Just out of curiousity, did you ever watch "The Fountainhead"? What would you say is the basic principle behind Rand's beliefs?
I think you're confusing your perception, and that of your associates, with a general perception. I seem to recall that you worked in public interest jobs for a long time, and I'm not surprised that they take a dim view of market-oriented philosophies. (The poorest people, by definition, don't benefit as much as others.) However, it would be a mistake to confuse that with the common perception. (The "common Joe", of course, generally favors such policies over more liberal ones, so there probably wouldn't be any "taint" in that context.)
As for the meanings of the terms you reference, I'm not sure anyone's really been discussing them. However, fwiw:http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/laissez%20faire
1. the theory or system of government that upholds the autonomous character of the economic order, believing that government should intervene as little as possible in the direction of economic affairs.
This seems pretty close to the general idea of a free market, and I don't think anyone disputes that conservatives generally favor a freer market than liberals do. (The debate is whether that's preferable.) Now, if you want to criticize the current administration for not being truly conservative in this sense, you would hardly be alone, and many at Chicago (mainly in the economics department) and elsewhere would agree with you. But confusing one leader who happens to want drug benefits for seniors, etc., with all conservatism would obviously be incorrect.
You again seem to take a very extreme view of the free-market philosophy favored at Chicago, particularly in the 80's. I think to understand that philosophy, though, you have to understand the history of the last 200 years -- the rise of capitalism along with classical liberalism, the reaction to that led by Marx, and the horrible and disasterous manifestation of that reaction in 20th century commumism. The desire for equality expressed by Marx and his communist/socialist/liberal descendants is certainly understandable. However, the application of that desire in most contexts proved to be a recipe for poverty and oppression.
Rand herself was a refugee from Soviet Russia, so she knew far better than most the failure and misery of state-run systems. It's therefore not suprising that she embraced individual freedom, both personally and economically. (Rand, of course, was hardly a social conservative.) But history has largely vindicated her view that the individual is in fact the fountainhead of most human achievement, and that individual freedom and creativity should therefore be encouraged, economically and otherwise.
The Chicago school of economics, which really began in the 70's, was a reaction to the ongoing trend to see government as the solution to economic problems. For most places, of course, including the United States, it appeared to cause more problems than solutions. The Chicago school therefore played an important role in highlighting the flaws and problems in government intervention, and pointing out the power and benefits of individual freedom and open markets. (Most notably, general prosperity.) As a result of their efforts and historical developments, most global leaders today (including the Chinese government) recognize that market systems are generally better than state-run systems at producing prosperity and higher living standards.
Most people, of course, (including Chicago scholars) believe that government has a role to play. (While pure social darwinism may be more efficient, issues of morality and religion will often conflict with what is most efficient.) The only question is one of degree. Some people feel government should play a larger role, others feel it should play a smaller role. However, to me, the allure of government intervention, of a Big Brother that will take care of all one's problems, is so attractive to many that it's vital to have at least some voices actively pointing out the problems inherent with such approaches. Even after the manifest failures of statist approaches over the last century, most academics still seem enamored of them, so I'm not really troubled that one faculty in one school may be more skeptical.
That said, because we fortunately live in a free society, with a free market in higher education, no one has to attend any school they don't want to.
Exactly what do you think economic analysis of the law is? I really would love to know where you get this idea that one theory seems to run our school.
I think it's fair to say, that it's a common perception that Milton Friedman rules the University of Chicago law school. I didn't mean to claim I knew squat about economics -- I don't -- but I did mean to claim what the common perception was. I think it's probably fair to suggest that U of C is more monolithic about its social policy and economics assumptions in its law training than many other schools, though the degree of difference may (as much of this thread attests) only be slightly greater.
When I was at U of C in the late 1980s there was no getting away from the fact that the Positivist Society, filmings of "The Fountainhead," and law students, all went hand in hand. I "got the impression" by having it impressed on me.
Frankly, I don't even really know what it would mean, for a law education to be "based on" some economic theory or other. I can't figure out what that would have to do with 1L curriculum, for example. I'm just reporting what I've heard and how people seem to feel, that's all. Not trying to prove it is or isn't the case. Also how *I* ended up feeling, just by living in Hyde Park. People kept on saying stuff about "compete successfully or die" which sounded rather theoretically sound, until you realized they were advocating that a large slice of America's population should die, so I started to wonder just how Social-Darwinist I personally could be. But they kept saying it, every time I went South of the Midway, no getting away from it. Then later in my life, as I began to perceive such things as a given philosophical bent to a given institution or department, I started to realize that a lot of people were assuming the same things about U of C law school.
It's just a "common perception." I'm glad to hear things aren't as extreme as all that. But I think it still "taints" the common Joe's perception of what goes on at U of C law, if indeed he has any perception at all. A newspaper editor or an insurance executive might likely assume you're a rampant Social Darwinist if you're associated with that department, right or wrong. A plumber might not make any assumption other than, "must be a lawyer."
By the way, it's funny to me that people in this thread are using terms which indicate that they assume "free market" and "laissez faire" are synonymous and mean part of a "conservative" platform. I know enough about the definitions and etymologies of the terms to note the irony. We in America would be better off with a bigger, multi-dimensional matrix, for our general political discussions. One that included "authoritarian" versus "anarchist" for example, might help to dispel some of the disagreement over the current administration's odd mix of intervention and anti-intervention.