Alchian Didn't Do a Lot of Work?
By David Henderson
In my Wall Street Journal piece, I quoted Friedrich Hayek saying to me, in 1975:
There are two economists who deserve the Nobel prize because their work is important but won’t get it because they didn’t do a lot of work: Ronald Coase and Armen Alchian.
In the piece, I left that quote unchallenged. I shouldn’t have. Frequent Econlib Feature Article writer Dwight Lee, quite correctly, called me on it:
Was Hayek correct that Alchian did not publish a lot? It seems to me that he did. I remember being impressed with his work on costs, and he must have had quite few papers on property rights.
Absolutely right. Indeed, when the Journal editor asked me to come up with a “Notable and Quotable,” I had an embarrassment of riches, because not only did Armen write a lot but also he wrote unusually well for an economist. As evidence of quantity, consider the fact that Liberty Fund put together 2 hefty volumes of his work that total over 1,500 pages. Most of us would think of that as “a lot.”
After receiving Dwight’s e-mail, I wrote his daughter, Arline Alchian Hoel, yesterday, saying:
You know, there is one thing that I shouldn’t have left uncorrected–Hayek’s idea that your Dad was not prolific.
[T]hat’s a nice article as is — and captures Dad well. It’s not the pages or pounds — it’s the ideas and how well they are presented that was important to him (despite what most of the profession does or says when it comes to pages and more pages)– and you are on target about that. I grew up seeing him write and rewrite and rewrite articles. I don’t know how many pages went into the waste baskets that were filled, emptied, filled and reemptied.
In a later post I’ll share, with no attribution when appropriate, some of the many e-mails I’ve received from former Alchian students and academics and even one federal judge who attribute their understanding of, and excitement about, economics to the late Armen Albert Alchian.