Gary Becker (1930-2014) was one of the most original and pathbreaking economists of modern times. His 1992 Nobel laureate in Economic Sciences was described as his "having extended the domain of microeconomic analysis to a wide range of human behaviour and interaction, including nonmarket behavior." Becker's early work on discrimination led to his further work on Human Capital and education, including economic analyses of crime and punishment, focusing on the family as a fundamental decision-making unit, and the formation of habits. His studies yielded fresh approaches to solving these underlying problems, inspiring and opening a path to a generation of research in areas previously thought to be intractable, such as the interactions between economics, biology, and sociology. This 2003 interview, conducted by Edward Lazear, also includes a bonus conversation where he is also joined by Judge Richard A. Posner, who later co-blogged with Becker on the Becker-Posner Blog.
Some Questions for Thought and Discussion:
Changes in the Field of Economics
Becker asserts that during the 20th century, economics changed from a field of subject to one of methodology. What does he mean by this? To what extent does this continue to be true today? Do you agree with Becker that this is a negative trend? Why?
The Economics of Discrimination
What is the difference between a "taste" for discrimination and "market" discrimination? How does this distinction inform Becker's work on discrimination? What does Becker regard as the practical implications of his work on discrimination? Does he over- or under-state the relevance of his work to public policy? Explain. How did Becker's study of discrimination lead him to the study of human capital?
Additional materials, including a video index and sharing tool, discussion questions, and links for further reading plus audio-only file formats, are available at Newmedia at UFM.edu.