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Allen on Alchian and the UCLA School

At Econ Journal Watch.   Professor Allen offers a wonderful personal history of the UCLA Economics Department, including the rise and fall of what he describes as “the Alchian Department.”    The entire article is worth reading, but I include here an excerpt from Professor Allen’s Nobel (and University Award) nomination on behalf of Armen:

Economics is a broad discipline in methodology, as the Committee is fully aware, ranging from detailed historical, institutional, legalistic description to totally abstract, arcane theory. All such approaches, techniques, and emphases are appropriate. But there is much specialization among the members of the fraternity. And, increasingly, the profession has dealt in rigorous, elegant manipulation, even when the work is purportedly empirical—and even when the substantive results hardly warranted such virtuoso flair. Professor Alchian is a splendid technician, and he has contributed significantly and conspicuously to general “theory.” But, in contrast to many, he has always appreciated that the final payoff of Economics is elucidation of the real workings and phenomena of the world. I know of no one at any time who has had a finer sense of how to use economic analytics to explain the world. Sometimes the explanation requires involved, complex analysis, and Professor Alchian does not fear to use the tools which are required; what is uncommon is his lack of fear in using the MINIMUM tools which are required. In large part, his peculiar genius (the word is used advisedly) is to make extraordinarily effective use of elemental, and often elementary, techniques of analysis. And a host of people—many of whom are now in strategic positions in universities, in government, in the legal system, in the world of business and finance—have enormously benefited from the tutelage of Professor Alchian. … I present Armen Alchian as a giant—a giant who, because of his lack of pretension, is easily overlooked by laymen and even by some supposed professionals—who has greatly honored his profession and uniquely contributed to its usefulness. He would grace the distinguished fraternity of Nobel Laureates.

Amen.  Allen then observes:

This story should end in triumph. But neither the UCLA Alumni Association
nor the Nobel committee met its clear obligation. I wrote a two-page letter to the chairman of the campus group asking if the major problem of the Association was lack of competence or lack of integrity. The Swedes deserved a similar inquiry.

My own, less eloquent, case in favor of an Alchian / UCLA School Nobel is here; Fred McChesney’s entry on Alchian’s pathbreaking contributions to economic science is available here, and David Henderson’s entry on Alchian in the Concise Enyclopedia of Economics is here.

Disclosure: Snarky comments concerning the distinction between the Nobel Prize in Economics and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences will be deleted for lack of originality.

Filed under: armen alchian, economics