Written by me, from my new generative book: Most of all, for me, Becker was a true “micro-machine,” a relentless, unstoppable thinker, analyst, and writer with the button always in the “on” position. Anything he did would be thought through to the maximum extent, at least relative to the conceptual tools at Becker’s disposal. And
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Written by me, from my new generative book:
Most of all, for me, Becker was a true “micro-machine,” a relentless, unstoppable thinker, analyst, and writer with the button always in the “on” position. Anything he did would be thought through to the maximum extent, at least relative to the conceptual tools at Becker’s disposal. And he never ever stopped. He died with his boots on, as one colleague of Becker’s once related to me.
Yet I don’t feel the need to give you a comprehensive analysis of Becker for the following reason: I can’t quite see putting him above Milton Friedman in the GOAT sweepstakes. And the purpose here is not to evaluate every wonderful economist, but to determine GOAT, and there Becker has to fall short.
I should add that much of Becker’s work has not aged well in the last ten to fifteen years. In recent times, economics has become more like sociology than sociology has become like economics. Behavioral economics has assumed greater importance, relative to the relative price effects and rational choice approaches that are so prominent in Becker’s work. His “economics of the family,” which seems to rationalize male breadwinner dominance, is now considered somewhat chauvinist or at least old-fashioned, though it fit the 1960s frame he wrote in. Even at the University of Chicago, new hires do not seem to be moving in the Beckerian direction. Hardly any current up and coming young economists seem to regard Becker as a critical influence or an inspiration, even if his indirect influence on them is immense. Becker’s breadth of topics has won out as a dominant approach, but not his modeling methods or his obsession with demonstrating the rationality of different social practices.
I don’t side against Becker on all of these questions, but as a simple description of where the profession is at, Becker has lost a lot of status and influence. That too removes him from the GOAT game, though in the meantime I will gladly aver that he is now significantly underrated.
I find Becker fairly boring to read, as the model does most of the work and, while he is perfectly clear, he is not a writer of wit or nuance. I don’t recommend his works to other people. His brilliance lies in a method and a machine of inquiry, and in his own relentlessness, and in the breadth of investigation he helped to create. Now that his presence has left the stage, his import will become less evident with time and I predict he will end up underrated all the more.
Books, Economics, Uncategorized