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||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. Please help by adding reliable sources. Contentious material about living persons that is unsourced or poorly sourced must be removed immediately, especially if potentially libelous or harmful. (March 2011)|
|Chicago School of Economics|
Gary Becker speaking in Chicago, May 24, 2008
December 2, 1930 |
|Institution||University of Chicago
|Alma mater||Princeton University
University of Chicago
|Contributions||Analysis of human capital
Rotten kid theorem
|Awards||1967 John Bates Clark Medal
1992 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences
1997 Pontifical Academy of Sciences
2004 John von Neumann Award
2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom
|Information at IDEAS/RePEc|
Gary Stanley Becker (born December 2, 1930) is an American economist. He is a professor of economics and sociology at the University of Chicago and a professor at the Booth School of Business. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1992 and received the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. He is currently a Rose-Marie and Jack R. Anderson senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
Becker was one of the first economists to branch into what were traditionally considered topics belonging to sociology, including racial discrimination, crime, family organization, and drug addiction (see Rational addiction). He is known for arguing that many different types of human behavior can be seen as rational and utility maximizing. His approach can include altruistic behavior by defining individuals' utility appropriately. He is also among the foremost exponents of the study of human capital. Becker is also credited with the "rotten kid theorem". He is married to Guity Nashat, a historian of the Middle East whose research interests overlap his own.
Born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, Becker earned a B.A. at Princeton University in 1951 and a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1955. He taught at Columbia University from 1957 to 1968, and then returned to the University of Chicago. Becker is a founding partner of The Greatest Good, a business and philanthropy consulting company. Becker won the John Bates Clark Medal in 1967. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1972. Becker also received the National Medal of Science in 2000.
Usually considered politically conservative, he wrote a monthly column for Business Week from 1985 to 2004, alternating with liberal Princeton economist Alan Blinder. In December 2004, Becker started a joint weblog with Judge Richard Posner entitled The Becker-Posner Blog.
According to the Prize in Economic Sciences citation, his work can be categorized into four areas:
Becker's lecture, "Nobel Lecture: The Economic Way of Looking at Behavior", subsequently published in the Journal of Political Economy, reviews his four key areas of research. He explains that his framework of analysis is not a traditional self-interested motivation but an analysis based on a set of assumptions and individual preferences. Agents are maximizing welfare, which is based on individual conception constrained by income, time, and imperfect memory and calculation capabilities. Much of his research focuses on the impact of the rising value of time as a result of economic growth.
Discrimination as defined by Kenneth Arrow is "the valuation in the market place of personal characteristics of the worker that are unrelated to worker productivity." Personal characteristics can be physical features such as sex or race, or other characteristics such as a person's religion, caste, or national origin.
Becker often includes a variable of taste for discrimination in explaining behavior. He believes that people often mentally increase the cost of a transaction if it is with a minority against which they discriminate. His theory held that competition decreases discrimination. If firms were able to specialize in employing mainly minorities and offer a better product or service, such a firm could bypass discrepancy in wages between equally productive blacks and whites or equally productive females and males.
Becker's research found that when minorities are a very small percentage the cost of discrimination mainly falls on the minorities. However, when minorities represent a larger percentage of society, the cost of discrimination falls on both the minorities and the majority. He also pioneered research on the impact of self-fulfilling prophecies of teachers and employers on minorities. Such attitudes often lead to less investment in productive skills and education of minorities.
Gary Becker recognized that people (employers, customers, and employees) sometimes do not want to work with minorities because they have preference against the disadvantaged groups. He goes on to say that discrimination increases the cost of the firm because in discriminating against certain workers, the employer would have to pay more so that work can proceed without them. If the employer employs the minority, low wages can be provided, but more people can be employed, and productivity can be increased.
Becker's interest in criminology arose when he was rushed for time one day. He had to weigh the cost and benefits of legally parking in an inconvenient garage versus in an illegal but convenient spot. After roughly calculating the probability of getting caught and potential punishment, Becker rationally opted for the crime. Becker surmised that other criminals make such rational decisions. However, such a premise went against conventional thought that crime was a result of mental illness and social oppression.
While Becker acknowledged that many people operate under a high moral and ethical constraint, criminals rationally see that the benefits of their crime outweigh the cost such as the probability of apprehension, conviction, and punishment, and their current set of opportunities. From the public policy perspective, since the cost of increasing the fine is trivial in comparison to the cost of increasing surveillance, one can conclude that the best policy is to maximize the fine and minimize surveillance. However, this conclusion has limits, not the least of which include ethical considerations.
One of the main differences between this theory and Jeremy Bentham's rational choice theory, which had been abandoned in criminology, is that if Bentham considered it possible to annihilate crime completely (through the panopticon), Becker's theory acknowledged that a society could not eradicate crime beneath a certain level. For example, if 25% of a supermarket's products were stolen, it would be very easy to reduce this rate to 15%, quite easy to reduce it until 5%, difficult to reduce it under 3%, and nearly impossible to reduce it to 0% (a feat that would be so costly to the supermarket that it would outweigh the benefit, if it is even possible).
Becker's research was fundamental in arguing for the augmentability of human capital. When his research was first introduced it was considered very controversial as some considered it debasing. However, he was able to convince many that individuals make choices of investing in human capital based on rational benefits and cost that include a return on investment as well as a cultural aspect.
His research included the impact of positive and negative habits such as punctuality and alcoholism on human capital. He explored the different rates of return for different people and the resulting macroeconomic implications. He also distinguished between general to specific education and their influence on job-lock and promotions.
Becker's research on human social interactions has had many implications for the family including implications for marriage, divorce, fertility, and social security. Becker argued that such decisions are made in a marginal-cost and marginal-benefit framework and that marriage markets affect allocation into couples and individual well-being. He first analyzed fertility, starting in 1960. His research examined the impact of higher real wages in increasing the value of time and therefore the cost of home production such as childrearing. As women increase investment in human capital and enter the workforce, the opportunity cost of childcare rises. Additionally, the increased rate of return to education raises the desire to provide children with formal and costly education. Coupled together, the impact is to lower fertility rates. His theory of marriage was published in 1973 and 1974. Among its many insights are that (1) sex ratios (the ratio of men to women in marriage markets) are positively related with wives' relative access to consumption in marriages and (2) men with higher incomes are more likely to be polygamous. He then published a paper on divorce in 1977, with his students Robert T. Michael and Elizabeth Landes in which it is hypothesized that divorces are more likely when there are unexpected changes in income. Many of these insights on fertility, marriage, and divorce were included in Becker's Treatise on the Family A Treatise on the Family, first published in 1981 by Harvard University Press. According to Google Scholar it is one of the most cited books in economics.
A more controversial issue was Becker's conclusion that parents often act altruistically towards selfish children by highly investing in a child in an effort to indirectly save for old age. Becker believed that the rate of return from investing in children was often greater than normal retirement savings. However, parents can not know for sure that the child will take care of them. Since they cannot legally bind a child to care for them, they often resort to manipulation through instilling a sense of "guilt, obligation, duty and filial love that indirectly, but still very effectively... commits children to helping them out." Becker said that social security can cause families to be less interdependent by removing the motivation of parents to use altruistic behaviors in motivating their children to care for them.
An article by Gary Becker and Julio Elias on "Introducing Incentives in the market for Live and Cadaveric Organ Donations" said that a free market could help solve the problem of a scarcity in organ transplants. Their economic modeling was able to estimate the price tag for human kidneys ($15,000) and human livers ($32,000). It is argued by critics that this particular market would exploit the underprivileged donors from the developing world. This view was endorsed by the National Kidney Foundation in a testimony to the US Congress where Dr Francis Delmonico argued that "a US congressional endorsement for payment would propel other countries to sanction unethical and unjust standards...." Another concern is that if a market for organ donations were introduced, then organs would often go to the patients most able to afford them rather than patients who may have more need for them medically.
||This biographical section of an article needs additional citations for verification. Please help by adding reliable sources. Contentious material about living persons that is unsourced or poorly sourced must be removed immediately, especially if potentially libelous or harmful. (March 2009)|
Becker is also famous for his economic analysis of democracy. He asked what determines the extent to which an interest group can exploit another. The basis of his analysis was the concept of deadweight loss.
Becker's insight was to recognize that deadweight losses put an exponential break on predation. He took the well-known insight that deadweight losses are proportional to the square of the tax, and used it to argue that a linear increase in takings by a predatory interest group will provoke a non-linear increase in the deadweight losses its victim suffers. These rapidly increasing losses will prod victims to invest equivalent sums in resisting attempts on their wealth. The advance of predators, fueled by linear incentives slows before the stiffening resistance of prey outraged by non-linear damages.
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