Ronald Coase

5 09 2013

More details are emerging about the life of the recently departed Ronald Coase, a great economist whose ideas changed public policy in many countries.  In the early 1960s, he was effectively persecuted for his belief in the free market by a dean at the University of Virginia who was apparently intent on eliminating anyone who disagreed with the basic principles of the New Deal.  In 1964, one of Coase’s colleagues

accidentally received a copy of a secret dossier compiled by then Dean of the Faculty Robert Harris in which Harris outlined a plan to change the economics faculty. Under then President Edgar Shannon, Harris allegedly used non-promotion and non-offer-matching to force Jefferson Center scholars to disperse. Coase left UVA for Chicago in 1964; Buchanan departed four years later.

In 1997, Coase recalled that:

They thought the work we were doing was disreputable. They thought of us as right- wing extremists. My wife was at a cocktail party and heard me described as someone to the right of the John Birch Society. There was a great antagonism in the ’50s and ’60s to anyone who saw any advantage in a market system or in a nonregulated or relatively economically free system.

Today, Coase’s ideas are very mainstream. In fact, there is a citation of a paper by Coase in a co-authored paper I am working on today. You can read more about Coase and the University of Virginia here.

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