Gary S. Becker: Innovator and Guide

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

President Bush has awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Hoover senior fellow Gary S. Becker, who joins his mentor and colleague, the late Milton Friedman, as the only economists ever to receive both the Presidential Medal and the Nobel Prize in economics.

In a November 5 ceremony in the White House, the president called Becker “one of the most influential economists of the past hundred years.’’ Becker is the Rose-Marie and Jack R. Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and University Professor of Economics and Sociology at the University of Chicago, where the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory is named in his honor. Among his other recent honors are the National Medal of Science, awarded in 2000 for his work in social policy, and the Jacob Mincer Prize, bestowed in 2004 for lifetime achievement in the field of labor economics.

The Presidential Medal citation singled out Becker as “one of the world’s great economists and premier intellectual innovators” and said that he had “helped us better comprehend the dynamic forces that drive our economy and shape our society.”

From President Bush’s remarks:

“The Medal of Freedom is the highest civil honor that a president can bestow. By executive order of John F. Kennedy, the medal is designed to recognize great contributions to national security, the cause of peace and freedom, science, the arts, literature, and many other fields. The eight men and women came to this distinction by very different paths. Each of them, by effort and by character, has earned the respect of the American people and holds a unique place in the story of our time.

“Professor Gary Becker once said, ‘Many intellectuals, many economists, use obscure language when they write. Sometimes it’s a way of disguising that they are not saying a heck of a lot.’ This economist, however, is different. Gary Becker’s many books and articles, and his 19 years as a weekly columnist, have proved him to be a thinker of originality and clarity.

“Professor Becker has shown that economic principles do not just exist in theory. Instead, they help to explain human behavior in fields well beyond economics. He has shown that by applying these principles to public policy, we can make great strides in promoting enterprise and public safety, protecting the environment, improving public schools, and strengthening the family. Professor Becker has explained, as well, the real value of investing in human capital—he knows full well that an educated and welltrained workforce adds to the vigor of our economy and helps raise the standard of living for all of us.

“This longtime professor at the University of Chicago has helped train hundreds of talented economists. He has been a wise and challenging presence in the lives of his students, and they remain devoted to him. One close friend said, ‘A fifteen-minute conversation with Gary Becker can change your thinking forever.’ He is without question one of the most influential economists of the past hundred years. With today’s honor, he is one of only two persons to have received both the Nobel Prize in economics and the Medal of Freedom. The other was the late Milton Friedman. And I know that today Professor Friedman would be very proud of his friend, and student, and colleague, Professor Gary Becker. Congratulations.”

The other recipients of the 2007 Medal of Freedom were Oscar Elías Biscet, a human rights advocate and political prisoner in Cuba; Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute; Benjamin Hooks, former NAACP executive director; Henry Hyde, who represented Illinois in the House of Representatives for 32 years; Brian Lamb, president and CEO of C-SPAN; Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird; and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and the first woman to be elected president of an African nation.