outlets ranging from videos ot books to academic journals to mainstream press attracted ever increasing amounts of public attention. For about twenty years he wrote a column in Newsweek which in 1983 were collected in Bright Promises, Dismal Performance.



  • In Money Mischief: Episodes in Monetary History Friedman offers a solid and wide ranging history of the role money in human existence, starting with our transition away from bartering economies to commodity based money (i.e., stones, tobacco, sea shells, gold) and onto advanced credit based currencies. Friedman repeatedly points out that regardless of what backs the currency ALL money is credit or debt at some level.

    What grants a currency intrinsic value isn't what it is backed by (folks using sea shells as money were just as happy as people using gold) rather what it can be exchanged for.

    Friedman also illustrated that no monetary system in history has been immune from manipulation - mischief - and provided historical events as examples of what can go wrong when folks start to debase their currency.


  • Friedman was also appalled by US literacy levels, referring to them as "absolutely criminal...only sustained because of the power of the teachers' unions." .

    While I haven't seen any quantitative data on this topic, I did my undergrad in New York, have taken two Masters from European institutions, and in my role as Lecturer have seen many Americans study here. Yeh, my (admittedly myopic) personal experience, European institutions are more demanding.




  • I just happened to have a link to what we believe are Friedman's last words; an article entitled Why Money Matters which was published in The Wall Street Journal the day after he passed away. An interesting read, and it starts out rather prophetically
    "The third of three episodes in a major natural experiment in monetary policy that started more than 80 years ago is just now coming to an end. The experiment consists in observing the effect on the economy and the stock market of the monetary policies followed during, and after, three very similar periods of rapid economic growth in response to rapid technological change: to wit, the booms of the 1920s in the U.S., the '80s in Japan, and the '90s in the U.S."
    Many thanks for posting this.
    posted by Mutant at 2:44 AM on October 22, 2008 [9 favorites]


    Supporters say it's unfair to use today's economic troubles to tarnish Mr. Friedman or scrap the project.

    I completely agree, and I eagerly await their support for the creation of the Karl Marx Centre for Social and Political Theory.
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:30 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


    You should only name buildings and institutes after those who give your school millions of dollars ...and only name sports stadiums after corporations willing to pay.
    exception: after 100 year have passed and no money forthcoming, if the name resonates, as in Aristotle, Darwin, Ebenezer Scrooge.

    A new college some years ago was to be named after Einstein till it was realized that you can not name a school that was (at the time) to be largely Jewish after a living person. Instead, they named it after Supreme Court Justice Brandeis.

    You can name a library after the person it is devoted to: George W.Bush

    You can name highways after war heroes, airports can change their name to reflect someone political by the party in power.
    You can name bridges after anyone you fancy. Sometimes the name of the Bridge is then given to a young person, as in the George Washington Bridge.

    Statues serving as monuments in general are best named after the person represented, as in
    Abe Lincoln Memorial.
    posted by Postroad at 3:42 AM on October 22, 2008


    ...1n 2003 he cited his role in eliminating the Vietnam era draft as his greatest achievement.

    I was in the post office yesterday. There were a couple displays of brochures concerning Selective Service registration. So long as that system still exists, the Draft is not ended; it's just suspended. I do appreciate Friedman's 1966 effort in that regard, but it didn't do me any good. I was drafted in 1967. My son could be drafted next year, if McCain is elected and needs bodies for his next war.

    Having Selective Service in place is a great comfort to warmongers. They don't deserve it.
    posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:54 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Friedman was one of the architects of the current system of Federal Withholding Taxes [.pdf]

    Wow, the guy who wrote that really hates taxes.
    posted by smackfu at 5:44 AM on October 22, 2008


    Thanks very much, Mutant, for a typically thoughtful and informative comment; that exchange with Westmoreland is great. I now have more respect for the man, even if I despise many of the results of his policies.
    posted by languagehat at 6:29 AM on October 22, 2008


    Interesting, and timely issue.

    To me, the question would boil down to: did Friedman advance our understanding of economics, and is the work still valid and relevant, even if parts seem to have been recently discredited?

    I don't quite understand the dispute about the institute itself. Is it to be a genuine research centre for economics , or is it a "think tank" dedicated to advancing and promoting the "Chicago School" economic outlook?

    Their mission statement is:
    The Milton Friedman Institute will establish the standard for the best economic research by building on Chicago's traditions of rigorous development of economic models that are tested with the highest quality of empirical evidence. The Institute will encourage researchers to reach across the boundaries of their specializations to find ways of creating new ideas through fruitful collaborations.
    Hard to find fault with that, unless i don't understand academic-speak.
    posted by Artful Codger at 6:47 AM on October 22, 2008


    A group of faculty opposed to the idea of a Friedman Institute invited Naomi Klein to give an address on the issue at the University of Chicago. Among other things, she said:

    ...the economic chaos that we’re seeing right now on Wall Street and on Main Street and in Washington stems from many factors, of course, but among them are the ideas of Milton Friedman and many of his colleagues and students from this school. Ideas have consequences.

    More than that, what we are seeing with the crash on Wall Street, I believe, should be for Friedmanism what the fall of the Berlin Wall was for authoritarian communism: an indictment of ideology. ...

    So, as we say that this ideology is failing, I beg to differ. I actually believe it has been enormously successful, enormously successful, just not on the terms that we learn about in University of Chicago textbooks, that I don’t think the project actually has been the development of the world and the elimination of poverty. I think this has been a class war waged by the rich against the poor, and I think that they won. And I think the poor are fighting back. This should be an indictment of an ideology. Ideas have consequences.


    posted by jamjam at 8:53 AM on October 22, 2008


    It's interesting that no economics professor signed on to the letter and that besides a handful of CS/math professors, everyone else signing the letter are professors in the liberal arts.
    posted by gyc at 10:02 AM on October 22, 2008


    Ah... academic politics. Never has the conflict been so great and the stakes so little.
    posted by PenDevil at 11:28 AM on October 22, 2008


    The politics of academia are so vicious, because the stakes are so low.
    posted by snookums at 5:57 PM on October 22, 2008


    My son could be drafted next year, if McCain is elected and needs bodies for his next war.

    Congress would have to approve that, as before. And I don't think the Democratic Congress would approve the draft for a new war at this point, even if McCain was foolish enough to try it (the public would be overwhelmingly against as well).
    posted by wildcrdj at 6:46 PM on October 22, 2008


    gyc,

    I'm hardly surprised. All of the folks on that letter appear to be UI Chicago faculty members. And as such none of the Chicago School of Economics faculty would touch a letter like that with a 10 foot pole. Heck, the graduates of the CSE are all convinced that Friedman was a saint. They're inculcated from day 1 to believe in the sanctity of the market. My wife is currently enrolled in courses at UW Madison under professors who are graduates of the CSE and that's the way she has found that those professors think

    The signatories on that letter, being Liberal Arts Faculty, are folks who see the human side of the effects of the philosophies of the CSE in the study of their own disciplines. It makes them well placed to provide a view of Friedman, and his economic philosophies, that is missing in the discussion.

    So, I wouldn't dismiss them has non-persons just because they're Liberal Arts faculty.
    posted by Sam.Burdick at 9:42 PM on October 22, 2008


    Congress would have to approve that, as before. And I don't think the Democratic Congress would approve the draft for a new war at this point, even if McCain was foolish enough to try it (the public would be overwhelmingly against as well).

    I note that the current Democratic Congress, which was largely elected because of opposition to the occupation of Iraq, has not been especially effective at denying Bush anything he's demanded in that highly unpopular occupation. Tell me why next year's Congress would be more responsive to the public will, or less afraid of accusations that they don't 'support the troops' or are 'soft on terror.'
    posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:05 AM on October 23, 2008


    I note that the current Democratic Congress, which was largely elected because of opposition to the occupation of Iraq, has not been especially effective at denying Bush anything he's demanded in that highly unpopular occupation. Tell me why next year's Congress would be more responsive to the public will, or less afraid of accusations that they don't 'support the troops' or are 'soft on terror.'

    Because the Republicans would never ask them to reinstate the draft. Republicans hate drafts. They've primarily been an instrument of Democratic administrations.
    posted by snookums at 9:57 AM on October 23, 2008


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