More Milton Friedman Institute Commentary

Josh Wright —  4 August 2008

While much has been said about the recent Milton Friedman Institute scuffle at the University of Chicago (including here at TOTM here), Chicago GSB Professor John Cochrane’s scathing comments on the original Protest letter have stirred up some additional commentary worth reading.  In particular, Craig Newmark (who adds the new fact that apparently the Protest letter was not sent to the economics department, the GSB, or the Institute — does this mean it was sent to the law school?) and Steve Horwitz, who quiet nicely turns the Protesters complaints about the negative externalities imposed on “other” Chicago faculty by the university’s free-market reputation on its head:

I’d like the Chicago humanities faculty to tell me how I’m supposed to feel when these students ask me why so many US humanities faculty, including some of my colleagues at SLU, still think Marxism and socialism have social value when those ideas were the inspiration, even if wrongly interpreted, for thugs who engaged in the killing of tens of millions of innocent people and the destruction of the economies of billions. I’d like them also to tell me how I’m supposed to feel when a Cuban refugee who risked his life to come to the US asks me why some US college students, including some at SLU, think it’s cool to wear Che Guevara t-shirts, implicitly honoring a murder and torturer.

Whatever the flaws of free market capitalism as it was applied in the real world, its sins pale in comparison to those of really-existing socialism. When the Chicago humanities faculty have to explain to these students why my colleagues and students have sympathy for the ideas that motivated the impoverishment and death of millions of their fellow citizens, then maybe I’ll some sympathy for them having to explain away sweet old Milton Friedman.

3 responses to More Milton Friedman Institute Commentary


    Thanks Josh: that’s entirely fair enough. Still, I am a terrible pedant I suppose, and the bit that got my goat (which you did cite too!) just seemed like a very strange comment.

    On the general point, I think a lot of people do behave as you say. But just because straw men exist doesn’t mean that you should focus on them. A large number of very sophisticated thinkers are aware of negative consequences etc. of both free-markets and their less pleasant alternatives and devote themselves to figuring out what the optimal policy positions might be. While that’s not a whinge about the MFI (set it up, I say) it does imply that it’s lazy for Horwitz to pick on the loons in his argument.



    First, thanks for the comment.

    Second, commentary on the theoretical social value of the ideas aside, the part of Horwitz’s post that I am approvingly referencing here (though it is not clear in the post) is the more general and point — and the one I think is Horwitz’ primary focus — that Horwitz is exposing the authors’ attacks the Chicago School and the MFI for promoting free-markets without understanding their negative consequences (including external costs) as failing to consider the sometimes drastic real world consequences of the alternatives.


    Well that has to be the most insane argument ever. Ideas lack ‘social value’ because thugs misinterpret them? So much for Christianity, Islam and Judaism for a start.

    Maybe Friedman’s supporters should stick with Cochrane’s marginally more intelligent path of hailing China as a paragon of globalization.