This chapter follows Milton Friedman in the during years roughly 1946-1954, when he returned to the University of Chicago as a Professor of Economics. It follows two tracks, both tracing his early political involvement in the conservative movement through institutions like the Mont Pelerin Society, and his turn away from mathematical economics to monetary economics. Central figures include Henry Simons, Arthur Burns, Aaron Director, Anna Schwartz, and Rose Friedman. Episodes discussed range from controversy over the pamphlet Roofs or Ceilings? The Current Housing Problem and Friedman’s conflict with the Cowles Commission for Research in Economics. The chapter argues that in this period, Friedman’s political thinking remained profoundly shaped by Henry Simons, and therefore emphasized equality rather than freedom, in contrast to his later work. It also places Friedman’s turn to monetary economics within a distinctive methodological and political moment, showing its origins in the search for a rival theory to Keynesian economics. As such, it emphasizes the influence of broad social and political forces upon academic knowledge.
I am a historian of the twentieth century United States working at the intersection of intellectual, political, and cultural history, with a particular interest in ideas about the state, markets, and capitalism and how these play out in policy and politics. I have published articles about the history of conservatism, libertarianism, and liberalism in a number of academic and popular journals, including Reviews in American History, Modern Intellectual History, Journal of Cultural Economy, The New York Times, The New Republic, and Dissent. My first book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (Oxford, 2009), was an intellectual biography of the libertarian novelist Ayn Rand. For more on this book, watch my interviews with Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, or check out my website. I am currently writing a book about the economist Milton Friedman.
At Stanford, I’ve been involved in a number of initiatives, including serving as a faculty advisor to the Approaches to Capitalism Workshop at the Stanford Humanities Center, co-founding the Bay Area Consortium for the History of Ideas in America (BACHIA), and convening the Hoover Institution Archives Library and Archives Workshop on Political Economy. I teach courses on modern U.S. history, religious history, and the intellectual history of capitalism.