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Libertarian women’s history month: Deirdre McCloskey

28 Mar
Deirdre N. McCloskey (September 11, 1942 – ) was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the eldest child of Robert McCloskey, a professor of government at Harvard University, and the former Helen Stueland, a poet.  McCloskey is a Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She is also adjunct professor of Philosophy and Classics there, and for five years was a visiting Professor of philosophy at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. Since October 2007 she has received six honorary doctorates. In 2013, she received the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award from the Competitive Enterprise Institute for her work examining factors in history that led to advancement in human achievement and prosperity. Her main research interests are (1) the origins of the modern world, (2) the misuse of statistical significance in economics and other sciences, and (3) the study of capitalism, among many others.

McCloskey earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Economics at Harvard University. Her dissertation on British iron and steel won in 1973 the David A. Wells Prize.
In 1968, McCloskey became an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago, where she stayed for 12 years, gaining tenure as an associate professor in economics in 1975, and an associate professorship in history in 1979.  This was during the final years of Milton Friedman’s residence at the University.   Undergraduates in McCloskey’s microeconomics classes at Chicago remember how she was scrupulously fair with students, like socialist students who wanted to question basic aspects of markets and price theory.
 Her work at Chicago is marked by her contribution to the cliometric revolution in economic history, and teaching generations of leading economists Chicago Price Theory, a course which culminated in her book The Applied Theory of Price, now a standard advanced textbook in microeconomics. In 1979, at the suggestion of Wayne Booth in English at Chicago, she turned to the study of rhetoric in economics. Later at the University of Iowa, McCloskey, the John Murray Professor of Economics and of History (1980–99), published The Rhetoric of Economics (1985) and co-founded with John S. Nelson, Allan Megill, and others “the rhetoric of inquiry,” and an institution and graduate program, the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry. McCloskey has authored 16 books and some 360 articles in her many fields.
Her major contributions have been to the economic history of Britain (19th-century trade, modern history, and medieval agriculture) the quantification of historical inquiry (cliometrics), the rhetoric of economics, the rhetoric of the human sciences, economic methodology, virtue ethics, feminist economicsheterodox economics, the role of mathematics in economic analysis, and the use (and misuse) of significance testing in economics, and recently in her trilogy “The Bourgeois Era”, the origins of the Industrial Revolution.
She argued in the inaugural James M. Buchanan Lecture at George Mason University on April 7, 2006 that capitalism “is an ethically drenched human activity” which requires attention to all of the classical seven virtues, while economists usually focus exclusively on prudence. Her book The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce was the first of the trilogy, published in 2006. The second, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World was published in 2010, and the third, The Treasured Bourgeoisie: How Markets and Innovation Became Ethical, 1600-1848, and then Suspect was published in 2014.

Married for thirty years and the parent of two children, she transitioned from male to female in 1995, at the age of 53, writing about her experience in a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Crossing: A Memoir (1999, University of Chicago Press). It is an account of her growing recognition (while a boy and man) of her female identity, and her transition—both surgical and social—into a woman (including her reluctant divorce from her wife). The book describes her new life, following sex-reassignment surgery, continuing her career as a female academic economist.

McCloskey advocates on behalf of the rights of persons and organizations in the LGBT community. She was also a key person in the Blanchard, Bailey, and Lawrence theory controversy and in the debate over J. Michael Bailey‘s book The Man Who Would Be Queen, both regarding the reasons why transsexuals desire a male to female transformation.  In 2015 she was a featured speaker at the International Students for Liberty conference in Washington, D.C.
McCloskey has described herself as a “literary, quantitative, postmodern, free-market, progressive Episcopalian, Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man. Not ‘conservative’! I’m a Christian libertarian.”

Milton Friedman anniversary

30 Jul
Thursday would be Milton Friedman’s 102nd birthday.

I actually applied to only one college when I was a libertarian high school student, back before the internet existed, the University of Chicago, because I thought Milton Friedman taught there.

He had actually retired, and had moved on, I believe to the Hoover Institute.

I did actually meet him when he came to lecture there (I also worked in an office beside one of his associates, Sam Peltzman, and had several interesting conversations with him, including asking him about Austrian critiques of Chicago school beliefs in measurements of aggregate national capital stocks).  I grabbed a copy of a recent reason magazine that featured Friedman on the cover and ran to his lecture, hoping to have him autograph the issue.  After the lecture there was a long Q&A and then he generously stood for a long reception line, which I aimed for the back of, so I would not be rushed in asking him my brilliant questions when I reached him.  When I was about 3 people away from him I looked down and…I’d grabbed the wrong issue of reason.  He autographed it anyway.  (I don’t think it was the issue Mark Ames is agitating about currently; sadly you can’t find this 70s interview or the reason cover on the internet.)

A few years later I was at a Libertarian Party convention while I was in the middle of an idiotic romantic triangle only a 21 year old would have gotten himself into.  Depressed and unable to figure out what to do with myself, I latched onto a friend who was a University of Chicago anthropology grad student, Bonnie Kaplan, and sort of invited myself to accompany her and her boyfriend wherever they went as part of the convention, including to Disney Land.  She was actually trying to visit with her friend David Friedman, Milton Friedman’s son, and I am sure he wondered who the kid was gluing himself to them.

Then decades later I went on a reason magazine cruise where I met grandson Patri Friedman and his child, a toddler.  So I think other than my own the Friedman’s are the only family of which I have met 4 generations.

Which raises the question:  Does Milton Friedman prove that libertarianism is heritable?  (See More interesting to me is the near-perfect straight line you can draw from Milton Friedman, to his son David, to his grandson Patri.)

Friedman has a very slightly mixed reception among libertarians.  He produced David and Patri, mentored Thomas Sowell, created the idea of education vouchers.  He also came up with the idea of income tax witholding.  He taught generations of Chicago school economists whose cost benefit analyses showed many government programs to be counter-productive, laying the ground work for somewhat deeper public choice studies and for libertarian class analysis by other writers.  He was the faculty sponsor for the New Individualist Review, a University of Chicago student magazine that was in its way the precursor of all libertarian magazines and much anti-statist student activism and internet publishing.

Did eastern establishment Jewish quotas create American political culture?

21 Jul
Here’s an research program for people working in American intellectual history:

Did quotas in elite eastern establishment universities in the 20th century shape American culture and intellectual life, especially politics and political economy?


Did limiting the number of Jews then (and perhaps Asians now), mean that those most likely to be allowed in for a limited number of slots available to their ethnic group at eastern establishment schools were slightly better connected, well healed, or assimilated (and therefore more likely to defend establishment corporate statist/crony capitalist/corporate socialist perspectives*), while the more working class/small business family, freshly immigrated, socially awkward, Jews (then, Asians now etc.) who were kept out of establishment universities by quotas ended up at elite schools without quotas (paradigmatically the University of Chicago) and were also more likely to be critical of establishment views, either from a libertarian or a more radical socialist, perspective?


* Paul Krugman, Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, ad nauseum.

That is,   Allison Portchnik:

Ronald H. Coase, Founding Scholar in Law and Economics, 1910-2013

3 Sep
Ronald H. Coase, Founding Scholar in Law and Economics, 1910-2013
By Sarah Galer and Jeremy Manier
University Of Chicago News Office
September 2, 2013
Ronald H. Coase helped create the field of law and economics, through groundbreaking scholarship that earned him the 1991 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics and through his far-reaching influence as a journal editor.
Coase, who spent most of his academic career at the University of Chicago Law School, died at the age of 102 on Sept. 2 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago. He was believed to be the oldest living Nobel laureate.
Coase, the Clifton R. Musser Professor Emeritus of Economics, is best known for his 1937 paper, “The Nature of the Firm,” which offered groundbreaking insights about why firms exist and established the field of transaction cost economics, and “The Problem of Social Cost,” published in 1961, which is widely considered to be the seminal work in the field of law and economics. The latter set out what is now known as the Coase Theorem, which holds that under conditions of perfect competition, private and social costs are equal.
“That Ronald Coase is among the most influential and best-cited economists in the past 50 years is not debatable,” said Law School Professor Emeritus William M. Landes and Sonia Lahr-Pastor, JD ’13, in “Measuring Coase’s Influence.” They presented the paper at a 2009 conference titled “Markets, Firms and Property Rights: A Celebration of the Research of Ronald Coase.”
“Among the highest aspirations of the University of Chicago is the drive to create new fields of study that change our world for the better,” said University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer. “Ronald Coase embodied that ideal. His groundbreaking scholarship made impacts on law and policy that people around the globe continue to feel today. As a scholar, a colleague and a mentor, his historic contributions enriched our intellectual community and the world at large.”
“Ronald Coase achieved what most academics can only dream of – immortality,” saidMichael H. Schill, dean of the University of Chicago Law School. “His scholarship fundamentally changed the way lawyers approach issues of when and how government should intervene in the economy, and when and how private contracts should govern. His work could not be more relevant to many of the debates we are enmeshed in today.
“Our great law school has contributed much to the world of law and jurisprudence,” Schill said. “Ronald’s contributions were among the most important.”
His intellectual impact continued late into his life, when at the age of 101, he published his final book, How China Became Capitalist, co-authored with former student Ning Wang, PhD’02.
Coase’s enduring legacy at the University of Chicago is reflected in the Law School’sCoase-Sandor Institute for Law and Economics, named in honor of Coase and donors Richard and Ellen Sandor, who gave UChicago $10 million in support of law and economics scholarship.
“Ronald Coase inspired a new way of thinking about law and about the application of economics,” said Omri Ben-Shahar, the Leo and Eileen Herzel Professor of Law and Kearney Director of the Coase-Sandor Institute. “His insights are simple but at the same time profound. They are accessible to first-year students, and their implications continue to provoke cutting-edge research. We will continue to develop the field that he inspired, and to build on the vitality of his ideas.”
“Professor Coase’s research on property rights provided the academic underpinning for the establishment of the Acid Rain Program in the United States in the early 1990s, which virtually eliminated acid rain pollution in America,” said Richard Sandor, chairman and chief executive officer of Environmental Financial Products, LLC. “Personally, he has been a source of inspiration and mentoring to me for over 40 years. Professor Coase provided me with unwavering intellectual support to carry on my ideas as both an academic and a practitioner.
“The Coase-Sandor Institute for Law and Economics at the University of Chicago will continue to support and expand Coase’s legacy in areas such as the environment, health care and education,” Sandor said.

A ‘lucky chance’ leads to economics

Coase graduated from the London School of Economics with a B.Com. in economics in 1932 after spending his final year of studies in the United States on a Sir Ernest Cassel Traveling Scholarship. During that year abroad, he focused on the structure of American automotive industry and why some work was performed inside firms and some by the marketplace. These ideas became the basis of “The Nature of the Firm.”
Sir Arnold Plant, a British economist at the London School of Economics, was a major influence on Coase while he was a student there. Until meeting him in his senior year, Coase had never taken an economics course, only accounting and business. Plant introduced Coase to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” and to the idea that competitive economic systems could be coordinated by the pricing system. In an autobiographical essay written for the Nobel organization, Coase writes that Plant “changed my life,” influencing his ideas, helping his achieve the Cassel Traveling Scholarship and setting him on the path to becoming an economist.
“My life has been a lucky chance at all points,” Coase said in a 2012 interview with the UChicago News Office.
Coase believed the incentives of private parties to resolve disputes in their own best interests, even if there needs to be adjudication by courts, should result in an efficient, mutually beneficial solution that is always preferable to government intervention. This theory, known as the Coase Theorem, has been applied to such issues as the sale of rights to broadcast on portions of the electromagnetic spectrum and the problem of pollution; while countless other economists have applied it to virtually every area of human activity.
“Ronald Coase discovered many of the foundational ideas of modern economics,” saidDouglas Baird, the Harry A. Bigelow Distinguished Service Professor of Law, in a 2006 lecture on “Coase’s Journey.”
“When I teach Property, the first thing I cover on Day 1 is the ‘Coase Theorem,’ and the last thing we talk about on the final day is the same thing,” Schill said. “Ronald’s insights infused all of my scholarship and the scholarship of many, many professors throughout the world in countless fields.”
Coase reminisced about “The Nature of the Firm” in a 2009 video address recorded as part of a Law School celebration of his 100th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the publication of “The Problem of Social Cost.” In his unhurried, thoughtful cadence, Coase said he was surprised by how much it is cited since it was “little more than an undergraduate essay.”
He disputed his onetime characterization of firms as having diminishing rates of return as they grow larger, calling the growth a sociological issue, not an economic problem.
“I learned a great deal about how large organizations operate during my World War work when I was in the Cabinet office,” he said of his changed opinion. During World War II, Coase served as a statistician with the Central Statistical Office of the Offices of the British War Cabinet.

‘What an exhilarating event!’

In his personal essay for Nobel, Coase described being invited to UChicago to defend a 1959 paper he had written on the Federal Communications Commission to a group of skeptical UChicago economists. In that evening gathering at Law School Professor Aaron Director’s home, he was able to persuade them to his view that as long as legal rights are properly defined, efficient solutions will prevail. He was asked to write an article for The Journal of Law and Economics, which Director had recently founded. The outcome was “The Problem of Social Cost.”
“Had it not been for the fact that these economists at the University of Chicago thought that I had made an error in my article on The Federal Communications Commission, it is probable that ‘The Problem of Social Cost’ would never have been written,” Coase said
George Stigler, PhD’38, an economist at UChicago and 1982 Nobel Prize winner, later wrote in his 1988 book, Memoirs of an Unregulated Economist, about that night: “We strongly objected to this heresy. Milton Friedman [UChicago economist and 1976 Nobel laureate] did most of the talking, as usual. He also did much of the thinking, as usual. In the course of two hours of argument, the vote went from 21 against and one for Coase to 21 for Coase.
“What an exhilarating event! I lamented afterward that we had not had the clairvoyance to tape it.”
Coase was hired at the UChicago Law School in 1964.
“It was the first law school, to my knowledge, that had an economist teaching full time,” said University Professor Gary Becker, the 1992 Nobel laureate in economics, at a luncheon in honor of Coase’s 100th birthday, according to The University of Chicago Magazine. Coase took over The Journal of Law and Economics after Director retired in 1965 until 1982, and according to Becker he “really made it into a major and influential journal.”

Creating a field of study

“I used the journal to change views,” Coase told the UChicago News Office in 2012. “I wanted to use the journal to create a subject, and I did.”
Becker said that when he first met Coase in 1970, Coase “didn’t say a lot, but I began to realize that every time he did say something, it was really profound.”
Coase was born in a suburb of London in December 1910, the only child of a Post Office telegraphist and his wife. While his parents were more interested in sports than scholarship, both having left school as the age of 12, Coase was always drawn to academic endeavors. However, in his youth due to leg braces he had to wear, he was sent to a school for “physical defectives” and because of the school’s curriculum, started his academic education later than other children.
After graduating from the London School of Economics, he held positions at the Dundee School of Economics and the University of Liverpool before joining the faculty of the LSE in 1935. He continued at the London School of Economics and was appointed Reader in Economics with special reference to public utilities in 1947.
Coase held both a Sir Ernest Cassel Traveling Scholarship and a Rockefeller Fellowship. He was also a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, in Stanford, California.
In 1951 Coase migrated to the United States and held positions at the Universities of Buffalo and Virginia prior to coming to the Law School in 1964. He taught regulated industries and economic analysis and public policy. Coase was the editor of the Journal of Law and Economics from 1964 to 1982. Among his many books are The Firm, the Market and the Law (1988) and Essays on Economics and Economists (1994).
In 1977 Coase was a Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Coase was a Fellow of the British Academy, the European Academy, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was a member of the Honour Committee of Euroscience. He held honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Cologne, Yale University, Washington University, the University of Dundee, the University of Buckingham, Beloit College and the University of Paris. In 2003, Coase was the winner of The Economist’s Innovation Award in the category of “No Boundaries.”

An endlessly active mind

Coase’s more recent work continued to look into the complicated nature of the firm, as well as the emergence of capitalism outside government control. In his 2012 book How China Became Capitalist, Coase and his co-author, Wang, traced the market transformation China experienced over the past 35 years. The book argued that the changes came not from deliberate actions taken by Chinese leadership, as often claimed by Beijing, but from “marginal revolutions.”
“China became capitalist while it was trying to modernize socialism,” Coase and Wang wrote. “The story of China is the quintessence of what Adam Ferguson called ‘the products of human action but not human design.’ A Chinese proverb puts it more poetically: ‘The flowers planted on purpose do not blossom; the willows no one cared for have grown into big shade trees.’”

Even before his last book Coase enjoyed a towering reputation in China, Richard Sandor said.

“With the exception of Milton Friedman, no other Western economist is as revered and respected among Chinese scholars and policymakers,” Sandor said. “Coase always believed that ultimately China’s respect for new ideas and education will provide a fertile ground for law and economics scholarship in that country.”

Coase said in 2012 that his main scholarly talent was to identify solutions that were in plain sight.

“I’ve never done anything that wasn’t obvious, and I didn’t know why other people didn’t do it,” he said. “I’ve never thought the things I did were so extraordinary.”

Coase was preceded in death by his wife, Marion Ruth. The Law School will host a memorial to Coase later this fall, at a date and time to be announced.

Faculty: