Friedman Institute to cull economic talent

By Aviva Rosman

The University will establish the Milton Friedman Institute to conduct extensive economic research and policy analysis that incorporates broad academic disciplines in commemoration of famed University economist Milton Freidman’s intellectual legacy, President Robert Zimmer announced in an e-mail to the University community Wednesday.

The University will invest $200 million in the Institute to build an operational endowment, attract the world’s leading economic thinkers for research and workshops, and implement graduate and job-market training programs for burgeoning scholars.

According to Zimmer’s e-mail, the Institute will be ready to open its doors in the fall of 2008, and the University will immediately begin the search for a director. The University has purchased the Chicago Theological Seminary’s main building at East 58th Street and South University Avenue, which will be renovated to house the Institute and, in the future, possibly the department of economics, according to the University’s press release.

“The goal of the Institute is to build on the University’s existing leadership position and make the Milton Friedman Institute a primary intellectual destination for economics by creating a robust forum for engagement of our faculty and students with scholars and policymakers from around the world,” Zimmer wrote. “The Milton Friedman Institute will continue Chicago’s extraordinary tradition of creating new ideas that stimulate the academic world and innovative approaches that influence policy.”

The University’s $200 million will cover an operating endowment and facilities, as well as other start-up costs, with the majority of funds coming from alumni and business leader donations. Milton Friedman Institute founders—individuals who donate at least one million dollars—will be given special access to the work of the Institute.

Richard Barnard, a manager at the Seminary Co-Op that is located in the basement of the Seminary building, said that the bookstore will not be moving for at least a couple of years.

“At the moment, everything will stay the same because the University has to build the Seminary a new building,” Barnard said, referring to a clause of the purchase agreement. “Everything will stay the same except legal ownership.”

Last May, Zimmer convened an ad hoc committee to research the possibility of the new economics institute. The faculty committee, chaired by Homer J. Livingston Distinguished Service Professor in economics Lars Hansen, submitted a proposal in January for a research institute honoring Friedman’s legacy. The committee, which included Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker and faculty members from the Graduate School of Business, Law School, and economics department, envision the Friedman Institute as a means to recruit top scholars and encourage interaction among related disciplines.

“It is exciting because Chicago has a long history of strength in economics,” Hansen said. “This will be a great place for researchers around the world and in various areas to spend time, allow us to learn from them, and continue to establish this place as the real center of economic research.”

“The Institute will build on this important tradition by focusing on research questions that support development of economic models grounded in economic theory and empirical evidence and designed to evaluate a variety of questions related to economic policy,” Becker said in the press release.

Friedman, who died in 2006, received his M.A. from the University of Chicago and was a professor at the University for over 30 years. He won the Nobel Prize in 1976 for his study of inflation and monetary policy. A staunch advocate of free market economies, Friedman was one of the founders of the Chicago School of Economics.

Hansen said that the Institute will continue his legacy as an empirical economic thinker.

“He produced superb research on model building supported by important, substantive questions,” Hansen said. “The depth of his contributions was truly amazing, and we would like to foster that type of research, that serious analysis that helps solve important economic problems.”

“Obviously, when we are looking at problems of policy, we will look at the incentives of the price sector and not just run to the government. But on the other hand, this is not an institute with a political agenda. This is not research for hire in order to bash some government program. I see Milton Friedman as a broad economist,” Hansen said.