The lucky consistency of Friedman’s Science and Politics

In relation to a post I wrote today for the playground blog, here’s my paper on Milton Friedman. It is to be published in a forthcoming book edited by Philip Mirowski, Tom Stapleford and Rob Van Horn by Cambridge University Press on Building Chicago Economics: New Perspectives on the History of America’s Most Powerful Economic Programme. 

Penultimate draft available here.  And there is a comment of the presentation I gave to a conference on Chicago Economics (from which the above book resulted) by Ross Emmett.

While charges of ideological biases are not uncommon in economics, those levelled at Friedman have been especially harsh. In addition to seeing his microeconomics and his monetarism as a rationalization of his neoliberal values, some have accused him of manipulating empirical results.

This paper reconsiders the consistency between Friedman’s science and politics. It argues that his political beliefs should be considered in relation to his cognitive beliefs (based on empirical evidence) – individual rationality, economic stability, government inefficiency and competitive markets- and methodological beliefs –policy oriented science and empirically based scientific objectivity.

This narrative tells how Friedman’s worldview, which consisted of these fundamental beliefs, was formed early in his life and settled by the time he moved to Chicago in 1946. It goes on to show that this worldview shaped the development of his scientific and political thinking between 1946 and 1963. Friedman’s worldview informed his hypotheses, the statistical and historical evidence used to test them, and eventually the modeling and testing procedure itself. It also surfaced in his macroeconomic policy recommendations and in the belief that market solutions could be scientifically demonstrated superior to government intervention, a view shared by his Chicago colleagues

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