Chicago Opposition to MFI - Another View:

Jacob Levy offers an alternative take on UChicago faculty opposition to the creation of a Milton Friedman Institute:

Now, if you model academic behavior as rational, mutually-distinterested self-interest, you find that everyone should welcome an inflow of $200 million into another part of their university. You predict that there will be no opposition.

If, however, you model academic behavior as a status game, more concerned with relative position than with absolute position, and you find that your university is going to take the fields that are already very high-status in the world and relatively even higher status within your institution, and symbolically endow them with even greater status by making them more central to the institution's name and identity and campus and budget, then things look very different. The promise of getting the econ department's leftover offices and the spilloff from the interest on the new endowment pale in comparison to what will be lost. You predict that there will, in fact, be opposition.

While Levy and Drezner (both former Chicagoites) place their emphases in different places, I am not sure their accounts are in conflict. Sure some faculty in other departments are envious and fear the new Institute's presence may (further) eclipse their work, but they'd have less to be envious about were they to receive a bigger piece of the pie.

It should be worth noting, contrary to a core principle of the proposed MFI and of Milton Friedman himself, that both the analysis offered by Levy and Drezner are entirely speculative and theoretical, and totally lacking factual substance or support.

As Milton Friedman put it:

In discussions of economic science, 'Chicago' stands for an approach that takes seriously the use of economic theory as a tool for analyzing a startlingly wide range of concrete problems… for an approach that insists on the empirical testing of theoretical generalizations and that rejects alike facts without theory and theory without facts.

It is kind of ironic that they choose to defend the proposed institute by violating a core principle that the institute and Milton Friedman advanced.

Instead, all they offer is pie-in-the-sky theoretical speculation about what might be motivating the opposition to the MFI. What we have here is "theory without facts" something that Milton Friedman would have rejected.
7.14.2008 11:14pm
It's hard for me to judge this one. I can see the argument, since status resentments among colleagues are notorius. But there is so much emphasis these days on the ranking of institutions that the number one drive among faculty strikes me as USNWR-lust. Anything that adds to peer esteem of your institution is good for you as a member of that institution's faculty.
7.14.2008 11:16pm
Jacob T. Levy (mail) (www):
Snarky, do you remember Friedman's defense of as-if modeling from Methodology of Positive Economics? I carefully do *not* engage in any arguments ad hominem, or even *attribute* the opposition to amour propre. I say that the status-game model is, and the rational self-interest model is not, compatible with the observed facts.

That's not an argument in favor of the MFI, or against the arguments of the opponents. I think most of the latter arguments are bad ones, and that they couldn't be consistently applied across a university, and that the argument from intellectual diversity is an obviously transparently bad one. But my post wasn't engaged in showing any of those things
7.14.2008 11:27pm

It's hard for me to judge this one.

It is hard to judge this one, because both accounts are entirely speculative and entirely lacking empirical support whatsoever.

I see no reason to prefer either of these explanations for opposition to the Milton Friedman Institute to accepting what opponents of MFI say are the reasons that the institute should be opposed. (i.e. that they are concerned about ideological imbalance and also excessively reinforcing a particular image of Chicago in the public mind.)

There is a small chance that what opponents say are motivating their opposition could be what is actually motivating their opposition. Right?

I am not saying that we should always take people at face value...

I am saying that these alternative explanations of the motives of opponents motives (both of which delegitimize the arguments of opposition -- taking opposition arguments into nothing more than a flimsy cover for crass self-interest, whether in maximizing relative status (i.e. Levy) or getting a bigger slice of the pie (i.e. Drezner) both violate the principles that the Milton Friedman Institute is supposed to uphold.

With friends like Drezner and Levy, the Milton Friedman Institute sure doesn't need enemies.

I should note that Levy can be criticized further on the ground that his argument is not really distinct from Drezners. What motivates these other groups to want a bigger "slice of the pie" (Drezner's argument) might very well there desire to increase their relative status (Levy's argument). That is, Levy's alternative explanation is perfectly consistent with Drezner's original "argument" (really speculation), making Levy's claim that he must "differ" with Drezner foolish.
7.14.2008 11:32pm

I carefully do *not* engage in any arguments ad hominem, or even *attribute* the opposition to amour propre. I say that the status-game model is, and the rational self-interest model is not, compatible with the observed facts.

Fine. That is not how I interpreted your post. I thought you were arguing that the model was applicable, not merely that it might be applicable. I think that given the length of your discussion of your model and your lack of any indication otherwise, my interpretation that you thought your model applied, rather than merely might apply, is more natural. But, nonetheless, clearly this was not your intent.

I still see you and Drezner's argument as largely consistent. Drezner said they wanted a bigger piece of the pie -- he did not say why they wanted it.
7.14.2008 11:39pm
A final note. The post immediately after Levy was added before I read his reply, but after his was added. It should be appropriately modified to take note of the fact that he is not actually arguing that his model applies, only that it might apply.
7.14.2008 11:42pm
How can somebody not know that "mutually-disinterested," as a compound phrasal adjective, should NOT be hyphenated and should in fact be "mutually disinterested"? I just can't take people seriously that make that kind of basic grammatical error.
7.14.2008 11:42pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Levy's idea makes sense assuming people are really irrational. Normal people should have twinges or pangs of jealousy -- it should not be a long term way of life. Was Stanford forever tainted by the Hoover Institution? Surely enough right-wing scholars work there. Opposing professors should get their prominent (liberal arts0 alumni to shovel funds into their part of the institution, not to be dogs in the manger.

Considering the U of C was founded by rapacious Oil Truster John D. Rockefeller, this reluctance to welcome the free marketeer Milton Friedman's Institute makes little sense. After all, at the U of C, God and Mammon meet, in the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.
7.15.2008 12:06am
"It's hard for me to judge this one.

It is hard to judge this one, because both accounts are entirely speculative and entirely lacking empirical support whatsoever. "

Nah. That's not why it's hard.
7.15.2008 12:14am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Hey, Snarky, here's a tip: Reread your post, and think of what people would think if you said this over dinner. If you think people would view you as a crank, a blowhard, or as someone who vastly overdoes it on the hyperbole, rewrite your post before hitting enter.
7.15.2008 12:32am
David M. Nieporent,

This coming from a guy who has had countless unpleasant blog comments. Maybe you should practice what you preach.
7.15.2008 12:35am
James Lindgren (mail):
IMO, both sides are not being completely honest.

After a decade, the Milton Friedman Institute will be about as non-partisan as the Hoover Institution at Stanford, which the MFI is modeled after.

On the other hand, the only serious reason to oppose the MFI is political partisanship, which is the reason that Hoover is opposed at Stanford. Do you want a mostly conservative institute that can offset the liberal funding from the Ford Foundation, MacArthur, Joyce, NSF, etc.?

In an ideal world, if other sources of funding were truly non-partisan, then the case for the MFI would be weaker.

But in the real world, this will be a nice counterpoint to traditional sources of funding. And the quality of work funded is likely to be at least as high as that funded by the govt. and major foundations.
7.15.2008 2:10am
David M. Nieporent (www):
It's not what I preach, "Snarky." It's what the proprietors of this blog preach.

And at least I have the courage and integrity to sign my name to my posts.
7.15.2008 10:05am
LawMan 5000:
I have been reading about the opposition to the Milton Friedman institute for several weeks now, but no one has posted a list of the professors opposing it. Does anyone have this list? Otherwise, it is hard to take this whole thing seriously.
7.15.2008 10:48am