The Center for Disaster Economics


According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, 101 professors at the University of Chicago—8 percent of the full-time faculty—are protesting the school's plan to open the Milton Friedman Institute, a facility, according to a press release, "for path-breaking research in economics to build upon the strengths of economists throughout the University and to honor the contributions of Milton Friedman, considered by many to be the leading economist of the 20th century." The profs are, rather predictably, in a lather that a research center honoring the "right-wing" Nobel Prize-winning economist would damage the university's standing amongst those in the academic community—a tacit admission, I suppose, that the academy has strong political biases. One professor moaned to the Tribune that "It is a right-wing think tank being put in place…This will be a flagship entity and it will attract a lot of money and a lot of attention, and I think work at the university and the university's reputation will take a serious rightward turn to the detriment of all." And yes, he is complaining that the center would "attract a lot of money."

Yalit Amit, a statistics and computer science professor, is worried what the neighbors might think: "For many people who travel around the world, the university has had a pretty bad reputation that is tied to the Chicago School and economic principles that Milton Friedman advocated. We don't think it's a great idea to strengthen this reputation." And it is only a reputation; as Andy Ferguson rightly pointed out in his recent piece on Hyde Park, "Of the tens of thousands of faculty who have taught at the University of Chicago over the past half-century, perhaps as many as 65 have, at some point in their lives, voted for a Republican." Incidentally, the background image on Amit's faculty webpage is a repeated image of Karl Marx.

When I was attending the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the administration decided to rename the school's 26-story brick library after the brilliant/deranged Stalinist W.E.B. Dubois. These aren't parallel situations (the library housed DuBois's papers, after all, and it wasn't a research institution that could be accused of ideological bias), but I recall finding it odd that few, if any, raised any objections. Here, for example, is DuBois—who joined the Communist Party in 1961, long after the purges, Khrushchev's secret speech and the invasion of Hungary—eulogizing Stalin:

"Joseph Stalin was a great man; few other men of the 20th century approach his stature. He was simple, calm and courageous. He seldom lost his poise; pondered his problems slowly, made his decisions clearly and firmly; never yielded to ostentation nor coyly refrained from holding his rightful place with dignity. . . .

"Stalin was not a man of conventional learning; he was much more than that: he was a man who thought deeply, read understandingly and listened to wisdom, no matter whence it came. He was attacked and slandered as few men of power have been; yet he seldom lost his courtesy or balance; nor did he let attack drive him from his convictions nor induce him to surrender positions which he knew were correct. As one of the despised minorities of man, he first set Russia on the road to conquer race prejudice and make one nation out of its 140 groups without destroying their individuality."

Speaking of dictator love, it's likely that at least a few of those 101 disgruntled University of Chicago professors will trot out the supposed Pinochet-Friedman connection, a slander recently resuscitated by the ridiculous Naomi Klein. My esteemed colleague Brian Doherty, author of the fantastic book Radicals for Capitalism (now out in paperback!), debunks the "advisor to an autocrat" myth here.