Gary Becker, made a Nobel Laureate in Economics in 1992, has died aged 83. He was one of the great economic minds of the second half of the 20th Century, and was described by his mentor and friend, Milton Friedman, as "the best student he ever had." At the Adam Smith Institute we knew him through the Mont Pelerin Society, whose meetings he attended.
He was a leading liberal thinker (using the word in its European sense), whose original contribution was to introduce economic thinking into other areas of human behaviour such as the family, marriage, discrimination, crime and addiction. In a key insight he showed, for example, that the entry of women into the workplace had raised the value of their time and thereby reduced their demand for children. He incorporated into economic thinking ideas that had hitherto been thought to belong to sociology and other areas of behavioural study.
His insight on crime was the observation that criminals are not necessarily mentally ill or socially oppressed, but capable of calculating quite rationally if the likely proceeds of a criminal act would outweigh any penalty, taking into account the probability of being caught.
He was a key figure in the Chicago School, and was Professor of Economics and Sociology at the University of Chicago. He was regarded as an inspirational teacher and a valued colleague, and will be sadly missed. He wrote:
My teachers taught me that economics was not a game played by clever academics, but a serious subject that helped us understand the real world we lived in.
In aiding that understanding Gary Becker played a major role.