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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 7: J. Laurence Laughlin

William J. Barber

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


William J. Barber James Laurence Laughlin (1850–1933), the first Head Professor of Political Economy at the University of Chicago, was the principal mover and shaker of that department during the first quarter-century of its existence. He had been called to this post by William Rainey Harper, the university’s first president, who was determined – with the aid of the John D. Rockefeller’s checkbook – to build a world-class university virtually overnight. On its opening day in October 1892, the University of Chicago had a larger complement of students and faculty than any American institution of higher learning possessed before the Civil War. Laughlin brought considerable academic credentials to this assignment. He had been awarded the AB and PhD degrees in history by Harvard University. He earned the latter qualification with a dissertation directed by Henry Adams on Anglo-Saxon legal procedures (Adams et al. 1876). Thereafter he turned attention to political economy and taught this subject at Harvard from 1878 to 1888. During this phase of his career, he prepared an abridged version of John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy, with adaptations that he took to be suitable for American student audiences (Mill 1884). This meant that the illustrative material drew on the US (rather than British) experience; it also meant that Mill’s comments on the virtues of free markets were emphasized and that his sympathetic references to the state as an agent for social amelioration were systematically purged. He also produced a volume on the history of bimetallism in the...

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