Conference to honor law and economics giant Ronald Coase

In 1937, at age 26, Ronald Coase published "The Nature of the Firm," a paper that offered groundbreaking insights about why firms exist, which eventually contributed to his selection for the 1991 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

Now, more than seven decades later, an impressive group of scholars, colleagues and friends are gathering at the Law School for "Markets, Firms and Property Rights: A Celebration of the Research of Ronald Coase." The two-day conference, on Friday, Dec. 4 and Saturday, Dec. 5, will honor the life and continuing research of Coase, the Clifton R. Musser Professor Emeritus of Economics.

"There are very few people who earn the honorific 'Coasean' or its equivalent," said Richard Epstein, the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School, and one of the conference organizers. "His world-view is so simple and compelling that it seems almost weird that its significance should have taken so long to emerge. Most people used ideal type models to specify how economic systems worked. Ronald stressed the dirt in the gears and the friction in the system, which once understood gives you a real sense of why and how different institutions are organized."

Coase, who joined the Law School faculty in 1964, continues to look at the complicated nature of the firm. "The Nature of the Firm" established the field of transaction cost economics while his "The Problem of Social Cost," published in 1960, is widely considered to be the seminal work in the field of law and economics. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of "The Problem of Social Cost," and Coase's 100th birthday.

"Professor Coase is a soft, unimposing and independent giant in modern economics, with a curious, intuitive and pragmatic mind," said Ning Wang, Coase's longtime research assistant and now an assistant professor at Arizona State University. "When virtually the whole profession has been busying itself with turning economics into a hard science, Professor Coase is most adamant in insisting that economics will be dead, hard or soft, unless it studies the real-world economy as an evolving system. Following Adam Smith and Alfred Marshall, Coase believes that economics is essentially a moral science, a study of both wealth and man."

The conference includes 33 academics from across the University and the nation, including Epstein; fellow Nobelist Gary Becker, University Professor of Economics, Sociology and Chicago Booth; and Richard Posner, Senior Lecturer in Law and Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The presentation topics include areas in which Coase's work has had substantial influence such as telecommunications policy, airline regulation and development, environmental economics, economic development, organization of the firm, and general discussions of the questions of transactions costs and social rationality.

Epstein organized the conference along with Thomas Hazlett of GeorgeMason University and Roger Noll and Greg Rosston of Stanford University. The conference will be held at the Law School, 1111 E. 60th St., and is free and open to the public. The conference will run from 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, and 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5. The articles from the conference will appear in special issues of the Journal of Law and Economics, and the Journal of Legal Studies.

More information about the conference can be found at

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Ronald Coase, the Clifton R. Musser Professor Emeritus of Economics

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