Old (Chicago) School, New Century: The Link Between Knight and Simons’ Chicago Plan to Buchanan’s Constitutional Money


Abstract: James Buchanan had long been a champion of the early Chicago school’s emphasis on the essential role that institutions play in framing the market process. In his post-2009 analysis of the financial crisis, Buchanan echoed his old Chicago mentors like Frank Knight and Henry Simons in arguing that the Great Recession, like all previous financial crises, was primarily a failure of the rules governing our monetary-financial system. This “old Chicago” emphasis on the institutional “rules of the game” formed the basis of his essential post-2009 argument that the financial crisis fundamentally represented not a market failure, per say, but a constitutional failure. In this paper, I connect the dots in Buchanan’s post-2009 analysis of the Great Recession and his reaffirmation of the need for “constitutional money” to his old Chicago mentor’s strikingly similar calls for a radical restructuring of the monetary-financial system in the Chicago Plan of the 1930s. Though Buchanan’s twenty-first century resurrection of these ideas has yet to conjure up the academic support of his predecessors, certain elements of his “old school” monetary-financial reforms have experienced a strong revival since the financial crisis, as has Buchanan’s more general call to “constitutionalize money.”