George Stigler

George Stigler
Born (1911-01-17)January 17, 1911
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Died December 1, 1991(1991-12-01) (aged 80)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Nationality United States
Institution Columbia University
Brown University
University of Chicago
Iowa State University
Field Economics
School or
Chicago School of Economics
Alma mater University of Washington (BA)
Northwestern University (MBA)
University of Chicago (PhD)
Influences Frank Knight, Jacob Viner, Henry Simons, Milton Friedman
Influenced Jacques Drèze
Thomas Sowell
Mark Blaug
Gary Becker
Jacob Mincer
Contributions Capture theory
Awards Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (1982)
National Medal of Science (1987)
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

George Joseph Stigler (January 17, 1911 – December 1, 1991) was a U.S. economist. He won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1982 and was a key leader of the Chicago School of Economics.

Life and career

Stigler was born in Seattle, Washington, the son of Elsie Elizabeth (Hungler) and Joseph Stigler.[1] He was of German descent. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1931 with a B.A and then spent a year at Northwestern University from which he obtained his M.B.A in 1932. It was during his studies at Northwestern that Stigler developed an interest in economics and decided on an academic career.[2]

Due to a tuition scholarship that he received from the University of Chicago, Stigler enrolled at the university in 1933 to study economics and went on to earn his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago in 1938. His teaching experience began in 1936 at Iowa State College, where he taught until 1938. He spent much of World War II at Columbia University, performing mathematical and statistical research for the Manhattan Project. He then spent one year at Brown University. He served on the Columbia faculty from 1947 to 1958.

While at Chicago, he was greatly influenced by Frank Knight, his dissertation supervisor. Milton Friedman, a friend for over sixty years, commented that it was remarkable for Stigler to have passed his dissertation through Knight, as only three or four students had ever managed to complete their PhD dissertation under Knight in his 28 years at Chicago. Stigler's influences included Jacob Viner and Henry Simons, as well as students W. Allen Wallis and Friedman.

Stigler is best known for developing the Economic Theory of Regulation, also known as capture, which says that interest groups and other political participants will use the regulatory and coercive powers of government to shape laws and regulations in a way that is beneficial to them. This theory is a component of the public choice field of economics. He also carried out extensive research in the history of economic thought.

Stigler's most important contribution to economics was disseminated in his landmark article titled "The Economics of Information".[3] According to Friedman, Stigler "essentially created a new area of study for economists." In this article, Stigler stressed the importance of information by writing, "One should hardly have to tell academicians that information is a valuable resource: knowledge is power. And yet it occupies a slum dwelling in the town of economics."[2]

His 1962 article "Information in the Labor Market" developed the theory of search unemployment.[4] In 1963 he was elected as a Fellow of the American Statistical Association.[5]

He was known for his sharp sense of humor, and wrote a number of spoof essays. In his book The Intellectual and the Marketplace, for instance, he proposed Stigler's Law of Demand and Supply Elasticities, that "all demand curves are inelastic and all supply curves are inelastic too." The essay referenced studies that found many goods and services to be inelastic over the long run, as well as offering a supposed theoretical proof; he ended by announcing that his next essay would demonstrate that the price system does not exist. Another essay, on "Truth in Teaching," described the consequences of a (fictional) set of court decisions that held universities legally responsible for the consequences of teaching errors.[6] The Stigler diet was named after him.

Stigler wrote numerous articles on the history of economics, published in the leading journals and republished 14 of them in 1965. The review in the American Economic Review said "many of these essays have become such well-known landmarks that no scholar in this field should be unfamiliar with them" and praised, "The lucid prose, penetrating logic, and wry humor which have become the author's trademarks."[7][8] However, economist Deirdre McCloskey later referred to Stigler as "among the worst historians of economic thought in the history of the discipline" who "read a lot but was defective in paying attention."[9]

Stigler was a founding member of the Mont Pelerin Society, and was president from 1976 to 1978.

He received National Medal of Science in 1987.


See also


  1. 1 2 Milton Friedman (1992). "George Joseph Stigler January 17, 1911 – December 1, 1991," Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences.
  2. George J. Stigler (1961). “The Economics of Information,” Journal of Political Economy, 69(3), pp. 213–25.
  3. George J. Stigler (1962a). "Information in the Labor Market." Journal of Political Economy, 70(5), Part 2, Oct., pp. 94–105.
  4. View/Search Fellows of the ASA, accessed 2016-07-23.
  5. George J. Stigler, 1973. "A Sketch of the History of Truth in Teaching," Journal of Political Economy, 81(2, Part 1), pp. 491–95.
  6. Thomas Sowell, review in American Economic Review (1965) 55#2 p. 552
  7. George J. Stigler, Essays in the history of economics (U. of Chicago Press, 1965)
  8. Deirdre McCloskey, "The So-Called Coase Theorem," p. 1


"Stigler, George Joseph" by Peter Newman, v. 4, p. 498.
"Stigler as an historian of economic thought" by Thomas Sowell, v. 4, pp. 498–99.
"Stigler's contribution to microeconomics and industrial organization," by Richard Schmalensee, v. 4, pp. 499–500

External links

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