George Stigler

Last updated
George Stigler
George Stigler.jpg
Born(1911-01-17)January 17, 1911
DiedDecember 1, 1991(1991-12-01) (aged 80)
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)
Frank Knight
Jacob Mincer
Thomas Sowell
Influences Jacob Viner, Henry Simons, Milton Friedman
Contributions Regulatory capture theory, Industrial organization, Search and information, History of economic analyais
Awards Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (1982)
National Medal of Science (1987)
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

George Joseph Stigler ( /ˈstɪɡlər/ ; January 17, 1911 – December 1, 1991) was an American economist, the 1982 laureate in Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and a key leader of the Chicago School of Economics.


Early life and education

Stigler was born in Seattle, Washington, the son of Elsie Elizabeth (Hungler) and Joseph Stigler. [1] He was of German descent and spoke German in his childhood. [2] He graduated from the University of Washington in 1931 with a BA and then spent a year at Northwestern University from which he obtained his MBA in 1932. It was during his studies at Northwestern that Stigler developed an interest in economics and decided on an academic career. [3]


After he received a tuition scholarship from the University of Chicago, Stigler enrolled there in 1933 to study economics and went on to earn his Ph.D. in economics there in 1938. He taught at Iowa State College from 1936 to 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.

At Chicago, he was greatly influenced by Frank Knight, his dissertation supervisor. Milton Friedman, a friend for over 60 years, commented that it was remarkable for Stigler to have passed his dissertation under Knight, as only three or four students had ever managed to do so in Knight's 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 but is also deeply opposed by public choice scholars belonging to the "Virginia School," such as Charles Rowley. [4] He also carried out extensive research in the history of economic thought.

Stigler's most important contribution to economics was published in his landmark article, "The Economics of Information." [5] According to Friedman, Stigler "essentially created a new area of study for economists." Stigler stressed the importance of information: "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." [3]

His 1962 article "Information in the Labor Market" developed the theory of search unemployment. [6] In 1963 he was elected as a Fellow of the American Statistical Association. [7]

He was known for his sharp sense of humor, and he 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: "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 and offered a supposed theoretical proof; he ended by announcing that his next essay would demonstrate that the price system does not exist.

Another essay, "A Sketch on the Truth in Teaching," described the consequences of a (fictional) set of court decisions that held universities legally responsible for the consequences of teaching errors. [8] The Stigler diet is also 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 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... The lucid prose, penetrating logic, and wry humor... have become the author's trademarks." [9] [10]

Stigler was a founding member of the Mont Pelerin Society and was its president from 1976 to 1978. He was a libertarian/classical liberal. [11] [12]

He received National Medal of Science in 1987.


See also


  1. National Academy of Sciences; Office of the Home Secretary (1 May 1999). Biographical Memoirs. National Academies Press. pp. 342–. ISBN   978-0-309-06434-7.
  2. Sowell, Thomas (1996), Migrations and Cultures: A World View, New York: Basic Books, p. 82, ISBN   978-0465045891, may be indicative of how long German cultural ties endured [in the United States] that the German language was spoken in childhood by such disparate twentieth-century American figures as famed writer H. L. Mencken, baseball stars Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and by the Nobel Prize-winning economist George Stigler.
  3. 1 2 Milton Friedman (1992). "George Joseph Stigler January 17, 1911 – December 1, 1991," Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences.
  4. Palda, Filip. A Better Kind of Violence: The Chicago School of Political Economy, Public Choice, and the Quest for and Ultimate Theory of Power. Cooper-Wolfling Press. 2016.
  5. George J. Stigler (1961). "The Economics of Information," Journal of Political Economy, 69(3), pp. 213–25 Archived 2010-06-21 at the Wayback Machine .
  6. George J. Stigler (1962a). "Information in the Labor Market." Journal of Political Economy, 70(5), Part 2, Oct., pp. 94–105.
  7. View/Search Fellows of the ASA, accessed 2016-07-23.
  8. George J. Stigler, 1973. "A Sketch of the History of Truth in Teaching," Journal of Political Economy, 81(2, Part 1), pp. 491–95.
  9. Thomas Sowell, review in American Economic Review (June, 1965) p. 552
  10. George J. Stigler, Essays in the history of economics (U. of Chicago Press, 1965)
  11. "The Rise, Decline, and Reemergence of Classical Liberalism | Belmont University | Nashville, TN". Retrieved 2021-05-26.
  12. "STIGLER, GEORGE J. (1911–1991)". Retrieved 2021-06-27.

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Preceded by
James Tobin
Laureate of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics
Succeeded by
Gérard Debreu