Friedman, Positive Economics, and the Chicago Boys

35 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2008  

Eric S. Schliesser

Ghent University

Date Written: November 7, 2007


In this paper I investigate two denials in Milton Friedman's Nobel Lecture (1976). The first is [i] the denial that 'Economics and its fellow social sciences' ought to be 'regarded more nearly as branches of philosophy.' The second is [ii] the denial that economics is 'enmeshed with values at the outset because they deal with human behaviour'. I show that Friedman's appeal to his methodology in the Nobel lecture fails on conceptual grounds internal to Friedman's methodology. Moreover, I show that the failure is related to a broader systematic problem: when properly understood, Friedman's methodology shows that positive economics is (in a non-trivial sense) enmeshed in values. In order to account for Friedman's overreaching, I turn to the charged social context regarding Friedman's purported involvement with the Chicago Boys, who were then serving Chilean Dictator Pinochet. I conclude by explaining why I re-open the old chestnut of values in positive science. The episode allows me to raise a question of fundamental import about the relationship between expertise and society.

Keywords: Milton Friedman, Chile, Chicago Boys, Nobel, Values in Economics, expertise

JEL Classification: B20, B41, N16, A11, A13

Suggested Citation

Schliesser, Eric S., Friedman, Positive Economics, and the Chicago Boys (November 7, 2007). Available at SSRN: or

Eric S. Schliesser (Contact Author)

Ghent University ( email )

Philosophy and Moral Sciences
Blandijnberg 2
Ghent, 9000

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