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“chicago economics,” “chicago sociology,” and “chicago anything else”

Near the end of James Heckman’s lecture on the scholarly legacy of Gary Becker, Heckman argued that Becker was a fine addition to the legacy of “Chicago economics.” He didn’t mean that Becker was a monetarist – the “Chicago school” of Friedman and his followers. Instead, he meant that Becker fit in well with the long tradition of great Chicago economic thinkers including not only free marketers (like Friedman) but also liberals (Paul Douglas), socialists (Oscar Lange), and weirdos (Thorstein Veblen). But what does that mean? Here is what it means:

  1. People know the whole field of economics, they aren’t just narrow specialists.
  2. Economics is not a parlor game. It is important.
  3. Empirical work is important and it is not devalued.

Thumbs up. But let me extend it. This Chicago attitude should extend to the whole of social sciences. People ask me, for example, why I was so damn harsh on the critical realists and the post-modernists. Why? Because what I do is important. It is empirical and it reflects what I’ve learned from absorbing the hard earned lessons of my predecessors. So when I see scholarship sink into a miasma of words, or the toy tinkering with cuteonomics, I can only conclude that the person is here to play games, not figure out how the world works. Excuse me while I get back to work.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 1, 2014 at 12:01 am

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks for this post and its primary point, Fabio. And I also salute the secondary point, that Chicago economics is not just free market dogma. I used to drive up from Purdue to attend UC Economics workshops on human capital and agricultural development to augment my graduate studies. It was energizing to spend time with Margaret Reid, Jacob Mincer, Gary Becker and others whose work your post celebrates.

    BTW, my favorite “oddball” Chicago economist was Bert Hoselitz, who founded and edited Economic Development and Cultural Change over three decades. He also published a book entitled Sociological Aspects of Economic Growth, an important work that guided much of the social science around poverty alleviation in developing nations. He worked with many sociologists and other social scientists who shared his penchant for meaningful work. No critical realism here…

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    Randy

    December 1, 2014 at 12:57 am

  2. “People ask me, for example, why I was so damn harsh on the critical realists and the post-modernists. Why? Because what I do is important. It is empirical and it reflects what I’ve learned from absorbing the hard earned lessons of my predecessors. So when I see scholarship sink into a miasma of words, or the toy tinkering with cuteonomics, I can only conclude that the person is here to play games, not figure out how the world works. Excuse me while I get back to work.”

    …how insulting did you intend to be here?

    Like

    Anon

    December 1, 2014 at 4:40 pm


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