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David Warsh on the New Milton Friedman Institute

There is a mini-controversy on the University of Chicago campus surrounding the announcement of plans to raise money for a Milton Friedman Institute here at the university. Some non-economists are concerned that the Friedman Institute will push a right-wing agenda and tarnish the reputation of the university. Some who knew Friedman well have the opposite worry: that the Institute won’t actually carry on Friedman’s vision.

David Warsh‘s latest column is about the controversy.

My own view is the following:

The Chicago economics department views the world differently than anyone else, even other economics departments. Having learned my economics at Harvard and M.I.T., I took my first teaching job at Chicago with the very explicit idea that I would spend two or three years in Chicago to get to “know the enemy.” After I figured out how they thought, I would escape back to more comfortable surroundings.

Well two things happened that I didn’t expect. First, it turned out that it wasn’t so easy to learn to think like a Chicago economist. I’ve been trying to learn for more than a decade and I still have learned only the rudiments. Every day my colleagues teach me something I should know, but don’t. Second, I decided that the Chicago approach to economics was the right one for me, even though I am not that good at it.

A diversity of views is almost always a good thing. Relative to Harvard, M.I.T., Princeton, Stanford, and other top schools, the Chicago economics department is small both in terms of size and resources. The Friedman Institute will increase the scale at which Chicago economics will operate, giving us a better chance of competing with the other top schools for faculty and students. The Friedman Institute will help us compete in the marketplace for ideas.

And what economist — Chicago or otherwise — could argue with that?