The Chicago School

by on June 5, 2007 at 5:40 am in Books, Economics, Education | Permalink

The basic characteristics of this Chicago Tradition are: a strong work ethic, an unshakable belief in economics as a true science, academic excellence as the sole criterion for advancement, an intense debating culture focused on sharpening the critical mind, and the University of Chicago’s two-dimensional isolation.  Much of the credit for the creation of this Chicago Tradition has to go to the University’s first president, William Rainey Harper.

That is from Johan van Overtveldt’s The Chicago School: How the University of Chicago Assembled the Thinkers Who Revolutionized Economics and Business.  I enjoyed this book very much.  Instead of stopping at Friedman, Coase and Director, it also offers a comprehensive treatment of such neglected figures as Herbert Davenport, Laurence Laughlin, H. Gregg Lewis, Albert Rees, Theodore Yntema, and Jim Lorie, in each case noting their roles in the broader story.

There is a separate chapter on each the business school and the law school.  And yes Friedman (among many others) really didn’t want Hayek in the economics department.  I wish this book had more analysis of how Chicago succeeded in changing the policy world, but it is a landmark in the history of economic thought.  I can’t recommend it to non-specialists, or for that matter anyone who doesn’t intrinsically care about Theodore Yntema, but for some of you this book is a must.  Here is one review.

John S. June 5, 2007 at 7:24 am

What do you think he means by “the University of Chicago’s two-dimensional isolation”? Very curious statement.

kevin grier June 5, 2007 at 8:21 am

“I can’t recommend it to non-specialists, or for that matter anyone who doesn’t intrinsically care about Theodore Yntema”

Nicely done Tyler. That could well be the worst review any piece of printed material has ever gotten.

thehova June 5, 2007 at 10:57 am

when i think of “The Chicago School”, John Dewey immediately comes to mind.

Geert Noels June 5, 2007 at 5:09 pm

Johan Van Overtveldt is a dear friend of mine, and my cycling buddy. This website is my favourite economics website.
So I am very pleased, and positively surprised, to find out that Johan’s book has made it to this blog.
Kind regards from Belgium!

TGGP June 5, 2007 at 9:28 pm

GVV, what the heck is “monoeconomics”? Who is someone who believes in “multieconomics”?

Barkley Rosser June 6, 2007 at 2:17 pm


Mostly methodological. Friedman and the econ dept. at Chicago were
neoclassicals of the Marshallian tradition, later to be succeeded
by neoclassicals of the Walrasian tradition, e.g. Lucas. They
believe(d) in the importance of static equilibrium analysis.

The Austrians, certainly at least Hayek in his later years (after
about 1940 or so), downgraded the analysis of equilibrium in favor
of more dynamic process analysis with an emphasis on dispersed and
uncertain information, in constrast with the tendency of the Chicagoans
to assume (near) perfect or rational expectations. This is one of
the reasons that the Austrian school is viewed as one of the heterodox
schools of economic thought, if probably the only one that tends more
to be pro-laissez faire and on the political right.

Ross Emmett July 12, 2007 at 4:33 pm

More about the Hayek vote can be found in the John Nef papers and the records of the Department of Economics, both of which are in the University of Chicago archives. David Mitch has been writing about this, and you will find some material in the papers presented at a session of the History of Economics Society at George Mason in June 2007. Nef (a member of the econ department) was the chair of the Committee on Social Thought, and happy to have Hayek join the University. Ironically, Nef was also in the Thomist camp with his friend Hutchins.

One thing to remember is that the department of economics didn’t have up-or-down votes on individuals at this time. They ranked a number of potential hires, and then the ones that came out with the highest pooled rankings were pursued. Hayek did not get ranked high enough to pursue.

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