Jonathan Cole, former provost of Columbia University and author of The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its National Role, and Why It Must Be Protected (2010), recently extolled the University of Chicago, where I work, as preeminently representing the virtues of academic freedom and meritocracy. I’m not interested in challenging such praise today, or indeed, the notion that US institutions of higher learning are especially distinguished by their contributions to civilization. But given the vaunted autonomy, especially autonomy from politics, customarily invoked in such discourse, it’s worth reflecting on two contributions from the University of Chicago that have impacted all lives on our planet. The first is the development of the atomic bomb through the Manhattan Project; the second, the theoretical and practical elaboration of market fundamentalism associated with the name of Milton Friedman. The first is directly related to the topic of this roundtable. As for the second, it hardly needs saying that the economic devastation wrought by the unfettered workings of the market has devastated whole societies and robbed the foreseeable future of hope for many. For purposes of this roundtable, we need to keep in mind not only weapons manufacture and trade as a source of immense wealth for some, but the congeniality between war and prevailing conditions of poverty.
Continue reading at Let Us At Least Return to Autumn 1945 (PDF).