|Born||January 17, 1911|
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
|Died||December 1, 1991 (aged 80)|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
University of Chicago
Iowa State University
|Chicago School of Economics|
|Influences||Jacob Viner, Henry Simons, Milton Friedman|
|Awards||Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (1982)|
National Medal of Science (1987)
|Information at IDEAS / RePEc|
George Joseph Stigler (; January 17, 1911 - December 1, 1991) was an American economist, the 1982 laureate in Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and a key leader of the Chicago School of Economics.
Stigler was born in Seattle, Washington, the son of Elsie Elizabeth (Hungler) and Joseph Stigler. He was of German descent and spoke German in his childhood. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1931 with a BA and then spent a year at Northwestern University from which he obtained his MBA in 1932. It was during his studies at Northwestern that Stigler developed an interest in economics and decided on an academic career.
After he received a tuition scholarship from the University of Chicago, Stigler enrolled there in 1933 to study economics and went on to earn his Ph.D. in economics there in 1938. He taught at Iowa State College from 1936 to 1938. He spent much of World War II at Columbia University, performing mathematical and statistical research for the Manhattan Project. He then spent one year at Brown University. He served on the Columbia faculty from 1947 to 1958.
At Chicago, he was greatly influenced by Frank Knight, his dissertation supervisor. Milton Friedman, a friend for over 60 years, commented that it was remarkable for Stigler to have passed his dissertation under Knight, as only three or four students had ever managed to do so in Knight's 28 years at Chicago. Stigler's influences included Jacob Viner and Henry Simons as well as students W. Allen Wallis and Friedman.
Stigler is best known for developing the Economic Theory of Regulation, also known as capture, which says that interest groups and other political participants will use the regulatory and coercive powers of government to shape laws and regulations in a way that is beneficial to them. This theory is a component of the public choice field of economics but is also deeply opposed by public choice scholars belonging to the "Virginia School," such as Charles Rowley. He also carried out extensive research in the history of economic thought.
Stigler's most important contribution to economics was published in his landmark article, "The Economics of Information." According to Friedman, Stigler "essentially created a new area of study for economists." Stigler stressed the importance of information: "One should hardly have to tell academicians that information is a valuable resource: knowledge is power. And yet it occupies a slum dwelling in the town of economics."
He was known for his sharp sense of humor, and he wrote a number of spoof essays. In his book The Intellectual and the Marketplace, for instance, he proposed Stigler's Law of Demand and Supply Elasticities: "all demand curves are inelastic and all supply curves are inelastic too." The essay referenced studies that found many goods and services to be inelastic over the long run and offered a supposed theoretical proof; he ended by announcing that his next essay would demonstrate that the price system does not exist.
Another essay, "A Sketch on the Truth in Teaching," described the consequences of a (fictional) set of court decisions that held universities legally responsible for the consequences of teaching errors. The Stigler diet is also named after him.
Stigler wrote numerous articles on the history of economics, published in the leading journals and republished 14 of them in 1965. The American Economic Review said, "many of these essays have become such well-known landmarks that no scholar in this field should be unfamiliar with them.... The lucid prose, penetrating logic, and wry humor... have become the author's trademarks."
In 1965, Stigler wrote an article, "The Problem of the Negro", where he argued that white people frequently avoided blacks as neighbors, not because of racism, but because the "Negro family is, on average, a loose, morally lax group, and brings with its presence a rapid rise in crime and vandalism." He also wrote, it "was a terrible disservice to identify the white man as the main obstacle to the rise of the Negro," and "Lacking education, lacking a tenacity of purpose, lacking a willingness to work hard, he will not be an object of employers' competition. What leader of Negro thought is fostering the ancient virtues of diligence and honesty and loyalty?"
He received National Medal of Science in 1987.
...it may be indicative of how long German cultural ties endured [in the United States] that the German language was spoken in childhood by such disparate twentieth-century American figures as famed writer H. L. Mencken, baseball stars Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and by the Nobel Prize-winning economist George Stigler.