UC Berkeley Library

Economist Life Stories Project

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The impact of economics in our society is hard to overstate. Economics structures government policy, guides decision-making in firms both small and large, and indirectly shapes the larger political discourses in our society.

To enrich the understanding of the influence and sources of powerful economic ideas, the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago set out in 2015 to capture oral histories of selected economists associated with Chicago economics. The aim was to preserve the experiences, views, and voices of influential economists and to document the historical origins of important economic ideas for the benefit of researchers, educators, and the broader public. 

Economist Life Stories is more than a collection of life histories; it chronicles the history of a scholarly community and institutions at the University of Chicago such as the Graduate School of Business, the Cowles Commission, and the Department of Economics. It also reflects the achievements of faculty and students in the domains of economic policymaking and private enterprise around the world. Although this project focuses on the leaders and students of the University of Chicago Department of Economics, the Graduate School of Business, and the Law School, we hope to add more stories from economists around the world as the project expands.  


Acknowledgments

Hodson Thornber and Paul Burnett organized the project with Toni Shears of the Becker Friedman Institute, with important support from an advisory group of historians and economists.

Financial support for this work was provided by Richard Elden, a member of the Becker Friedman Institute Council, whose contribution is gratefully acknowledged.


Arnold Harberger Oral History

We are pleased to launch the next interview in the Economist Life Stories Project: Sense and Economics: An Oral History with Arnold Harberger. This oral history with Arnold Harberger was conducted in seven day-long sessions in Los Angeles, CA from the fall of 2015 to the fall of 2016. Dr. Harberger is the Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago and Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles. He is perhaps most widely known for overseeing the Chile Project, which trained Chilean students in economics who then went on to found programs in economics and take up positions in the Chilean government. However, that story is merely one in Dr. Harberger’s sixty-five-year career in technical assistance and education around the world. He has consulted for the US government, numerous individual nation states, as well as institutions such as the US Agency for International Development, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Of equal importance is his career as a scholar, from his training and interest in international trade to his work in public finance, especially project evaluation and benefit-cost analysis. Throughout, this oral history explores his lifelong pursuit of “real-world economics,” research that both draws from and supports economic policymaking. 


George P. Shultz Oral History

Problems and Principles: George P. Shultz and the Uses of Economic Thinking is the first oral history in the Economist Life Stories Project. George Shultz is perhaps best known for his public service. He was appointed Secretary of Labor, the first Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Secretary of the Treasury during the Nixon Administration, and later became Secretary of State during the Reagan Administration. But before that, he was professor of economics and dean of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago. Mr. Shultz talks at length about his years at Chicago, but a thread throughout this life history is the economist’s way of thinking about and understanding the world. Most importantly, from his military service in World War II to his far-ranging policy analysis since he left public life, Mr. Shultz speaks of the importance of moving past rigid ideological positions to work with others to solve concrete problems.