Milton Friedman called Gary Becker “the greatest social scientist who has lived and worked in the last half century.” The praise was well-deserved, and if it wasn’t, that might have been because the only other contender for the title was Friedman himself. Becker was masterful at formulating interesting questions to think about, and he was always able to come up with fascinating and insightful answers to those questions. He revolutionized entire fields of inquiry through his work; few other scholars could boast of such an impact on various intellectual endeavors.
In addition to his many gifts and talents, Becker was an uncommonly generous colleague to other scholars. Quoth Ilya Somin:
Sadly, I never got the chance to meet Prof. Becker. But I did exchange e-mails with him about about a mutual research interest several years ago. I was skeptical that a Nobel Prize-winner would bother responding to a request from an obscure assistant professor in another field. But he sent a very informative reply within a few hours after I e-mailed him. I have heard that this was just a typical example of his generosity.
Becker even entered blogdom by co-writing a blog with Judge Richard Posner. The debates between Becker and Posner were always interesting and informative, and reading them made for the improved formulation and implementation of public policy. I hope and trust that the blog will remain available for scholars and policymakers to peruse, and since both Becker and Posner served and serve as examples of emulation for other serious scholars, I also hope and trust that more people will try to be like Becker and Posner, even as we acknowledge that both individuals are one-of-a-kind.
Requiescat in pace.
UPDATE: Here is the New York Times remembrance, which is quite informative.