Coase and The World that Was

While it was sad to hear of the passing of Ronald Coase, what joy to reflect on one of the great scholarly lives.  Coase was still able to publish a book at the age of 101, 75 years after writing his classic article on the nature of the firm.  Amazing!

In reflecting and reviewing materials on Coase’s life, I was struck by how things seemed different 50 years ago.  First, there is the story of how Coase (and Buchanan and Tullock) were chased away from the University of Virginia Economics Department because of opposition to their market thinking.  This story needs to be better known than it is.  The Department lost two Nobel laureates and a third scholar who deserved it — a high price for ideological prejudice.   I wonder if that Department is happy now about its scheme.  (I thought there was also a charitable foundation involved in this scheme, but perhaps I am misremembering the story.)

These days there is certainly political prejudice against right wing views, but markets views are much less opposed than they used to be.  Now, it is some right wing views on social issues that draw the strongest ire.

Second, I recommend this short video on Coase and the regulation of radio spectrum.  When Coase suggested that property rights and the market could handle the radio spectrum, the response was disbelief.  Again, the world has changed a bit.  The virtues of Coase’s approach are now somewhat understood, but as the video makes clear, the regulatory approach used for the spectrum does not, in the main, follow sensible market solutions. 

And finally let us remember what was one of Coase’s triumphs — the famous story of how Coase, at a dinner party, convinced the University of Chicago Economics Department that the Coase Theorem was correct.  See here for the story.