How Tough a Place Is the University of Chicago?

Just about every university has an alumni magazine, and they all follow the same tried-and-true recipe: highly partisan stories touting the wonderful accomplishments of the faculty, students, athletics, and alumni.

I had always thought of my university’s alumni magazine as being cut from the same cloth.

Until I read the most recent issue, that is.

The cover story is entitled “Chicago Schooled.” It is an examination of the recent financial crisis and its implications for the free-market ideas associated with the Chicago School of Economics. It is an interesting read, and while not so critical of Chicago economics, it is far from the usual rah-rah stuff.

What really caught my attention, however, was a page-long sidebar inserted into that article with a headline that reads “Sumo Wrestlers Are Big, But Are
They a Big Question?
” The question this sidebar sets out to answer is whether or not I, Steve Levitt, ruined economics! The answer, at least according to some of my colleagues quoted in the article, turns out to be “yes.”

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  1. Greg says:

    Eh… Freakonomics is not written for economists per se. It’s meant to give a flavor of the profession to the outside world. Sure lots of economists read it – but it’s not encouraging any economist to stop thinking about hug issues.

    That is, the number of serious economist that have stopped trying to figure out improvements to the Taylor Rule in order to detail the market for street prostitution is vanishingly small.

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  2. Nuclear Mom says:

    Hey, you were compared to Socrates, the Impressionists and quantum mechanics, the “winning” side on some huge shifts in conventional thinking. What a compliment!

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  3. adam says:

    Economics is not limited to studying money or even the Economy. As any person who took even an intro econ class will tell you rotely, it is the study of rational people responding to scarcity problems. A framework that is based on how rational people act is a great way to think about problem. It needs to be applied more not less.

    I think economics is like gravity … you can fight it, but eventually it will win.

    Oh yea and thinking about solutions to global warming hardly seems trivial.

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  4. Peggy says:

    As a graduate of Chicago’s now defunct Graduate Library School, I laughed when I received my glossy alumni rag. Having seen the economic value of closing GLS I wonder at the perceived value of sending me the costly mailings.

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  5. jose says:

    “Hey, you were compared to Socrates, the Impressionists and quantum mechanics, the “winning” side on some huge shifts in conventional thinking. What a compliment!”

    By whom: “highly partisan stories touting the wonderful accomplishments of the faculty, students, athletics, and alumni.”

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  6. RCHughes says:

    “But to Heckman, Levitt’s distraction does a disservice. ‘Basic research on the economy is ugly,’ he says. ‘It’s hard, and it’s unrewarding.’”

    Uh, if basic research is so valuable and Freakonomics is so trivial isn’t the free market supposed to see to it that basic research IS rewarded and that you become an abject failure?

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  7. John says:

    I am a PhD economist, have had the degree for 40 years, have made a comfortable living practicing that trade, and have been married for even longer. Until she read Freakonomics, my wife was totally uninterested in what it was that I did, what economics was about, etc. After Freakonomics, she takes considerable interest in economic thinking and regularly recommends the book to friends, relatives, and people in the grocery store line (she is that sort of person). So I am a big Freakonomics fan and if I taught microeconomics still, I would certainly use it in my class. Can’t say that about anything Heckman has ever done, Nobel or not.

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  8. Daniel says:

    If the work of one researcher can ruin the science, then perhaps it wasn’t much of a science to begin with.

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