Avatar of admin


Armen Alchian, RIP

February 21, 2013 in Economics

By Gary North

Armen Alchian died on February 19 at the age of 98.

I learned this on February 20. At the end of the day on February 19, I was working on a book I am writing on the structure of economic thought. I try to write two pages a day. I wrote this:

There is a long tradition for economics textbooks to begin with scarcity. The most rigorous of the textbooks in the Chicago School tradition, Allen and Alchian’s University Economics (3rd ed., 1972), may be the only textbook ever written that begins with Chapter 0: “How Much Mathematics and Graphs?” Chapter 1 is titled “Scarcity, Competitive Behavior, and Economics.” It begins: “Ever since the fiasco in the Garden of Eden, most of what we get is by sweat, strain, and anxiety. Two villains – nature and other people – prevent us from getting what we want. Nature is niggardly: it provides fewer resources than we could use, and much of what is available is made useful only by hard work. As for other people, the problem stems not from malevolence: their wants and ours simply exceed what is available.”

When I wrote it, I thought: “I wonder if Alchian is still alive.” I thought I would check Wikipedia, but I got sidetracked. Now I know.

I first met him at a conference at what was then called Claremont Men’s College in the summer of 1969. It was a conference of free market economists sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies. The organizer was F. A. “Baldy” Harper, who had founded the IHS after he was dismissed in 1962 as the director of the William Volker Fund. Also in attendance were Sam Peltzman, Douglas Adie, Tibor Machan, Anne Wortham, and Alchian’s daughter, who was working on her Ph.D. Henry Manne was one of the instructors. So was Murray Rothbard. The meeting was dominated by Chicago School economists and grad students.

He devoted much of his career to studying property rights. This was surely a positive endeavor. At that conference, I decided on a new topic for my Ph.D. dissertation. I was had planned to write on the New England Puritans’ views on eschatology: the …read more

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.