Academic, Economist, Sociologist (1930-2014)
Gary Becker was an American Nobel Prize winning economist described by the New York Times as “the most important social scientist in the past 50 years”. He was also awarded the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom and, in a 2011 survey by economics professors, was voted as the best living economist over 60 years old.
Becker was a pioneering economist who merged microeconomics with sociology and criminology. Becker posited that most types of human behaviour are acted out by a rational and utility maximising individual. Becker contended that criminals rationally see the benefits of their crime outweighing the costs (for instance, the probability of being caught and convicted). He concludes with the controversial policy implication of maximising the fine of a crime rather than surveillance because the cost of increasing a fine is negligible compared to the cost of increasing surveillance.
Becker also applied his marvellous thinking to the issue of discrimination in the work force. He argued that discrimination increases firms’ costs because, by discriminating against certain workers, the firm would not be able to hire as many workers or produce as much and must therefore pay incumbent workers more money to increase production. On the other hand, if firms employ minorities then they can pay lower wages, increase employment and raise productivity.
“Even a wizard would have a great deal of difficulty repealing the economic law that higher minimum wages reduce employment. Since politicians are not wizards, they should not try.”
– Gary Becker