It’s not much of a surprise to read praise for the late economist Gary Becker from advocates of limited government and free markets. It’s more of a surprise — and a pleasant one at that — to read praise for Becker in TIME magazine from a high-ranking Clinton and Obama pal: Lawrence Summers.
Gary Becker transformed his field as few scholars ever do. There are many who advance understanding in their chosen field or propose significant new theories or do important empirical testing. There are almost none who redefine the subject matter. Before Becker, economics was about topics like business cycles, inflation, trade, monopoly and investment. Today it is also about racial discrimination, schooling, fertility, marriage and divorce, addiction, charity, political influence–the stuff of human life. If, as some assert, economics is an imperial social science, Gary Becker was its emperor.
It was Becker’s great insight that the ways of thinking that have proved immensely powerful in understanding markets can also illuminate the way we live much more broadly.