Gary S. Becker – A Giant in Microeconomics

imageIt has been one week since my main inspiration for studying economics passed away. The intellectual hero and 1992 Nobel Laureate Gary Becker died last Saturday in Chicago at the age of 83.

Becker pioneered the fields of human capital economics, economics of the family, and economic analysis of crime, discrimination, addiction and population. He published influential research in every decade from the 1950s to the present – an incredible longevity. Becker came to author more than 50 articles and 12 books.

What was so special with this man?

Before Professor Becker, topics such as discrimination, crime, education, social interaction, family and law were considered noneconomic. He transformed our understanding of these and saw the power of economic analysis and method to illuminate issues well beyond the dismal domain. He looked upon economics as a method of analysis rather than a field of inquiry.

clip_image002A consistent pattern in Becker’s research was his use of microeconomic models to describe and explain traditionally “soft” variables in society and in human behaviour. As a scholar, Professor Becker was been described as brilliant, fearless and intellectually honest. While keeping close connections with data he also saw great value in economic theory.

Becker has been known for arguing that many different types of human behaviour can be seen as rational maximisation of utility. I would like to go as far as to say that only one or two economists have had such profound impact across the social sciences, transforming not just economics, but also criminology, legal scholarship, sociology, demography and political science. Today, whenever policy makers debate these issues, they do it in the shadow of the analytical framework he developed.

Gary S. Becker became a Nobel Laureate in 1992 “for having extended the domain of microeconomic analysis to a wide range of human behaviour and interaction, including non-market behaviour.

clip_image004In 2007 he furthermore received the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom. Becker was strongly active in the public debate, which is shown, among others, through his and Judge Richard Posner´s blog. Not only through his articles, books and columns, his influence will indisputably live on through the generation of graduate students he coached and nurtured.

In our daily work we stand on the shoulder of giants, and Gary S. Becker is one of them. We will remember Professor Becker as a great contributor to the field of microeconomics as well as for his strong presence in the public debate. We can expect important future work in microeconomics to be developed through to the analytical framework he designed.

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