Roger’s Rules

Faculty Follies, Part 8,976, or Why Milton Friedman is worth 10,000 humanities professors

Really, you cannot make it up. The law, business, and economics faculties at the University of Chicago decide to name a new research institute after Milton Friedman, one of the greatest economists of the 20th century. Not exactly controversial, right?

Wrong. At today’s universities, economists who who help us understand the creation of wealth are not wanted, and certainly are not honored. So, as The New York Times reports today, other elements at the University of Chicago are protesting the proposed Freidman center because the honor “could be interpreted as a wholesale endorsement of Friedman’s free-market ideology.”

According to chaps like Bruce Lincoln, a professor of divinity, Friedman’s free-market polices are suspect because . . . well, because they were adopted by people like Ronald Reagan. Q., presumably, E.D. I note that Lincoln, according to his own faculty web site, “has a notoriously short attention span and has also written on a wide variety of topics, including Guatemalan curanderismo, Lakota sun dances, Melanesian funerary rituals, Swazi kingship, the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre, Marco Polo, professional wrestling, and the theology of George W. Bush.” (Let’s see: do you suppose that book on President Bush approves of the President’s “theology”? What do you think? Take your time.)

Query: is Bruce Lincoln the sort of person you would turn to for intelligent opinion about economics? “Critics,” says Times, believe that Friedman’s policies benefitted the rich but “caused severe hardships throughout the developing world”–an assertion for which no evidence is adduced (which is not surprising, since it Friedman’s policies actually helped make the world immeasurable richer over the last few decades).

Here’s a lesson that I wish the Bruce Lincolns of the world would absorb: Capitalism is about the creation of wealth; socialism is about the redistribution of wealth. Milton Friedman spoke up for the former and perceived the manifold dangers of embracing the latter. It’s a pity that Bruce Lincoln & at least 100 other University of Chicago professors are so “disturbed” at the prospect of honoring Milton Friedman at his own university that they have petitioned the president of the university to convene the entire faculty to debate the proposal. I wish some genius would contrive a system whereby Professor Lincoln and his high-minded peers could live under the economic system they say they favor, leaving the rest of us to enjoy the fruits of an economic system that actually works.