Rethinking the "Chicago Smith" Problem

Adam Smith and the Chicago School, 1929-1980

Originally published in Modern Intellectual History

This article traces the origins and evolution of a popular interpretation of Adam Smith as a “Chicago-style” economist, and it challenges the idea that the “Chicago Smith” is simply a misinterpretation of Smith's ideas. To that end, it reexamines the role that the Chicago school of economics played in developing and propounding a distinct vision of Adam Smith, not only within the profession of economics, but also for the broader American public in the twentieth century. I argue that the readings, teachings, and interpretations of Smith from Chicago economists across different generations are more than just superficial symbolism, claims of intellectual authority, or rhetorical window dressing. Chicago’s engagement with Smith’s ideas constitute important interpretive and substantive arguments about the essence of Smith’s contribution to economics and the role that Smith’s ideas could play in shaping public policy.

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