Friedman, positive economics, and the chicago boys

Abstract

In this paper I investigate two denials in Milton Friedman's Nobel Lecture (1976). The first is [i] the denial that 'Economics and its fellow social sciences' ought to be 'regarded more nearly as branches of philosophy.' The second is [ii] the denial that economics is 'enmeshed with values at the outset because they deal with human behaviour' (267). I show that Friedman's appeal to his methodology in the Nobel lecture fails on conceptual grounds internal to Friedman's methodology. Moreover, I show that the failure is related to a broader systematic problem: when properly understood, Friedman's methodology shows that positive economics is (in a non-trivial sense) enmeshed in values. In order to account for Friedman's overreaching, I turn to the charged social context regarding Friedman's purported involvement with the Chicago Boys, who were then serving Chilean Dictator Pinochet. I conclude by explaining why I re-open the old chestnut of values in positive science. The episode allows me to raise a question of fundamental import about the relationship between expertise and society.

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2009-01-28

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Eric Schliesser
University of Amsterdam

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