Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Armen Alchian, RIP

The bulletin board outside the office of the Economics Department at UCLA had a picture of an old-style executioner, which the note underneath indicating it referred to the first graduate micro class students took. The class was taught by Armen Alchian in a manner similar to that seen in the old movie, "The Paper Chase."  While the class was intimidating, it also was stimulating.  There is an article in today's Wall Street Journal about Alchian as an obituary. He died at 98 years of age.

While getting my master's degree at Cal. State Haywarde and studying for the micro comprehensive exam, someone suggested I should read Alchian and Allen's Exchange and Production. It was their micro portion of their principles of economics text. Normally, one doesn't study for a graduate comprehensive exam by reading a principles textbook, but Exchange adn Production was no ordinary principles exam.  It was very rigorous and written at a college level, which meant it was too much for most college students.

Alchian's contributions to economic theory were mostly in the areas of analysis of property rights.  Several of his articles, are seminal in the field.  He also worked often in the law and economcis area, also teaching in the Economics for Lawyers (and another for judges) sponsored at the time by the George Mason University Law School.  I attended the law for economists course one summer, and Alchian was there teaching in the course for lawyers.  It was a good chance to visit with him.  He also played golf every day he was there.  Golf provided many examples in class as well.  My colleague at UCLA, Bob Newman, recounted one time that he was watching the eveining news and their was footage of a major traffic jam on an LA freeway. A helicopter was filming a portion, and one could see cars stopped. There was a man on the side of the road with a putter in his hand.  The camera focused on him as he walked down to pick up his golf ball and then turned around to face the camera. It was Alchian.  He was a great economist and teacher.  I am sorry to hear of his death.

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