The late Gary S. Becker was known around the world as a pioneer who used economics to understand all human behavior, who transformed entire fields of study.
But Becker, one of the most influential and decorated economists of the last half-century, is also fondly remembered by all who knew and met him as warm, caring, accessible, and incredibly generous with his time and insights.
“He taught eagerly and often at all levels and never failed to respond to a request for comment on work,” recalled Stephen Stigler, a fellow scholar and longtime family friend at Becker’s memorial service in October 2014. “He encouraged the youngest without neglecting others.”
Becker’s genius was that he put people at the center of his universe, according to his friend and coauthor Kevin Murphy. “He recognized that economics was about people. If it was important to people, it should be important to economists.”
“He recognized that economics was about people. If it was important to people, it should be important to economists.”
So he studied choices that were important to people, like marriage, forming and supporting families, and having children. He valued the people around him—students, colleagues, friends, and most of all family—and he showed he cared by spending time with them.
Becker also had talent for explaining economic ideas in simple human terms, and bone-deep commitment to sharing the power of economic thinking with everyone, everywhere.
All these gifts—his caring, his generosity, his availability, and his passion for discussing economics—are beautifully illustrated in this charming video, as Becker explains his famous Rotten Kid Theorem to a colleague’s young daughter.
One year after his passing, we remember Gary daily and miss him greatly, but we see him everywhere in the shaping of economic thought, and in moments like this, which we share in his memory.