by Alex Tabarrok
on October 21, 2008 at 11:52 am
More trouble at Chicago, this time among the econ faculty, regarding the Milton Friedman Institute. Sad.
Hat tip to Steve Levitt.
Wow, those guys (Heckman and Cochrane) are really going at it. I have never in my life sent an email that caustic to someone I knew personally. Any insight for your readers on the personalities and relationships involved?
Maybe talks like these are having an impact on Milton’s reputation.
Naomi Klein: Wall St. Crisis Should Be for Neoliberalism What Fall of Berlin Wall Was for Communism
As the world reels from the financial crisis on Wall Street and the taxpayer-funded $700 billion bailout, we spend the hour with Naomi Klein on the economy, politics and “disaster capitalism.† The Shock Doctrine author recently spoke at the University of Chicago to oppose the creation of an economic research center named after the University’s most famous economist, Milton Friedman. Klein says Friedman’s economic philosophy championed the kind of deregulation that led to the current crisis.
What exactly are Klein’s actual credentials for dissecting economic theory, again? I know she was a Miliband Fellow at the London School of Economics, but this has generally been described as someone contributing to public discourse in a significant way (say, writing a book about evil economics that a lot of people, generally non-economists, snap up) who is invited to give speeches. But what is her actual schooling?
As a former UChicago economics students, now working in the academic economics universe, I can attest to the fact that Jim Heckman is the biggest asshole in the field–by far. And I think Tyler can agree with me on that one, hence the snarky post title. But snark away Tyler! The Heckman Institute for Assholimetrics is on its way!
Other than being reared in a virtual petri dish of virulent left wing
activism, and an having an obsession with anti-corporatism, who the
hell is Naomi Klein to have any insight of the complexities of finance
and criticize Milton Friedman?
We really need to begin to understand the difference between
hypergraphia and informed comment.
To Heckman’s defense, all he’s saying is that the Chicago should solve a cost minimization problem. Given that we want x billions of dollars for an institute at Chicago, what is going to get us that at lowest total cost to the school? If it means taking Friedman’s name off, but doing so still allowed one to stay on that isoquant, then it should be done. Friedman would be proud of that kind of calculation, I think.
Having said that, his response to Cochrane was classic and more or less confirms everything I’ve ever heard about Heckman. He’s brilliant, but a difficult man, and not the greatest colleague in the world (just ask Steve Levitt, who I heard got the Becker Price Theory Center in part because he threatened to leave and take Becker and Murphy with him because Heckman was such a complete jerk). When I think about that interview Heckman gave with the Fed in which he skewers Levitt in all but name alone, I get the nauseous. Brilliant he is. A good colleague he is not. But, that’s partly what makes Chicago such a fantastic place (although maybe they could afford a little less Heckman).
Personally I have no problem with Heckman raising the questions he seems to have raised.
My real problem is that fact that he did so publicly, thus introducing regime uncertainty into the equation for potential donors.
Naomi Klein is opposed to it? Well in that case, any doubts about the name just disappeared in my opinion. It is simply impossible to let that economic moron claim a victory of any sorts in her mindless quest of anti-Miltonism.
Regarding her educational background as questioned by other posters, her wikipedia page says (with apologies for inactive links here):
She credits the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre of female engineering students for her wake-up call to feminism. She dropped out of the University of Toronto to become an intern at the Toronto Globe and Mail, followed by an editorship at This Magazine.
They also link to a gated review of one of her books by the Economist which brutally destroys her “logic”, or lack thereof. Needless to say the book was a bestseller. Along the lines of the latter, wikipedia also notes that:
Klein ranked 11th in an internet poll  of the top global intellectuals of 2005, a list of the world’s top 100 public intellectuals compiled by the Prospect magazine in conjunction with Foreign Policy magazine. She was the highest ranked woman on the list.
No love lost between Levitt and Heckman, is there?
It is an institute not an academic department. They seem to have a School of Social Services Administration. This is a social work program and I wonder if it has a particular point of view? They seem to have a African and African-American Studies Program. I wonder if it tends to sponsor a particular point of view?
Hard to believe that an Institute a a school is expected to be more open minded than some Departments likely are.
Did you notice that the student newspaper at U. of C. doesn’t even know how to spell Friedman’s last name?
Let me just second, third, or fourth the observation that Heckman has a well-earned reputation as an unbearable jerk. Brilliant economist, but complete jerk. He has single-handedly ruined the labor seminar at Chicago.
Ricardo: The old-school Monetarist Friedman advocated a requirement that commerical banks back deposits with a 100% reserve requirement in order to prevent systematic banking crises. That kind of regulation makes our current regime seem laissez-faire by comparison. So, no, Klein doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
Or maybe she does: in the mid-1980’s, Friedman stopped supporting full-reserve banking and instead advocated free banking.
Heckman is famous for doing/saying things like this. His attacks of the natural experiment movement, for example, are truly strange, because beneath extremely subtle and legitimate technical points, I think I largely concurs in spirit with the movement’s main emphasis on transparency with regard to sources of identification. Yet, he often portrays himself like the intellectual enemy that he isn’t.
He has a genuine and, in many ways, correct view in this case, too. But does not seem to understand how his comments play out socially and politically.
Everyone should be able to recognize these personality traits in Heckman by now. They are probably closely tied to his technical genius. Given this history, Cochrane really blew it in the way he approached him, not that that excuses Heckman–but he should have known. Are all economists socially inept? And whoever leaked the information (Levitt? I sure hope not…) is doing no good service to University of Chicago.
Andrew, not for nothing but, if you’re still in grad school, you haven’t met a true “real economy” asshole yet.
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