Tales of Chicago Workshops
By David Henderson
A number of economists are posting on Facebook this morning about the article on Princeton economist Anne Case’s view on why so few women go into economics. The piece is short and I have nothing to add to it, other than that I think she is probably right.
What I do want to add is about University of Chicago economics workshops. (When I presented there in 1977, it was called a “workshop.” They still call them that. I presented my recently completed Ph.D. dissertation in the famous industrial organization workshop. By the way, I still am proud of the way I handled criticisms from one of the toughest critics, Lester Telser.) Those workshops have come up in some of the Facebook comments.
What follows is not a judgement about the wisdom of conducting workshops the way they did when I presented, and, I gather, the way they have done for many years. It’s simply a fun story.
It’s a story that Gary Becker told at the Hoover Institution memorial service for George Stigler in 1992. A few years ago, at a conference in honor of Gary, I told the story to his widow, Guity Nashat, because it involved her. She got a kick out of it. I hope you do too.
Gary talked about how Stigler’s standard style in those workshops was to find weaknesses in the paper being presented and point them out. (By the way, one of the things that impressed me and was, I gather, typical, was that everyone who commented on my paper seemed to have read it relatively carefully beforehand.) Gary would come home that evening and tell Guity, an economic historian, about the paper’s thesis and about the various criticisms the participants had made, always including George’s.
One evening he came home and told Guity about the paper and the various participants’ comments and criticisms. When he finished, Guity said, “You didn’t mention George. What did George think?”
Gary paused and reflected. Then he said, “Hmmm. George didn’t say anything. I guess he liked the paper.”