September 16, 2002

THIS FANCY OF MINE for 9/16/2002: A visit to the University of Chicago Economics Department, and to a Teach-In down the street

"Now, knowing as I do that it behooves us to obey the decisions of the authorities and to believe them, since they are guided by a higher insight than any to which my humble mind can of itself attain, I consider this treatise which I send you to be merely a poetical conceit, or a dream...this fancy of mine...this chimera."

-- Galileo Galilei, in a 1618 letter to Austrian archduke Leopold who asked him for a sample of his work.

There's a (presumably bootleg) T-Shirt about the University of Chicago that sometimes appears on campus: It shows a nuclear bomb's mushroom cloud accompanied by the caption, "The University of Chicago--The End Of The World Began Here."

The reference is to the very first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, which occurred at 58th Street and Ellis Avenue on the UC campus on December 2, 1942. Our world has been a scarier one ever since.

While The End Of The World might still come from a nuclear bang, the End Of The World may be come from a "whimper," courtesy another deadly University of Chicago development--neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is the theological--oops I mean economic--idea that says that the rich should rule the world, and that the greatest good is to make as much money as I possibly can. I like to make the comparison that neoliberalism is to capitalism what the SUV is to the automobile: a bad thing that gets to be only worse.

One key early manifesto of neoliberalism is the Milton Friedman book Capitalism and Freedom first published in 1962 by the University of Chicago Press. (In November 2002, the Press published the book's 40th Anniversary Edition.) Last year, I put myself through the pain of reading Capitalism and Freedom, and it was the longest 202 pages of my life. Every page drips with contempt for anything (like your taxes) that gets in the way of My Right To Make As Much $$$MONEY$$$ As I Possibly Can!!!

I still urge everyone to read this book, if only because this book is credited with being the Bible of Neoliberalism by the Guru of Neoliberalism, in what has become a World of Neoliberalism (courtesy the WTO, IMF, World Bank, WEF, and the Divine Right of Corporations).

But it's one thing to read a book that you find disagreeable. It's another to be in an environment first which fosters such drivel. So, masochist that I am, I spent part of my May Day 2002 at the University of Chicago Economics Department.

Though I've been part of the UC scene for six years now, this was my very first visit to the UC Econ department. You can visit too: go the Social Sciences Building on the southeast sector of the quads, and from the main front door entrance go to the stairs at the back of the main hall, and take the stairs all the way up to the fourth floor.

The thing that struck me most about the econ department was that it was...nondescript. It was just a long hallway filled with shared offices. I didn't even stay there very long. You wouldn't think much of the hallway except that it proved key in establishing an dominant economic dogma and that every office has a Nobel Prize or two attached to it. Hell, during my visit I ran into Robert Lucas.

Let me repeat that: Robert Lucas--1995 Nobel Prize winner in Economics.

The thing that struck me first and most about Lucas was that he was...short. Maybe, 5'5" or so, if that. Come to think of it, this reminds me of a slight but perhaps insightful tangent. Greg Palast wrote on page 75 of his fantastic book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, that when he took a class with Milton Friedman: "I wouldn't call Milton Friedman a midget, but what sticks in my mind is that his feet didn't touch the floor in the built-up chair in which he presided."

Might this explain one reason why certain--shall we say--less endowed individuals become free-market economists? Are you picked on because you're too short? Become a Big Man when your economic philosophy is highly touted by world leaders, even though it promotes suffering among peoples in distant lands across the world.

Fast forward to September 15, 2002. Some of those suffering people from distant lands came to neoliberalism's birthplace--or rather, spawning grounds. Just down the street from the Social Sciences building and the UC Economics department, on University Avenue right near 57th Street, is University Church. On this day, a small teach-in was held there by the American Friends Service Committee. Three political organizers, one each from Nigeria, Mexico, and the Phillipines, offered their first-hand accounts of the horrors of neoliberalism.

After the excellent teach-in ended, I mentioned that everyone there was right in the belly of the beast of neoliberalism, not just in America, but particularly on the University of Chicago campus.

I like to think that, with this teach-in, the fight for neoliberalism is coming full circle: that those suffering from neoliberalism's effects arrived to the place where neoliberalism effectively began, to encourage efforts to help bring about neoliberalism's end.