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April 13, 2006 Press Contacts:
Allan Friedman

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Gift Names The Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory, Founded by Richard O. Ryan

    Prof. Gary Becker
Prof. Gary Becker at the April event in his honor
(Photo: Dan Dry)

With generous support from many, including a major gift from Richard Ryan, ’66, the Initiative on Chicago Price Theory has been renamed after Nobel laureate Gary S. Becker, University Professor of Economics and of Sociology.

As of July 1, 2006 the Initiative will be known as The Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory, Founded by Richard O. Ryan. Steven Levitt, Alvin H. Baum Professor of Economics, is Director of the Initiative and will continue as Director of the Becker Center. Levitt, Becker, and Kevin Murphy are the founding members of the Initiative.

Dean Edward A. Snyder announced the gift at a dinner celebrating Becker's achievements, during the inaugural Initiative on Chicago Price Theory conference April 7-8 at the Hyde Park Center.

“Economics, but for Gary Becker, would be a much less exciting discipline, less relevant, and much more narrow,” said dean Snyder in comments launching a series of affectionate and admiring remarks in tribute to Becker, a 1992 Nobel Prize winner in economic sciences.

University of Chicago president Don M. Randel heralded Becker as the embodiment of the university's spirit and its focus “on the pursuit of great ideas wherever great ideas take one” in a toast opening the tribute dinner for some 170 guests in the Rothman Winter Garden on April 7.

The price theory initiative “derives from a belief that it can address a growing disconnect between much of economics and what we really need from economics,” Snyder said. “The purpose of the initiative is to change the course of economics.”

During his career in agriculture that ended with his retirement from Monsanto in 2001, Ryan said he “personally witnessed that the benefits of this kind of research can be enormous.” He credited the GSB with giving him a knowledge and respect for the field that “could not have been cultivated more deeply anywhere else.” Ryan said, “I think we can all agree that the study and exposition of price theory is where the University of Chicago distinguishes itself, thanks to an unparalleled legacy of globally recognized economics.”

But Chicago Price Theory took the backseat to heaping praise on the honoree during the dinner. Remarks ranged from the personal to the humorously theoretical as Becker's family, friends, former students, and colleagues offered different views of the man.

Guity Nashat Becker described meeting her future husband while trying to barter with him over the purchase of a dining room table; she also applauded him and other extraordinary members of the Chicago school of economics with “brave and revolutionary vision and ideas” that help us live in a “more democratic and better world.” She concluded, “I believe that the homage that's being paid to Gary is not for him alone, but also for the giants on whose shoulders he stands.”

Before offering an acknowledgement of the professor's impact on economics and law, frequent Becker collaborator Richard Posner admired his colleague's unflagging tenacity and his persistence even when pursuing an unusual course of thinking. “It's Gary's unflinching resolve to follow rational choice theory wherever it may lead and, if necessary, fight skepticism—and even indeed ridicule—by his persistence, that marks him as a very serious theorist,” said Posner, senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. “He's invested a lifetime in rational choice theory and he's not about to give up.”

Longtime family friend Stephen Stigler playfully countered the favorable assertions about Becker, examining his work for evidence of transgressions when the theorist might have entertained the idea of consumers acting irrationally. Outlining an “irrationality index for Gary,” he said Becker was effectively inoculated against considering irrationality in 1970. “After his return to Chicago, Gary did indeed recant past heresies,” said Stigler, Ernest DeWitt Burton Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. He concluded his speech with admiration for a man who has made such a valuable contribution to the field of economics. “From what I see, it's clear he's still in mid-career.”

Colleague Kevin Murphy, George J. Stigler Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, presented Becker with a first edition copy of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments. Murphy thanked Becker “for seeing further than just about any other economist in terms of what economics could do. He pushed opened new doors into areas that other people probably wouldn't even have thought of; he pushes economics in every direction he can.”

Becker's brief remarks concluded the evening. Economics will change over time, but one constant—whatever the tools or techniques—is the goal of economics, he said. “It is judged ultimately by how well it helps us understand the world, and how well we can help improve it.”

Jenn Q. Goddu
Last modified at 04:55 PM CST on Friday, April 14, 2006.

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