McCloskey at Chicago

deeFor an upcoming Festschrift, I was recently asked to write an account of Dee (then Don) McCloskey‘s years as a brilliant teacher at the University of Chicago, her influence on a generation of economists, and my own enormous debts to her. This was a great pleasure to write. A draft is here.

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12 Responses to “McCloskey at Chicago”


  1. 1 1 Mike

    So McCloskey roped you in from math. Your textbook roped me in from Marketing. I converted one of my very first Principles students to Econ from Music. He just finished his dissertation under the watchful eye of McCloskey. Circle of life and stuff.

  2. 2 2 Steve Landsburg

    Mike: Thanks for sharing that!

  3. 3 3 jgreene39

    This was a very enjoyable read. I didn’t know all of that about her.

  4. 4 4 Manfred

    Steve, what a great Festschrift! Loved it.
    Oh yes, the Old Chicago School, with McCloskey, Stigler, Friedman, Harry Johnson, Gary Becker, and so many more. Beautiful times…

    But here is my question: is Chicago still like that? Or has it become a first class yes, but garden variety Econ Department, like MIT or Princeton or Harvard? Do they still care about this special “economic way of thinking”?

    If not – is there any other Econ dept in the US (or elsewhere) that still has this special flair?

  5. 5 5 GregS

    I’ll second Mike’s statement. I came across your textbook in a continuing education course that was part of my actuarial education. The time spent reading your text had perhaps the highest payoff of anything I’ve ever read. The arguments presented in the text were so clear they changed how I looked at the world. I didn’t switch professions. I’m still an actuary, but I try to apply the economic way of thinking to everything I do. When I read your description of McCloskey’s effect on you, I had a strong sense of deja vu.
    I discovered McCloskey a few years ago when I read her article “Factual Free-Market Fairness.” I’ve read several of her books since then. “Bourgeois Dignity” and “The Cult of Statistical Significance” are both excellent. She’s just a very clear writer.

  6. 6 6 nobody.really

    Lovely review of McCloskey’s influence. Two thoughts:

    1. I recall studying micro-econ with (Donald) McCloskey’s book – but I recall it being called, “Price & the Market Mechanism.” In my memory, the cover had red and orange vertical stripes and kind of reminded me of a backgammon board. But I find no mention of “Price & the Market Mechanism” among McCloskey’s publications, nor does Amazon or Google acknowledge that such a book ever existed. So when I demonstrate a weak grasp of micro, perhaps I can blame it on the fact that I studied from a mythical book.

    2. Landsburg remarks on the transformative experience of being untutored in economics, and discovering its wonders at the hands of an excellent teacher. I had a similar experience, albeit at the undergrad level.

    Perhaps as an emblem of the prestige that economics has achieved, my kids must take an econ class to graduate high school. Maybe this represents progress. But I sense the school district is simply getting the Driver’s Ed teacher to do something with his second semester, and the effect on my kids is nothing like my own experience encountering econ. In short, rather than progress, I wonder if my kids’ experience of econ has simply been sullied, and they will be denied the opportunity to encounter the subject fresh as Landsburg and I did.

    (Curiously, in 2012 McCloskey published an article entitled, “What Economics Should We Teach Before College, If Any?”)

  7. 7 7 David Wallin

    Note that http://www.deirdremccloskey.com/ is worth the look.

  8. 8 8 nobody.really

    I recall studying micro-econ with (Donald) McCloskey’s book – but I recall it being called, “Price & the Market Mechanism.” In my memory, the cover had red and orange vertical stripes and kind of reminded me of a backgammon board.

    Note that http://www.deirdremccloskey.com/ is worth the look.

    Ha — McCloskey’s list of Books Written includes the familiar orangy cover of the book I studied (including listing the author as Donald McCloskey), but with the title, “The Applied Theory of Price” instead. (The cover of the more recent additions has changed.) I surmise I must have simply invented this other title.

    You know, I forget things all the time. But to have a specific false memory — that’s really disconcerting.

  9. 9 9 iceman

    My required HS econ class was taught by the football coach who could read words like “oligopoly” out of a text. He then brought in a college kid TA whose first lesson was to have us listen to “Money” by Pink Floyd. Left a lot of room for later epiphanies.

  10. 10 10 Don

    Steve, thanks for sharing this with your readers. I discovered Dee’s economic way of thinking indirectly as a graduate student long ago. One of the guys teaching the Ph.D. microeconomics course was reviewing her textbook and he was using her end-of-chapter questions (puzzles) for our problem sets and comprehensive exam. What a contrast to the material we were working with in Henderson and Quandt. It was only after the course and comp that we discovered the source of our amazement and frustration. Interestingly, at the same time I was working as a graduate assistant for a fellow who had recently graduated from UCLA and he was using Alchian and Allen’s textbook University Economics in a principles course. He also assigned Alchian and Allen’s end-of-chapter questions which were similar to Dee’s questions in terms of difficulty and style. For me, this was a great experience in my graduate education.
    Several years ago, I discovered your textbook (circa 2nd edition) and I have been using it ever since. Thanks for continuing this fine tradition that you described in your tribute to Dee.

  11. 11 11 Larry Siegel

    I also had (Don) McCloskey as an instructor. I had already been hooked by Friedman, Brozen, and Stigler, but I am still learning from McCloskey, and have been thinking of writing about her book Bourgeois Dignity for the Financial Analysts Journal, which runs a lot of what I write. She is an inspiration. Larry

  12. 12 12 Henri Hein

    I’ve been enjoying your essay and McCloskey’s writings the last couple of days. Here’s one of my favorite thus far:

    “How do I know that my narrative is better than yours? The experiments of the 20th century told me so. It would have been hard to know the wisdom of Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman or Matt Ridley or Deirdre McCloskey in August of 1914, before the experiments in large government were well begun. But anyone who after the 20th century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adventurism in foreign policy, faith in entangling religion and politics, or most of the other thoroughgoing 19th-century proposals for governmental action are still neat, harmless ideas for improving our lives is not paying attention. “

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