Tyler Cowen’s and Brad DeLong’s blogs have both directed their readers to the open letter of John Cochrane, Finance Wizard at Chicago. Cochrane is incensed by the protest of 100 University of Chicago professors to the creation of the Milton Friedman Institute. Most of Cochrane’s response is about examining the verbe tense, the sentence subject and political correctness of the protest statement. After prodding, slicing, extracting, replacing, turning and stepping on the statement, he discovers it was written by mediocre conspiracy theorists trying to grab a piece of the funding pie. He is at his best when he goes ape on the term “Global South”
I’ll just pick on this one as a stand-in for all the jargon in this letter. What does this oxymoron mean, and why do the letter writers use it? We used to say what we meant, “poor countries.” That became unfashionable, in part because poverty is sometimes a bit of your own doing and not a state of pure victimhood. So, it became polite to call dysfunctional backwaters “developing.” That was already a lie (or at best highly wishful thinking) since the whole point is that they aren’t developing. But now bien-pensant circles don’t want to endorse “development” as a worthwhile goal anymore. “South” – well, nice places like Australia, New Zealand and Chile are there too (at least from a curiously North-American and European-centric perspective). So now it’s called “global south,” which though rather poor as directions for actually getting anywhere, identifies the speaker as the caring sort of person who always uses the politically correct word.
I confess that for a moment I thought Cochrane had discovered semiotics, but he is too busy doing something else. (Note the always dismissive reference to “bien-pensant”, very midwestern.) What he is doing is defending economics from the invading hordes of social scientists and humanities types that are trying to frame and define his subject. Consider the final segment,
Milton Friedman stood for freedom, social, political, and economic. He realized that they are inextricably linked. If the government controls your job or your business, dissent is impossible. He favored, among other things, legalizing drugs, school choice, and volunteer army. To call him or his political legacy “right wing” is simply ignorant, and I mean that also as a technically accurate description rather than an insult. (Of course, he also has a legacy in the economics community as a first-rate researcher, which is what the MFI will do and honor.)
Cochrane radiates authority in speaking of Friedman and his legacy, not because he was close personal friend, or a colleague, but because he is a straight thinking economist. Friedman is a battleground to define the politics of economics.