Gary S. Becker, 83, Nobel Laureate in Economics, Dies

Article excerpt

An original, prolific and sometimes provocative scholar, he applied economics to everyday life.

Prof. Gary S. Becker, a Nobel laureate in economics and longtime columnist for Business Week whose research illuminated motivations about such aspects of everyday life as marriage, crime, addiction, racial discrimination and birthrates, died on Saturday in Chicago. He was 83.

His death, after a long illness, was announced by the University of Chicago, where he was a professor of economics and of sociology.

Professor Becker remained active into his late 70s. In 2004, he began a blog on which he and a colleague, Richard A. Posner, a legal scholar and federal appeals court judge, commented on such issues as gun control -- Professor Becker proposed to tax guns heavily -- and trends in education.

An original, prolific and sometimes provocative scholar, Professor Becker was widely regarded as a towering figure in his field. Like his teacher and then colleague at the University of Chicago, Milton Friedman, he held to a free-market orientation.

The two were the only ones to have received both the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor. Professor Becker received his Nobel in 1992; Mr. Friedman was awarded his in 1976.

President George W. Bush bestowed the Medal of Freedom on Professor Becker at the White House in 2007, saying, "Professor Becker has shown that economic principles do not just exist in theory."

In applying his work to public policy, the president added, Professor Becker had become "one of the most influential economists of the past hundred years."

Professor Becker was best known for his work in labor economics. Starting from the assumption that all elements of society are rational economic agents, he focused on the motivating factors of human behavior, rather than on the study of broad economic trends.

The work inspired researchers in other fields, including anthropology and political science. He himself also held a joint appointment in the economics and sociology departments at the University of Chicago.

"Gary Becker may well go down in history as the chief architect in the designing of a truly general science of society," said George J. Stigler, a mentor and another University of Chicago Nobel laureate, who died in 1991.

Professor Becker's inquiries cast fresh light on social phenomena previously regarded as having little or no economic dimension. …