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
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. …