Nobel Laureate Gary Becker Takes Your Questions

Gary Becker (Photo: University of Chicago Press Office)

One of the best perks of being a faculty member in the department of economics at the University of Chicago is getting to have lunch with Gary Becker.  Gary, who just celebrated his 80th birthday, is arguably the most creative and influential economist of the last 50 years.  He has applied economics to topics as wide-ranging as discrimination, marriage, addiction, and crime.  More than any other economist, he has been my inspiration and role model.  If the Nobel committee were ever to give two Nobel prizes to a single economist, there is little question that Becker would be the multiple recipient.

In the upcoming weeks, as part of a charity event sponsored by an intriguing new company called Expert Insight, Becker is going to spend 30 minutes video-chatting with Stephen Dubner.  Not that Dubner is ever at a loss for questions to ask (when he first came to interview me for the New York Times, he questioned me for 36 hours over three days, and he seemed to have at least another 36 more hours worth of questions in reserve when I finally told him he had to leave), but we figured our blog readers might have some particularly interesting questions for Becker.

So, fire away with your best questions in the comments section below and with any luck, you’ll get to see how the world’s greatest living economist answers you.


Mehdi Jaffer

In your opinion is there such thing as 'the public interest? Is it a helpful concept to approach policy, journalism politics or philosophy?

Thomas Lau

Economics takes a lot of criticism for not being able to predict or control things which people incorrectly assume it should be able to. However, we know that economics has been successfully applied to many things people just aren't aware of. Which economic theory/discovery have you or colleagues generated that has been successfully implemented to real world policy/behaviour are you most proud of?

Alex in Chicago

What is your interpretation of depression era economics? Did The New Deal "work", was it WWII, or some other force that finally sprung America out of the Depression?

WholeMealOfFood

In this interview, Thomas Schelling, another Nobel Prize winner, claims you don't know what you're talking about regarding addiction. Have you read his work on the subject, and if so, what is your opinion on his theories of addiction?

Lorenzo Perafan

Colombia is going through a huge corruption scandal right now, most visibly over the improvement of one of Bogota's main roads, which should have been delivered many months ago. How can incentives be set to curb corruption when assigning contracts to entrepreneurs for massive public works?

carlos

question 1. how would you re-define academia and education if you had the chance to change them?
question 2. are two dominant political parties enough for the US?
question 3. what is the future of economics?
question 5. HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND REGARDING THE RATIONAL BEHAVIOR FOUNDATIONS IN ECONOMICS? IF YES, HOW? IF NOT, WHY?

Frank Drake

Gary, are we better as a society solving problems on a micro-economic or local level?

Claudio Daud

Dear Mr. Becker,
What are the real chances of latin american countries to be succesful in our anticiclical economic policies without the great surplus provided by our natural resources and the booming price of commodities? Can we be lenders to the world forever or the actual plenty is just a mirage?

Lorenzo Perafan

Who is your favourite Jersey Shore housemate? Mine is the situation but I suspect you like Snooki...

John

Should Ireland have forced the bondholders to take a write down when they bailed out the banks?

Lucius Perkins

Do you pick the work or the girl?

Alan Thiesen

Dear Dr. Becker,

Wow! I am honored to be able to ask you a question.

I am intensely curious about your theory of rational addiction. I am trying to read your 1988 paper on the subject, but I am getting bogged down in the equations.

I don't think my problem is with the math per se. I remember what partial derivatives are, and I can learn more math if necessary to get through your article. My main problem is that I have little training in economics, so I am unfamiliar with the sort of mathematical model you used in your paper. Would you or Dr. Levitt be kind enough to recommend a textbook or something else I could read that would take me step by step through a mathematical model similar to the one you used?

It would not suit my purposes to skip the math and read the prose, because I would like to understand your reasoning as well as your conclusions.

Alan Thiesen

Oops! I see that I was only supposed to ask questions suitable for the video interview. My apologies.

Fabio Franco

"If you could pass one law, what would it be?"

This was a question someone asked Hayek, who answered "I would enact a law that if Congress does anything for one American, it must do it for all Americans." (see http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2006/10/walter_williams.html)

It would be interesting to hear Prof. Becker's answer to this question.

Zack

Which original idea of yours do you think deserves more notoriety in the economics circles?

TandemTwinning

I want to hear him answer Alex's question:

What is your interpretation of depression era economics? Did The New Deal “work”, was it WWII, or some other force that finally sprung America out of the Depression?

with this addition...

When actually do you consider the Great Depression being over? Were economic indicators 'ending' the depression distorted by the production push and rationing measures of WWII ?

Ian

Is there any one thing your profession could have done to help stave off the worst of the GFC?

Tim Handley

Is it a reasonable assumption that much polluting happens without accruing the cost of remediation? Instead of calling for a carbon tax, wouldn't it be reasonable to add a levy to cover the cost of the cleanup associated with climate change from elevated CO2 levels?

Daniel L

In his essay "Undergraduation" (See: http://www.paulgraham.com/college.html) Paul Graham, a well-known computer programmer, argues: "The social sciences are also fairly bogus, because they're so much influenced by intellectual fashions. If a physicist met a colleague from 100 years ago, he could teach him some new things; if a psychologist met a colleague from 100 years ago, they'd just get into an ideological argument." I think that, based on Graham's intentions, psychologist could be replaced with economist.

Is this true? If it is true, then what is the value of studying economics?

Loretta

If our government could only do one thing to stimulate our economy that it is not doing now, what would you suggest?

Jonathan Cribb

To what extent can insights in microeconomics can influence macroeconomics in a positive way, beyond "micro-founded" representative agent RBC/ DSGE models?