R.H. Coase and the Neoclassical Model of the Economic System

Coase Conference: Markets, Firms and Property Rights: A Celebration of the Research of Ronald Coase, University of Chicago Law School.  Harold Demsetz, Professor Emeritus, UCLA Department of Economics.

It is clear from articles I have written for the New Palgrave Dictionary of Law and Economics and other publications that I have high regard for Coase and his works. Some would say I have published parts of his works more times than has he. True or not, my role in explaining, defending, and extending Ronald’s writings has left me with little to say that is different from what I have already written, so my theme today is not a product of conscious deliberation. Instead it came to me in a dream during which I wrestled with the problem of what I might say today. Into this dream strode George Stigler, who immediately began to berate me for having left this great university for UCLA in 1971. He aimed repeated barrages of vocal darts at me, but, after evading my defenses a few times, he settled down, behaved more civilly, and quietly said “I see you are returning to Chicago to cozy up to Ronald. Hasn’t he spent all that Nobel award money yet?” I told him I had no need for funding, whereupon he observed that no good economist would ever make such a claim. Then he went on to make a request. “Will you do me a favor for old time’s sake? When you speak at the conference I want you to defend my neoclassical buddies from Ronald’s complaints about their work. The work is better than Ronald thinks. I know whereof I speak. Ronald, you know, has certified me as a top notch historian of economic thought.” I said no to his request. A celebration hardly seems the time for critical evaluation. George frowned, and he asserted that I had forgotten advice he once gave me. He repeated the advice. “The most meaningful way to honor a scholar is to take his or her work seriously.”

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