A tribute to the original freak: Gary Becker

last weekend, Gary Becker, Nobel prize-winning economist and University of Chicago professor died. he was a giant in the field of economics. but more importantly, he applied the study of economics to the real world; you could say he was the forbearer of the ideas behind the award-winning book Freakonomics by Steven Levitt.

i had tweeted and facebooked the selfie i had taken at an awards dinner i had with him a few years ago, but to little response. i was a bit shocked actually with the timid response; in a world where selfies with celebrities is the norm, here's a guy that literally changed the world and most people didn't recognize him?

but then entrepreneur Richard Howard saw my tweet and emailed me back with a whole litany of articles at how impressed he was with Gary. and then i realized that simply most people didn't realize how much impact Gary had in the world.

so here's my top 3 reasons why Gary Becker is important and the original freak:

  • Steven Levitt ran a study to see which economic theorist had the greatest impact on empirical research by looking at the number of key citations in papers published in top journals. Becker had 13 different works cited; no one else had more than three or four.
  • he argued against discrimination in the workplace, simply saying that if two people are equally productive in the workplace and one isn't hired because of discrimination, as the owner of the firm i'm losing
  • argued that all people operate as rational agents in life . so even those that choose a life of crime are making a rational choice based on opportunities, risks, and rewards. controversial theory at the time when only intellectuals were considered able to rationalize. according to him - “behavior is driven by a much richer set of values and preferences".

    i end with a story not about his intellectual prowess, but Gary's humanism. cue Steven Levitt:

    Years ago, my son Andrew died unexpectedly in the middle of the school term. I cancelled my classes for a few weeks. Only when I returned did I discover that Gary had stepped in, without anyone asking him to, and had taught the classes in my absence. The only problem was that my students were so disappointed when I returned!

    RIP, OF.