Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Milton Friedman Insitute controversy continues.

For fellow spectators of the tempest in a teapot at the University of Chicago, a few updates from around the Web:

It appears that the name of the institute has been changed to the Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics. That doesn't look like much of a change to most of us, but perhaps it will mollify the paranoid sort who thought that the Milton Friedman Institute would be some "right-wing think tank". Nevermind that the Institute was being established for economics research even before the name was extended. Nevermind that Milton Friedman can hardly be considered "right-wing". The complainers' position didn't make sense from the start, so perhaps what is a non-change to sensible people will look like substantiative change to them.

If I could buy stock in silly remarks about the economics profession, it would be a great countercyclical asset. The recent economic downturn has brought out the bozos and resulted in all sorts of strange categorical pronouncements about free markets, the Chicago School, or some special "free market economics" separate from the rest, that nobody knows about. This piece from Al-Jazeera English is representative; search the blogosphere or even the newspapers and you will find many more just like it.

Therein, Robert Lucas says what needs to be said:
...Why don't you ask these guys [critics] what should be done specifically and what should be done now?

People like [Josef] Stiglitz [the US economist and critic of free markets] use name-calling instead of just diagnosing the problem and saying what should be done.

Should there have been regulation to prevent this? Well sure, but what sort of regulation? Let them spell out what regulation we should have in place.

These are the questions any reporter who wishes to be an asset to his profession (Ms. Brown at Al-Jazeera, take note!) must ask. If the Chicago School is to blame, what peculiar normative advice was given that was wrong and resulted in the financial situation we are now facing? Did Milton Friedman and his fellows at the University of Chicago (hardly a single-minded group!) advocate for the peculiar FNMA (Fannie Mae) policies that largely caused the housing bubble? Did they advocate against splitting up "too big to fail" Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Did they say that the systemic risk problem didn't exist in the credit-default swaps market or elsewhere? Why blame the house Frank Knight built?

Elsewhere, Gary Becker makes a strong case for naming such a research institution after Friedman the man. Richard Posner addresses the concerns of those who think that the Institue will reflect poorly on the University or produce only servile work in honor of Friedman, and takes a great jab at the "'Free market' econ is dead" set:
If the religion professor who is leading the movement against the naming is right that "Friedman's over"--that the current economic crisis has consigned Friedman, along with Greenspan, to the dustbin of economic history--he should have no fear that the new Institute will be biased in favor of Friedman's views. If a physics institute were named after Albert Einstein, would the institute's researchers reject quantum theory?

1 comment:

B. Kalafut said...

I hope that the donors to this institute have in mind the university's motto to increase knowledge for the betterment of mankind and not for the betterment of the university or only the economic elite. I am financially helping my granddaughter attend this school which my father also attended. I just hope that Chicago will retain its reputation for excellence for people of all ideological persuasion. The MFI could be a detriment to the university.