Reflections on Ronald Coase, 1910-2013

| By Alumni | By Faculty |

From Workshop Faculty

He was a magnificent man.  It is not often that we meet and get to know the immortals. 

I posted a message on the Chinese Weibo yesterday saying that the issues that Ronald Coase studied, that is, allocation of rights and authority, are more fundamental and essential than allocation of resources in transition economies like China, and that is why he is so widely read and admired by the Chinese economists.  I wished he could visit China this year.

We all reel from this loss. Despite his advanced age he seemed indestructible and this news marks the end of an era of greatness.

What a legacy of scholarship and healthy controversy he left for us.

I will always remember the delightful afternoon I spent in his presence when I visited U of Chicago back in 2008. We lost an inspirational scholar and a beautiful person.

Coase's death represents an enormous loss for mankind. I think that he was a brilliant philosopher.

He did more than most to make economics relevant and interesting without scribbling an equation. That's remarkable.

I still remember clearly he said, “I entrust the future development of economics to the young generation of Chinese economists.” We will work very hard to fulfill his wishes.

Professor Coase led a glorious life with heroic achievements - his shadow on academia lengthening over time. Eventually his work and his students, with focus on property rights, helped transform policies and lives across the world.

Let's make sure that we all contribute as much as we can with our modest capacities to his legacy.

I always tell my students when I attended with Lin Ostrom the ISNIE 1999 meetings where I met you in fact, and Coase gave his lecture and gave us a great line (below). To me it was bliss since I was arriving to ISNIE to give a paper on the first economic experiments conducted in the field. This was the best backing I could get for my dissertation work.
Coase said: “Economics, over the years, has become more and more abstract and divorced from events in the real world. Economists, by and large, do not study the workings of the actual economic system. They theorize about it. As Ely Devons, an English economist, once said in a meeting: ‘If economists wanted to study the horse, they wouldn’t go around and look at horses. They’d sit in their studies and say to themselves, "What would I do if I were a horse?" ’ ”

Somehow I feel certain that the name of Ronald Coase will be remembered in China far more than Karl Marx.  It is difficult to imagine that a western economist could be so highly honored by the Chinese people, and conversely it is equally difficult to imagine that a western economist could care for the well-being of the Chinese people like Coase.

His life was indeed one that brought good to the world.

He will live on without doubt because of the great things that he did in his life, but he will also always live in the hearts and minds of those who experienced his deeds of loving kindness. Not a side much spoken about, certainly not a side he discussed.

May we all live so long and well.

Excerpts from the letters that faculty of the workshops sent after Ronald Coase's death.