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The Elgar Companion to the Chicago School of Economics

The Elgar Companion to the Chicago School of Economics

Elgar original reference

Edited by Ross B. Emmett

Many know the Chicago School of Economics and its association with Milton Friedman, George Stigler, Ronald Coase and Gary Becker. But few know the School’s history and the full scope of its scholarship. In this Companion, leading scholars examine its history and key figures, as well as provide surveys of the School’s contributions to central aspects of economics, including: price theory, monetary theory, labor and economic history. The volume examines the School’s traditions of applied welfare theory and law and economics while providing a glimpse into emerging research on Chicago’s role in the development of neoliberalism.

Chapter 8: Chicago and Economic History

David Mitch

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, history of economic thought, methodology of economics


David Mitch* Introduction On first consideration, economic history would seem at best peripheral to standard depictions of the Chicago School of Economics. The Chicago School can be seen as emphasizing the universality of homo economicus: responding to incentives, the presence of scarcity, and the influence of market forces. This would seem to accord little scope for historical perspective or specificity. Yet the University of Chicago Economics Department (which should be distinguished from a ‘Chicago School of Economics’) has had a long tradition of economic history in its curricula and economic historians on its faculty from its founding in the 1890s. During what some would identify as the zenith of the Chicago School (for example, Stigler 1988), from the late 1940s to the 1970s under the aegis of Milton Friedman, George Stigler, and Gary Becker, Chicago hired some particularly prominent economic historians. The first was Earl Hamilton in 1947, followed by Robert Fogel and Donald McCloskey during the 1960s and then David Galenson in the 1970s. Fogel and McCloskey were at the vanguard of the cliometric movement in economic history in the 1960s. And Fogel’s contributions were recognized with his receipt of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1993. How did the Chicago department come to acquire such prominent researchers in the field during a period in which one might think that the rise of a coherent Chicago School would lower the priority accorded to economic history? Throughout, this chapter is informed by two central questions. First, what conception of the...

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