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An ode to Gary Becker

My friend and colleague Gary Becker is arguably the most influential economist of the last fifty years. I published a study in the American Economic Association Papers and Proceedings a few years back that attempted to identify which economic theories and economic theorists were having an influence on cutting edge, data driven economic research today. The most amazing finding was that papers Becker had written in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s were all actively influencing research today. Becker came out head and shoulders ahead of any other economic theorist in terms of impact. No one else had more than a couple of papers (typically published just a few years apart) that qualified as influential. Becker is not only the Michael Jordan of economics, he is the Gordie Howe of economics as well.

What is Becker’s secret? It doesn’t hurt to be incredibly smart. That isn’t really what sets him apart, though, I don’t think. He has four other traits that are just as important: he works harder than anyone else, he loves what he does, he is not afraid of criticism, and he has never stopped learning new things.

A case in point about learning new things. At the age of 73 or 74, Becker decided to stop writing a monthly Business Week column he had been doing for twenty years. Is he slowing down? Retiring? Nope. The reason he stopped is because he felt like he could have a greater impact writing a blog with the renowned legal scholar Judge Richard Posner. And judging from the fact that they have received over 2000 comments on their postings in the first few months, my guess is he might be right about the power of the Blog vs. print media.