A conversation with Ronald H. Coase

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Ronald H. Coase, Richard A. Epstein
2001 | Liberty Fund | Duración:..
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  • A conversation with Ronald H. Coase and Richard A. Epstein
  • How was your life once you moved to the United States, and who were the people who influenced you?
  • Disagreement with Milton Friedman regarding the methodology of positive economics
  • Advice for young generations of economists
  • Final words
  • Final credits
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During this interview, audiences may learn about the early beginnings and academic years of whom later became a Nobel Prize in Economic Science winner, Ronald H. Coase. A broad number of subjects are discussed, involving the intellectual activities he carried out, ranging from his interest in economics and law, his transition from socialism up to the various publications and theories laid out by him.

The interlocutors converse on the hows and whys of his analyses, providing insights on key terms like business firms, transaction costs, externalities, durable goods and future periods, which lead him to write articles such as "The Nature of the Firm", "Durability and Monopoly", "The Lighthouse in Economics", among many others, as well as "The Problem of Social Cost", which was considered to be the basis of what is known as the Coase theorem.

The interview concludes in his own Coasean pragmatic and realistic manner, as he advises economists to focus on the solutions of the existing real life problems.



A conversation with Ronald H. Coase
Ronald H. Coase, Richard A. Epstein

Liberty Fund: The Intellectual Portrail Series
Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001

Thanks to Liberty Fund Inc. for permission to distribute this program. For further information about rights to this program or others produced by Liberty Fund Inc. go to The Intellectual Portrait Series and Copyright and Fair Use policy. 

Digitized by New Media - UFM. Guatemala, July 2013
Publication: Daphne Ortiz; index: Ethel Castro; synopsis and content reviser: Sofía Díaz Castañeda

Selected quotes, questions and external links: Amy M. Willis, Liberty Fund Fellow

Imagen: cc.jpgThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 License
Este trabajo ha sido registrado con una licencia Creative Commons 3.0

Ronald H. Coase

Ronald H. Coase
Ronald H. Coase (1910-2013) was an economist, author of the 1937 paper "The Nature of the Firm", which establishes the field of transaction cost economics and 1961 "The Problem of Social Cost", which sets out what is now known as the Coase Theorem and the field in economic research, "law and economics."

After holding positions at the University of Dundee, Scotland and the University of Liverpool, England, he joined the faculty of the London School of Economics in 1935. In 1951 Coase migrated to the United States and held positions at the Universities of Buffalo, Virginia and Chicago, where he was the editor of the Journal of Law and Economics and wrote The Firm, the Market and the Law and Essays on Economics and Economists.

He was a Fellow of the British Academy, the European Academy, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was also a member of the Honour Committee of Euroscience and held honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Cologne, Yale University, Washington University, the University of Dundee, the University of Buckingham, Beloit College, and the University of Paris.

Coase was awarded the Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1991, and was the winner of The Economist Innovation Award in the category of "No Boundaries" in 2003. Coase's later work looked into the complicated nature of the firm and into the producer's expectations and natural monopolies.

Source: www.law.uchicago.edu
Last update: 03/09/2013

Selected Quotes from Ronald H. Coase:

"You must realize, at that time I was a Socialist."

"What is interesting is one can hold contradictory views without discomfort. A lot of people have done that."

"What one sees is that competition is not to be just regarded as the way in which people would compete with a given method of production, but it leads to the introduction of new ones."

"The BBC gave people what they ought to have, and therefore you should prevent them from getting broadcasts of a different sort."

"The Englishman's home is the BBC's castle."

"My change of view, which came gradually, was just through finding out how things operated, rather than from some philosophical argument."

"The audience of economists is other economists."

(On the Coase theorem) "It's so obvious that I don't understand why there's been any fuss about it."

"We live in a gold mine. We're full of problems."

Key Influences

• Who does Coase describe as having has the greatest influence on him during his time at the LSE and in New York?

The Theory of the Firm

• Coase says he arrived in New York with "a definite question." What was this question, and why did it seem so paradoxical at the time?

• Coase says of this same time that he was able to "hold contradictory views without discomfort." What are these contradictory views he speaks of, and how was he able to resolve this contradiction?

• What are transaction costs, and how do they differ from managerial costs? What role do transaction costs play in the theory of the firm, according to Coase?

Study of Public Utilities

• Coase describes the theory of natural monopoly as having originated in 19th century London concerning the local water supply. What was the main argument for municipal control, and what was the "dubious conclusion" which was ultimately arrived at?

• What is the greatest weakness of the doctrine of natural monopoly, according to Coase?

• Why does Coase suggest that the private water companies in 19th century London lost out to the political regime? What are some parallel examples from the 20th and 21st centuries?

State Involvement in Public Utilities

• Why does Coase suggest that the state originally got involved in the postal service, which he says had "nothing to do with economics and everything to do with politics?" To what extent do you think this holds true today, and why?

• What is Coase referring to when he says that a disadvantage of markets is that they reveal people's actual preferences? Does this fairly or unfairly relate to social class, and why?

The Post-War Period

• What was the nature of the "marginal cost controversy" occurring in the post-war period?

• Why does Coase suggest that the most interesting work being done today is in business schools, not economics departments? To what extent do you agree that this is true?

• How does the BBC illustrate both the economic and political effects of monopoly, according to Coase?

• When Coase shifted his focus of study to the United States' FCC, what did he recommend, and why?

The Coase Theorem

• Epstein asks Coase if the significance of the Coase theorem is that it forced people to think about a world of zero transaction costs. But Coase says that wasn't it. Why does Coase think the Coase theorem was so novel?

• In what ways does Coase feel that he benefitted from a lack of formal economics training? Would this hold true of economics training today? Why or why not?

• Why has Coase's "The Problem of Social Cost" been more influential with lawyers than economists? To what extent do you feel this is justified?

The Lighthouse

• Coase says somehow he "just knew" that Samuelson's example of the prototypical public good was incorrect. How did Coase demonstrate otherwise?

• What is the relationship of the state to property rights, according to Coase? To what extent do you agree with Coase's characterization?

• When Coase wrote his piece on durable goods monopolies, he claims it was the only time he rushed to write something because he was sure someone else would beat him to it. Describe what he had to say about these types of monopolies, and why it was novel.

• What was the nature of the disagreement between Coase and Milton Freidman regarding the methodology of positive economics?

• What advice would Coase give to a young economist today? How good is this advice today, in your opinion?

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