Ross Emmett

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Professor & writer concerned with the relationship between basic economic institutions and their political, legal, and cultural contexts. Learn More


Ronald H. Coase, RIP (1910-2013)

I only met Ronald Coase once, and quite by accident. But it was one of those memories that sticks with you.

I was working in the reading room of the Special Collection Research Center at the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library. It was probably the summer of 1996, and I was of course working on Frank Knight’s materials. Mid-afternoon, an elderly gentleman came in and sat down at the table next to mine. A number of people were working in the reading room, so I didn’t particularly take notice of this man. I only noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that he was reading a book, rather than looking at archived papers.

At some point I looked around me and realized that the man reading beside me was none other than Ronald Coase. Of course, I tried to see (without staring!) what he was reading, but the book was resting on the foam book supports the Research Center provides for those reading rare books to protect the bindings. I kept looking over from time to time to see if I could read the title, but never did.

I took a break around 3 pm, and went outside to enjoy the sunshine for a few moments. As I walked back in, Professor Coase was walking down the hallway leading out of the Research Center. I introduced myself, figuring that our mutual interest in Frank Knight would allow such an introduction, and asked him what he had been reading. In his soft unassuming voice, he said,

“I was just checking to make sure I had a quotation from the first edition of Pigou’s The Economics of Welfare correct.”

As he walked away, I couldn’t decide which surprised me more: that he didn’t own a first edition of Pigou’s famous book himself (I do!), or that he would even check to see if he had the quote right!

Posted: September 3rd, 2013 in History of Economics, Ronald Coase


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