Gary Becker, RIP

May 4

Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker, one of the greatest economists of the last century, passed away on Saturday. Gary Becker did pathbreaking work on numerous issues, including the economics of discrimination, criminal behavior, the family, and the dynamics of political interest groups. Becker pioneered the application of economic analysis to questions that were previously considered the exclusive domain of sociology, law, and political science. He had an enormous influence on scholars in other fields, as well as economists. Several of his books and articles are foundational works for the field of law and economics.

For a good summary of Becker’s contributions, see here. Becker was an active commentator on economic issues virtually to the end of his life, including at the Becker-Posner blog, which he started with his University of Chicago colleague Judge Richard Posner. In recent years, I discussed his critique of the War on Drugs (coauthored with Kevin Murphy) and his argument for letting universities pay college athletes.

Sadly, I never got the chance to meet Prof. Becker. But I did exchange e-mails with him about about a mutual research interest several years ago. I was skeptical that a Nobel Prize-winner would bother responding to a request from an obscure assistant professor in another field. But he sent a very informative reply within a few hours after I e-mailed him. I have heard that this was just a typical example of his generosity.

I extend condolences to Gary Becker’s family and colleagues. He will be greatly missed.

UPDATE: Becker’s 1976 book The Economic Approach to Human Behavior is a good introduction to his work, and includes several of his most important articles.

UPDATE #2: In the original version of this post, I accidentally stated that Prof. Becker passed away “today” (Sunday, May 4). But in fact he passed on Saturday, May 3. I apologize for the mistake, which I have now corrected.

Ilya Somin is Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law. His research focuses on constitutional law, property law, and the study of popular political participation and its implications for constitutional democracy. "He is the author of Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter."
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Stewart Baker | May 4