“…the danger is that it will resemble the seminary it replaces…”

Sail Away

A great pleasure to see the lovely work of Stephen Sittler, AB’62, on the cover of the Magazine (“If I Had a Boat,” July–Aug/08) and read of his practice of one of civilization’s oldest art forms. Should he never sail a foot (though we wish him many good winds and happy seas), he will have been deeply rewarded for his devotion and dedication to the craft.

Reading about his work, I was immediately reminded of my friend and classmate Jack Schultz, AB’50, who in 1948 hiked across the Andes from Ecuador, built a native log canoe, and sailed down the Amazon and up through the Caribbean to Florida.

The incredible tale of how his boat, the Sea Fever, and he went through several rebuilds along the way appeared in the February 1949 National Geographic and later in William Longyard’s A Speck on the Sea (International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, 2004). I recall the Sea Fever was displayed on campus shortly after his voyage.

Myself, I have just moved ashore after 25 years of living on my boat in and about the Atlantic. Unlike a more accomplished and better-known sailor, I did not walk far with my oars but stopped at the first place with air conditioning and ice.

John Craig III, PhB’49, SM’50
Wittman, Maryland

Caveat Navigator

[Class notes submission, perhaps prompted by “If I Had a Boat,” July–Aug/08.—Ed.] Joshua Slocum, following the first singlehanded circumnavigation of the world, set sail for South America and was never seen or heard from again. Mark L. Friedman will set sail in the 100th Chicago to Mackinaw race on July 19 in the yacht Jug Band.

Mark L. Friedman, AB’73, MD’77
Westport, Connecticut

C-Minus in Latin

I don’t speak Latin, but in the subhead for the article “Of Milestones and Momentum” (July–Aug/08), the school motto Crescat scientia; vita excolatur [“Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched.”] seems to be missing a c. Or perhaps I should have studied harder?

Mark D. Horowitz, SM’73
Ambler, Pennsylvania

Typographical errors seldom get more embarrassing. Mea culpa.—Ed.

Free-market questioning

The creation of the Milton Friedman Institute—the economics think-tank the University intends to place in the present Chicago Theological Seminary buildings and support to the tune of $200 million—deserved more than the paragraph squib you devoted to it in your latest issue (“For the Record,” “Chicago Journal,” July–Aug/08). 

What makes the foundation of the institute noteworthy is not simply the highly unusual degree of faculty opposition that it has engendered; nor the specter (real or imagined) that it will become a general nexus of partisan right-wing thought of dubious academic quality, à la Stanford’s Hoover Institution; nor the unfortunate symbolic decision to rededicate buildings formerly devoted to the study of the divine to the study of the market. These points bear discussion, of course, but what seems to me particularly troubling about the institute is that it may direct its gaze far too narrowly by operating only within the idiosyncratic worldview of the Chicago School of economics, and thereby fail seriously to reexamine Friedman’s valorization of the free market as the arbiter of social good.

There’s no dispute that the Chicago School has been enormously influential.  And I don’t disagree that understanding market incentives has great relevance to making good public policy. But there is a difference between studying the market as an aid to furthering society’s goals and setting those goals based upon Friedman’s assumption that an unfettered market and minimal government intervention will generally produce socially optimal results. 

Chicago School economics, with its particularly strong emphasis on markets as the proper core of policy and its deep suspicion of government, sometimes resembles a political ideology more than it does a social-scientific research agenda. It offers an exceedingly narrow way of looking at the world, engendering a tendency uncritically to view a highly deregulated free-market world as the necessary and appropriate goal for our global future and to downplay the costs of that policy choice. Building the institute around that ideology is, then, a real risk for the University. The danger, in short, is that, if the institute takes Friedman’s gospel of the market as, well, gospel, it will resemble the seminary it replaces far more than it will an unbiased research institute.

Will the new institute critically examine Friedman’s assumptions and those of his Chicago School compatriots? Will it weigh the consequences of free-market policies—intended as well as unintended? Will it consider the costs of the great social destabilization that has followed the structural adjustment prescriptions Friedman’s acolytes have pressed on the developing world as well as the benefits of such policies? Will it take economic inequality as seriously as economic efficiency? Will it cast a careful eye at the growing dominance of multinational corporations, for good and for ill, in our system of global governance? And will it frankly face up to the square inconsistency between Friedman’s belief in unfettered economic growth as the driver of social good and the realities of our limited and collapsing global ecosystems and intensifying climate crisis? In short, will the Friedman Institute ask serious questions about the utility of Friedman’s market prescriptions, or will it simply assume the free market to be a largely unadulterated good and operate only within that cramped context?

Chicago is at its best when it questions our most basic assumptions rather than furthering groupthink (even very popular, very well-regarded groupthink). The University’s initial flat dismissal of the faculty protest letter suggests that the institute will not do so, and founding committee member John Cochrane’s sneering response to the same protest letter, posted on his Web site, is even more worrying in this regard. I would encourage the University and the alumni community to take concerns over the institute more seriously, and to shape the institute so that it questions the ideas of its namesake, rather than simply venerating them as established truth.

Craig Segall, AB’04
Oakland, California

Free-market evangelism

Surely the gods intervened to displace one form of evangelical sureness with another fundamentalism. I propose another name for the benefice, something more fitting: the Friedman Seminary for Divine Economics. There, in the chapel of Saint Milton of TANSTAAFL, the holy oblates might consider how Law and Economics is a moral impossibility, being neither law nor economics. Even as they contemplate how many subprime mortgages can dance on the head of a pin, the devotees might examine their dogmata and the remains of their consciences.
Somehow, application of free-market economics to Russia and China has not caused collateral blossoming of civil rights and civil liberties. In the United States 30 years of free-market fundamentalism has led to a collapsing system of health care dominated by insurers and pharmaceutical advertisements, undermining of science and the public-education system in the name of “choice,” privatization of the government’s military function, concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, and an assault on the Bill of Rights.

I hope that the business professors will experience the same wonderment as the rest of us at how George W. Bush, our first MBA president, turned out to be so spectacularly unprepared to serve the interests and needs of his own nation—a veritable cloud of unknowing.
Finally, I suggest that the University apply to the City of Chicago to change the name of the street where this very holy monastery will reside so that it can have an address on the Way to Laputa.

Donald Gecewicz, AB’76

What’s in a name?

I note in the July–Aug/08 Magazine that 101 professors decry naming an economics institute after Milton Friedman. In the same issue, work by another scholar (Don Coursey, “Market Flow” ) shows that property rights and greed are the best way to allocate scarce (water) resources.
Evidently there are a number of U of C professors pontificating well outside their areas of expertise. Too bad there is no list or a link to a list of the signees so future students can tell which professors to avoid.

Michael L. Simon
Rockford, Illinois

Soon after plans for the Milton Friedman Institute http://mfi.uchicago.edu/ were announced, 101 faculty members signed a letter to President Zimmer and Provost Rosenbaum protesting “the ideological and disciplinary preference implied” by the decision. Meeting with group representatives this summer, the president and provost stressed that the institute is meant to “be a research institute consistent with the highest intellectual values of the University” and “not be directed toward supporting any particular political agenda.” They also signaled their intention, working with the Council of the Faculty Senate, to revive an annual meeting of the full senate. Such a meeting, which may be held this fall, offers a venue for “broad-based” discussion, they wrote, on the institute and “other topics important to the University.”—Ed.

Thinking outside the box

Regarding the “There Will Be Books” report on the new Joe and Rika Mansueto Library (“Chicago Journal,” July–Aug/08): What the University Library is planning to do is stimulating and exciting. To follow up on librarian Judith Nadler’s observation that “[t]he library isn’t the same as it was ten years ago, and ten years from now it won’t be the same,” what about creating an in-library user interface that would digitally emulate the actual book spine title, color, size, shape, and existing condition that one would see, if actually reading in the library stacks? By clicking on any book on the shelf it would open into its own window, showing the table of contents, bibliography, and endnotes.

During my time at the University, one of the greatest unmentioned benefits I derived from open stacks was being able to see the works surrounding a specific volume for which I was searching. I discovered that they were the specific collections in that subject area by the old faculty whom often my own professors had read as students. …

In “Other People’s Ideas” (“Investigations,” July–Aug/08), GSB professor Tanya Menon is full of good ideas. If we met I would ask her: What is it in the creation of a business leader’s competitive paradigm that leads one individual to choose authoritarian-driven strategies and techniques, another to follow a more Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [AB’60, PhD’65], “flow”–driven model, and, perhaps most rarely but most beneficial of all, the healthful management leader who is able to get those other two opposite strategies to work cooperatively. How do we further train and reeducate individuals who are habituated to either-or thinking to also discover and learn how to accept more and-or and self-actualizing business paradigms?

Albert Adams, PhD’71

Conflated inflation

I was confused by Allen Carroll’s graphic accompanying Lydialyle Gibson’s “Inflated Inflation” piece on the effect of improved quality on the consumer price index (“Fig. 1,” “Investigations,” July–Aug/08). The title indicates it’s the CPI inflation being charted, yet the raw CPI inflation rate and the CPI inflation adjusted for quality have identical shapes (i.e. no reduction in inflation), but the adjusted numbers are shifted to the left, indicating that the inflation rates are the same, but occur sooner when CPI inflation is adjusted for quality improvements. Seems like the shift should be down (reduced inflation) rather than to the left (earlier inflation). The labels on the horizontal axis also seem strange. Given the title of the graphic, I would have expected years or quarters from 1996 to 2006 rather than numbers running from -2 to +6.

Mike Forester, MBA’83
Glenview, Illinois

As someone who spent a good deal of time at one point in my life doing analytically useful graphical representations of economic time series, I was a bit concerned on several counts about the “Fig. 1” item, “Inflated Inflation.”

The graphic doesn’t identify the data as unadjusted or seasonally adjusted, nor what rate is being used—annual, quarterly, or monthly. The legend text “CPI Quarterly Inflation Rate” is ambiguous on this count: the use of “Quarterly” implies quarterly data, but the irregularities in the curves ripple in a way that is even more frequent than monthly—the actual frequency of Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI data.

“CPI overstates inflation by .8 per year,” but the graphic does not illustrate this behavior. Instead, it shows two virtually identical curves, with the adjusted one leading the actual by about six months, a pattern which bears no relation to the text’s assertion of overstatement due to failure to take account of quality increases.

People have to pay the prices at which goods and services are actually sold, which is what the present CPI measures. Innovations and upgrades may or may not be useful additions to the functions provided by these goods and services, but people have to pay for them whether they want/need them or not. To the extent that the CPI is the most widely used basis for cost of living adjustments (COLA), use of the downward-adjusted version for this purpose would amount to a reduction in real income—based on what people actually have to pay to get the goods and services. For someone who is mindful of Naomi Klein’s work, this is a source of concern, if not surprise, given the reputation of the University’s economics department and the National Bureau of Economic Research as economically conservative entities concerned more with markets than with the needs of people. What looks good in theory, isolated from the realities of life, can be quite destructive if applied in practice. I acknowledge that nothing in the Magazine article implies that the adjusted version should be used for COLAs, but that could be only a short next step away in the minds of market-driven policy makers.

Dick Atlee, SB’67
Southwest Harbor, Maine

Forrester and Atlee correctly note errors in the title and descriptors accompanying the graphic. It shows the CPI quarterly inflation rate, annualized and seasonally adjusted (words missing from the legend), and the inflation rate adjusted for the quality and substitution bias the researchers argue that the CPI ignores. As they noted in their explanation of the graphic: “Extrapolating the quality bias and the sampling error to the entire CPI suggests that over the last 10 years, we cannot sign inflation precisely almost 30 percent of the time.” The graphic has been properly labeled online http://magazine.uchicago.edu/0878/investigations/fig1.shtml.—Ed.

Big Ten wins

I much enjoyed the letter “More to Big Ten than Football”  (July–Aug/08), which brought back memories of a sometimes-winning Maroon football team. In October 1936 Coach Clark Shaugnessy arrived at Madison with just 17 men to face the 50-member Badger squad. Jay Berwanger, AB’36, had graduated the previous year. I witnessed the game; final score: Chicago 7, Wisconsin 6. Perhaps this was their last Big Ten victory!

George H. Crowell, SB’40
Menasha, Wisconsin

A visit to the Department of Athletics record books shows that Crowell is correct in all details of the Wisconsin game, played on Halloween 1936. It was the only game they won against a Big Ten team that season. In fact, in the entire season they scored only 28 points total, with 123 scored against them (a statistic in which they handily, if unhappily, beat the competition). But it could have been worse, and it soon was: in the 1937, ’38, and ’39 seasons, the Maroons didn’t win any games against Big Ten teams and had generally miserable records (in 1939 they scored no points at all in Big Ten league play). However, the last game Chicago won while technically “in” the Big Ten was a 25–0 victory over Oberlin College on November 18, 1939.—Ed.

Cosmic thanks

Thank you, Jacques Dulin, SB’57, and David Underwood, SM’68, PhD’73, for bringing cosmic rays up to date (“Letters,” Mar–Apr/08). I also studied in the physics department under Prof. Marcel Schein in 1943–44 when most of the physics staff were otherwise busy in the Manhattan Project. I did my master’s dissertation on “The Structure of Cosmic Ray Air Showers” (1944) and was helped immensely in publishing the results [in the Physical Review, Vol. 69, Nos. 5 and 6] by Lloyd Lewis, SB’39, PhD’46, a fellow graduate student at the time. 

Konrad L. Kingshill, SM’44
Claremont, California

Parallel legacies

Richard Mertens’s short biography of the remarkable former coal miner Carter G. Woodson, AB 1908, AM 1908 (“Legacy,” May–June/08), is inspiring and noteworthy. My father, Stanley, was a Polish immigrant who, like Carter, was a coal miner in the Pennsylvania anthracite coal region for about those years.

Carter said the most important lessons for him came from his father, who was illiterate but a powerful moral force. My father also was illiterate; my mother completed six years of education and was retained for two additional years teaching children of other immigrants.

In making black history a mass movement, Carter built a network of black educators, teachers, schoolchildren, church groups, women’s clubs, and fraternities. In the 1940s my parents, together with Polish teachers and principals, founded the Polish-American Educational Society in Reading to provide scholarships for college education, which continues to this very day.

After learning the English language, my father left the foundries and became a grocer—a typical mom-and-pop operation in an ethnic neighborhood. Upon graduation from the University, I designed a simple purchase journal for my father that enabled him to control inventory and track sales. We rearranged all of the shelf space to maximize gross profit.

Like Carter, without his stubborn determination my father might never have accomplished so much. Together with other local Polish businessmen he helped found the Mother’s Food Stores, which was a wholesale buying co-op with a warehouse.

He instilled a work ethic and a desire for learning in all his children, and we are very proud of his legacy. I am eternally grateful to the University’s business school for granting me the fellowships and scholarships, and the privilege of living at International House so many wonderful years ago.

Stanley M. Janikowski, MBA’53
Erie, Pennsylvania

Lions, vultures—and conjunctions

Browsing through the College Class of 1975 news in the July–Aug/08 issue, I encountered an upbeat item from Jeff Rasley, AB’75, about his travels this spring in South Africa, in which he described a driving safari with assorted friends and offspring, and reported that “[t]he boys enjoyed seeing vultures and lions mating.”

Will the results of this union look anything like the gryphon on the Cobb Hall archway near Botany Pond?

Suzanne Erfurth, AB’75

The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters about its contents or about the life of the University. Letters for publication must be signed and may be edited for space and clarity. In order to provide a wide range of views and voices, we encourage letter writers to limit themselves to 300 words or less. Write: Editor, University of Chicago Magazine, 401 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60611. Or e-mail: uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu.

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