Sigh. I still haven’t finished reporting on that really interesting four-hour Friday afternoon tour of Chicago. But I’m going to try to do so now.
Chicago is closely associated with Frank Lloyd Wright, whose work I’ve always loved. So it was fun, on this tour, to drive by the Robie House (see above) and the Heller House (see below).
Then we went to the University of Chicago. This was a big deal for me. Despite my many travels all over the world, I’ve only been to the University of Chicago once before, and that was decades ago.
Our tour on Friday took us past the building where business and economics are taught.
Way back before my mission — during, I think, the summer break after my freshman year in college — I visited Chicago with my parents. I was, at that time, seriously thinking about studying economics in graduate school, and, for me, the only place to do graduate work in economics was Milton Friedman’s University of Chicago. This was the home of the “Chicago School,” founded by Frank McKnight and carried on by such soon-to-be Nobel laureates as Friedman and George Stigler.
So I had wanted to visit the Chicago campus, and my parents obliged me. But, approaching campus from (as I recall) the west, we drove through a really, really rough area. At every red light, young men came out and rocked our car, yelling insults at “whitey.” (I was already beginning to lose my enthusiasm for Chicago at that point.) Then, we pulled up in front of Rockefeller Chapel. It was about 1 PM on a beautiful, sunny day. But, before I could walk over to see the Chapel, a man came running toward us, screaming “Don’t leave your car! Don’t leave your car! They’re stealing car batteries!” His battery, in fact, had been stolen, and, as we drove him to a gas station to try to get a new one, we counted seven cars with their hoods up. It was broad daylight. I lost any and all interest in coming to the University of Chicago.
This time, though, I got to go into the Chapel. I understand that security is enormously improved at the University of Chicago, that crime has been very much reduced. Had my visit back then been like my visit on Friday, I might — who knows? — have gone into economics.
We drove a little bit more around campus. The Chapel sits — and my parents and I parked — on what used to be the Midway of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, one of the pivotal events in Chicago’s history. (The nickname “Windy City” comes not from its weather but from the complaints of its disappointed rivals in New York about the vocal boosters and politicians who had managed to win the Exposition away from New York for their town.) The world’s very first Ferris wheel stood thirty-two stories high on the Midway.
We drove past the site, then under the University of Chicago Stagg Field football bleachers, where, on 2 December 1942, Enrico Fermi first split the atom.
My father, assigned by the Army (it was during World War Two), was studying German at the University of Chicago during this time, somewhere near Stagg Field. He always told me that he and his fellow students knew that something hush-hush was going on but had no idea what it was and certainly couldn’t have imagined its world-historical significance.
Leaving the University of Chicago, we went out to Lake Michigan.
And then we strolled through Millennium Park, home of the “Cloud Gateway,” or whatever its official title is. Locals call it, simply, “The Bean”:
Our guide told us that Chicago politicians (including the fabled, enormously powerful, and eventually criminally-convicted Democratic congressman Dan Rostenkowski) managed to get Millennium Park built entirely with federal money: Locals didn’t pay a dime.
This, I confess, irritated me. Why should farmers in Kansas, factory workers in Cincinnati, accountants in Oregon, and school teachers in South Carolina be obliged to pay for a park in Chicago, while residents of Chicago pay absolutely nothing? Surely, if there’s anything local at all, it is and ought to be a city park.
It’s rather like a co-pay with insurance. If cost and benefit are completely separate, if there’s no relationship between them, those who benefit will be only too happy to impose unlimited costs on those who pay for their benefits. Normal market discipline has been removed. Having at least a little bit of “skin in the game” is essential for efficiency, to say nothing of simple justice.
Posted from Chicago, Illinois.