Meeting with remarkable men – one occasion

In July 1966, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to and have lunch with Ronald Coase, the 1991 Nobel prize winner in economics. His citation included two articles, The Nature of the Firm and the Problem of Social Cost. Coase was a close friend of Basil Yamey his colleague at LSE and my PhD supervisor.

Coase and Yamey had undergraduate degrees in accounting and business before pursuing academic careers as economists. Both were interested in how firms worked and how and why transactions took place. For Coase, theory was derived from observation, and while he was not averse to mathematics, he felt it should come after studying actual agreements and how conditions and obligations were established.

In 2003, at age 93, Coase gave the Coase Lecture at the University of Chicago Law School. He said that he found it odd to be giving the Coase Lecture as every time he spoke it was a Coase lecture. What is of interest to economists today is his description of how the Nature of the Firm evolved, first as an undergraduate essay in 1929 which was turned into a published article in Economica in 1934, but which in 2003 he considered an undergraduate essay. At the time, he said the article drew no attention unlike his second famous article The Problem of Social Cost.

As a student while studying business and accounting at LSE Coase was awarded a travelling scholarship to the US where he visited a number of firms observing how production was organized at the plant level as well as at head office. A combination of lectures, onsite visits and interaction with other students, Coase viewed as a recipe for the development of both theories and policy alternatives. One implication today is the importance of both the school you attend and the calibre of fellow students. The two are probably related.
The lecture is posted on the University of Chicago Law School website under 2003 Coase Lecture.

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2 Responses to “Meeting with remarkable men – one occasion”

  1. Larry Willmore Says:

    Hi! It is great to see a blog on one of my favourite economists, who had a long and productive life. I was unable to find a link to the text of his 2003 lecture. I did, however, find links to both video and audio recordings of the lecture. Here are the links:

    Here is a link to the 55 minute video.

    http://www.law.uchicago.edu/video/coase040103

    It is also posted (in 6 parts) on youtube.

    Here is a link to an mp3 audio recording:

    http://www.law.uchicago.edu/node/1291

  2. Larry Willmore Says:

    For anyone interested, my own blog can be accessed here: http://larrywillmore.net/blog/

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