Ronald Coase

Ronald Coase won the Nobel prize in the early 1990s. Unlike many of the other winners, he didn't get it as a "lifetime achievement" award. Rather, he
won it for his ideas found in basically one paper: The Problem of Social Cost. For a long time this was the most cited paper in law and economics. Ironically, it is
still one of the least understood, no doubt because most people can't get past the first 10 pages. (To find out more on this, read some of my theoretical
papers on transaction costs and property rights, or look at my textbooks).

I became fascinated by Coase's work in my 3rd year as an undergraduate. In Coase I found the key to understanding the way trade and production
takes place, and I've used his main ways of thinking in every applied paper I've written.

As an arrogant graduate student I once wrote a paper that claimed "Coase doesn't understand transaction costs." When I was on the job market, Professor Frank Matthewson from UT took me to lunch.
When we got to the restaurant, there was the great Ronald Coase sitting by the entrance. "Quick!" said Frank, "Before
he leaves let's go and tell him he doesn't understand transaction costs!" I froze. Fortunately Frank was joking, but when I went back home, I took the
line out of the paper. Later in reviewing his book, I would put things more tactfully.

I have met Coase several times throughout my career and corresponded with him a little, but he never remembers who I am. On a trip to the University of Chicago in 2004 I had the opportunity to give a lecture
on transaction costs with him in the audience.  He approached me afterwards and said "I don't believe we've ever met, but  I do recognize the name." That was good enough for me, the poor man was 95 years old at the time!
My Brazillian friend Decio Zylbersztajn took the following picutures after the talk.

Here I'm getting lectured back!

I'm not that fat, I was wearing a shirt underneath. It was Chicago in December afterall.
Clearly, after all these years, Ronald Coase and I see eye to eye.  Notice RC doesn't need a name tag.

This wasn't my first time being close to a  famous economist. Many years ago, the following picture was taken.
At the time, I had no real idea who the man at the piano was, or that he would win the Nobel prize just two years later. Later that day
I had my picture taken with James Buchanan, but  I just tossed the picture on my desk when I got home and it is now long lost. I certainly had no idea who Vernon Smith was, nor that he would also win a Nobel prize.
Of course, neither knew who I was either.

Thirty-one years later I met Vernon  second time.  By now I knew who he was, but that knowledge was not reciprocated.  At 87, I think
he's aged better than me, but I haven't shrunk as much ... yet.

Here's a picture with me and some of my UW alums (Wing Suen and Leigh Anderson), along with Yoram and Gene Silberberg.  Taken at Gene's retirement party in 08.



Gene was one of the best teachers I ever had, and he wrote the best neoclassical textbooks of  all time. Although subtitled "A mathematical approach" the book was laced with an economic argument throughout. No doubt that's why so many economists rejected it. It never sold as well as Varian's "dictionary".

Here's a similar picture taken at Yoram's "partial" retirement party in 2014.

  Leigh Anderson was the only other Canadian student in the UW economics department while I was there.  Very early on it was discovered that she went to primary school
in Edmonton with my wife.  "Of course," was the response of every other American student.  "Canada is such a small country!"

Here's a picture of Chris Hall, Denise Hall, and Me at the same 2014 event.    I believe I introduced the two of them in the fall of 1982.  No one else remembers.

Finally, here's a picture of me and Yoram. It was a partial retirement because at the age of 83 he was only reducing his teaching from 4 to 1 classes.

  Someone that day thought we were father and son.  I don't see it myself.