Gary Becker to give the 2010 IEA Hayek Memorial Lecture

The IEA is delighted that Gary Becker will be giving the Hayek Lecture on June 17th this year. Gary Becker attended Hayek’s evening seminars at the University of Chicago, thus making a nice link to F.A. Hayek, who was the inspiration behind the founding of the IEA.

Becker is, of course, renowned for applying economic ideas to unconventional areas and won the Nobel Prize in 1992. His research programme has examined sociology, demography, human capital, criminology, the economics of the family and so on. At the lecture in June he will be specifically discussing migration.

Gary Becker’s research programme is founded on the idea that the behaviour of an individual adheres to the same fundamental principles in different areas. The same explanatory model should thus, according to Becker, be applicable in analysing different aspects of human behaviour.

Becker’s approach has been criticised for reducing human behaviour to unrealistic axioms and base economic motives. However, this is a mistake. In many, ways it is Becker’s critics who are reductionist and, certainly, they have a very incomplete view of many policy issues if they neglect Becker’s arguments. Becker never argues that self interest is the only motivating factor for a particular action: he argues that individuals make rational choices, motivated by a range of preferences which will include self interest.

Let us take crime as an example. Many people will never commit a serious crime – however great the benefit to them from doing so. But, for those who are willing to commit a crime because they are not restrained by their moral views, their behaviour will surely be affected by economic incentives. What is the pay off? What is the probability of getting caught? What is the sentence?…And so on. This does not just apply to murderers and robbers but to a much larger number of people who might be willing to commit (say) a speeding offence to catch a ferry for which they are late. And this reasoning can obviously be applied to a large number of other fields – the welfare state, whether footballers commit fouls etc.

In other words, whatever our moral views, we ignore the economic motivation, which is often important in particular circumstances, at our peril. Gary Becker is well worth listening to…

 

Click here for full details of the event.

I always like the argument on this topic of Ludwig von Mises, on whose work Eamonn Butler recently wrote an Occasional Paper for the IEA. Mises pointed out that it is not true that ‘honesty does not pay’. He said: It pays for those who prefer being faithful to what they think right to the advantage they might derive from a different attitude.

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