Measuring Coase’s Influence

Coase Conference: Markets, Firms and Property Rights: A Celebration of the Research of Ronald Coase, University of Chicago Law School. William M. Landes, Clifton R. Musser Professor of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Law School, Sonia Lahr-Pastor, Research Scholar.

Citations measure a scholar’s influence. That Ronald Coase is among the most influential and best‐cited economists in the past fifty years is not debatable. Two of his articles, “The Nature of the Firm”, published in 1937, and “The Problem of Social Cost”, published in 1960, are among the most‐cited articles in both economics and law and continue to be widely cited. And the “Coase theorem”, first set out in his paper on the Federal Communications Commission and later elaborated in “The Problem of Social Cost”, has become so much a part of the standard vocabulary of both economics and law that the theorem is often discussed without an accompanying citation. As Coase himself noted: “Of course, once these ideas in my article (to the extent that they come to be seen as correct) become part and parcel of legal thought, it will no longer be thought necessary to cite my article. And in consequence, at the stage when the influence of my article may be said to be most profound, the study of citations will cease to reveal it.” (71 Chicago‐Kent Law Review 809 (1996)) This paper considers Coase’s legacy using citation analysis. Our goal, however, is not simply to confirm that Coase is highly cited, but to examine other aspects of Coase’s influence that can be revealed by citation analysis. For example, we look at the durability of his work; the highly concentrated nature of his influence (as evidenced by the fact that his two best known articles account for more than 70 percent of his citations); his influence in economics as opposed to law; and how Coase has fared in economics textbooks and judicial opinions. We also compare Coase to two groups of scholars: other Nobel Prize winners in economics, and highly cited law and economics scholars. The source for most of our analysis is data from Web of Science, the online version of the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI). The SSCI tabulates citation data from articles in over 1,950 journals in 50 social science disciplines plus “relevant items” in an additional 3300 scientific and technical journals. Over time, the SSCI has expanded the number of covered journals. However, this does not create an upward bias over time in citations because when the SSCI adds a journal it then adds all back issues of that journal.

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