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Jennifer Burns

Associate Professor of History at Stanford University, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Author of Milton Friedman: The Last Conservative and Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right

One of the nation’s leading historians, Jennifer Burns offers unique insights into the history of ideas in politics, economic policy making, and the conservative movement. Jennifer is a seasoned teacher with a knack for making complex ideas understandable, and her talks will take you back to your favorite college class. At once entertaining and educating her audiences, she covers foundational issues of American political debate through profiles of the country’s most famous thinkers, giving listeners new perspectives on perennial questions about capitalism, markets, and government. Professor Burns’ latest book, Milton Friedman: The Last Conservative was just awarded one of the Best Books of 2023 as chosen by The Economist.

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Is capitalism ethical? This question has been debated for centuries and remains relevant today. Capitalism is the dominant economic system in the world. Examining its ethical implications helps us understand its effect on individuals, communities, and the environment. This opens the door for informed conversations about its benefits and drawbacks. In this discussion, Burns poses the age-old question and challenges audience members to contemplate their values in relation to today’s shifting financial climate.

Jennifer Burns introduces historical perspective through her expertise of Ayn Rand, who advanced a new and deeply influential defense of capitalism on ethical grounds. Drawing on her exclusive research, Burns traces the remarkable life of this writer who fled Soviet Russia and emerged as one of America’s most famous—and hated—public intellectuals. Burns explains how Rand’s legacy shaped libertarians and the conservative movement across the twentieth century and into the present. Audiences will leave with a fresh perspective on this perseverant and important question.

The return of inflation to the United States after decades of stable prices has stirred new interest in the nation’s foremost thinker on inflation: the Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman. As the author of Milton Friedman: The Last Conservative, Jennifer Burns is the leading expert on his theories and achievements.

Nearly twenty years after his death, Burns’ insight gives audiences a new perspective on today’s inflation debate by tracing the history of ideas and economic policy making. Jennifer Burns also covers critical episodes in the nation’s financial history that illustrate the potential problems and repercussions we face today. Audiences leave this talk enlightened with a deeper understanding of inflation and domestic economics through the historical lens that Jennifer Burns so succinctly provides.

Milton Friedman, a Nobel prize winning economist, said “A society that puts equality…ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom.” Tracing the history of his ideas and economic policy making, Jennifer Burns covers critical episodes in the nation’s financial history through the lens of Friedman’s ideas and life.

Friedman was famous for arguing that capitalism and freedom went together, asserting that the spread of capitalism around the world would lead to political openness and democracy. This optimistic vision, first articulated at the height of the Cold War, became widely influential in the 1980s and 1990s. It shaped both domestic politics within the United States and the broad “Washington consensus” that guided development policy across the world.

Less well-known is the story of how Friedman’s ideas on the relationship between economic and political freedom evolved as he traveled outside the United States and watched globalization unfold in the last years of his life.

Drawing on research from her biography of Friedman, Burns revisits this iconic debate. How did Friedman understand the tensions between free markets and democracy? Nearly twenty years after his death, why have these questions re-emerged? In an era of renewed challenge to liberal democracy, what remains of Friedman’s vision and his longstanding influence on the political right?

Biography

Jennifer Burns is an Associate Professor of History at Stanford University and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. She is the author of Milton Friedman: The Last Conservative, the first full biography of America’s most renowned economist. Milton Friedman was named one of The New York Times’s 33 Nonfiction Books to Read This Fall, a most anticipated fall book by the Chicago Tribune and Bloomberg, and a best book of 2023 by Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution blog. It was hailed by NPR as “more than a biography of one controversial person, it’s an intellectual history of twentieth century economic thought,” while Project Syndicate called it “a tour of the broader debate about capitalism.”

She is also the author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, the first biography of the iconic author based upon exclusive access to her personal papers. Goddess of the Market was named a Bloomberg News 2009 Top Nonfiction Book.

Burns has written for numerous publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Financial Times. She has been interviewed by NPR’s Marketplace, CNN’s book TV, and the EconTalk podcast, and was a featured guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.

In addition to numerous talks at colleges and universities, she has spoken to leading financial firms, done historical briefings for policymakers, and keynoted at Hoover’s annual Monetary Policy Conference. Prior to teaching at Stanford, she was an Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia. She holds an M.A. and PhD. in American History from the University of California, Berkeley, and is a graduate of Harvard College.

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