Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Armen Alchian (April 12, 1914 – February 19, 2013)

Armen A. Alchian
by Robert Higgs

Independent Institute

February 19, 2013

Arline Alchian Hoel reports that her father, Armen Alchian, “passed away peacefully in his sleep early this morning at his home in Los Angeles.” He was 98 years old.

Armen Alchian was a major figure in the economics profession for more than half a century. At UCLA, where he spent his academic career as a faculty member in the department of economics, he was a legend to generations of graduate students, who were required to take the price theory course he taught in the first year of the program. He used the Socratic method: he simply walked into the class each day and asked a student a question. From that point, the discussion went back and forth between teacher and students. Woe to any student who had arrived unprepared—and sometimes to those who had prepared. Public embarrassment was the price such students had to pay. But in the end, the students came away from the course with a healthy measure of their teacher’s mastery of applied price theory.

And master he was. Besides having a knack for making sense of countless aspects of economic and social life by viewing them as relative-price problems, Alchian helped to blaze trails toward extremely valuable improvements in microeconomic analysis by bringing into the analysis careful treatments of information, uncertainty, transaction costs, and property rights. For him, little difference existed between micro and macro; both were to be understood by using the same basic economic analysis of individual choice.