George Stigler

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George Stigler
George Stigler.jpg
Born(1911-01-17)January 17, 1911
DiedDecember 1, 1991(1991-12-01) (aged 80)
Education University of Washington (BA)
Northwestern University (MBA)
University of Chicago (PhD)
Academic career
Institution Columbia University
Brown University
University of Chicago
Iowa State University
School or
Chicago School of Economics
Frank Knight
Jacob Mincer
Thomas Sowell
Influences Jacob Viner, Henry Simons, Milton Friedman
Contributions Regulatory capture theory
Industrial organization
Search unemployment
Stigler diet
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. He was the 1982 laureate in Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and is considered 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 Hungarian on his mother's side) [2] and spoke German in his childhood. [3] 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 MBA in 1932. It was during his studies at Northwestern that Stigler developed an interest in economics and decided on an academic career. [4]

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 PhD in economics in 1938.


Stigler 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 50 years, [5] 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 (1971), also known as regulatory 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. [6] He also carried out extensive research in the history of economic thought.

Stigler's most important contribution to economics was published in his landmark 1961 article, "The Economics of Information." [7] 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." [4]

His 1962 article "Information in the Labor Market" developed the theory of search unemployment. [8]

In 1963 he was elected as a Fellow of the American Statistical Association. [9]

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. [10] The Stigler diet is also named after him. [11]

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." [12] [13] However, Deirdre McCloskey has criticised his characterisation of Adam Smith as a father of the 'greed is good' school of economics as a poor reading of the Scottish philosopher's views. [14]

Stigler was a founding member of the Mont Pelerin Society and was its president from 1976 to 1978. He was a libertarian/classical liberal. [15] [16]

Stigler was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1955, [17] the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1959, [18] and the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1975. [19] He received the National Medal of Science in 1987.


For comprehensiveness, see Vicky M. Longawa (1993), "George J. Stigler: A Bibliography," Journal of Political Economy, 101(5), pp. 849–862. Arrow–scrollable.

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. "The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1982". Archived from the original on 2019-12-17. Retrieved 2023-02-05.
  3. 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.
  4. 1 2 Milton Friedman (1992). "George Joseph Stigler January 17, 1911 – December 1, 1991," Archived February 9, 2005, at the Wayback Machine Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences.
  5. George Stigler: A Personal Reminiscence, Hoover, Archived 2021-12-23 at the Wayback Machine
  6. 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.
  7. George J. Stigler (1961). "The Economics of Information," Journal of Political Economy, 69(3), pp. 213–325. Archived 2010-06-21 at the Wayback Machine
  8. George J. Stigler (1962). "Information in the Labor Market." Journal of Political Economy, 70(5), Part 2, pp. 94–105. Archived 2022-02-21 at the Wayback Machine
  9. View/Search Fellows of the ASA Archived 2016-06-16 at the Wayback Machine , accessed 2016-07-23.
  10. George J. Stigler, 1973. "A Sketch of the History of Truth in Teaching," Journal of Political Economy, 81(2, Part 1), pp. 491 Archived 2024-03-01 at the Wayback Machine –495.
  11. Based on his 1945 article. "The Cost of Subsistence," Journal of Farm Economics, 2, pp. 303–314. Arrow-scrollable. Archived 2022-02-04 at the Wayback Machine
  12. Thomas Sowell, review in American Economic Review (June, 1965), p. 552.
  13. George J. Stigler, Essays in the History of Economics (University of Chicago Press, 1965).
  14. McCloskey, Deirdre Nansen, Preface, Mullen, Roger, Smith, Craig, & Mochrie, Robbie (eds.) *2023), Adam Smith: The Kirkcaldy Papers, Adam Smith Global Foundation, Kirkcaldy, pp. 7 & 8, ISBN   9781399963497.
  15. "The Rise, Decline, and Reemergence of Classical Liberalism | Belmont University | Nashville, TN". Archived from the original on 2021-05-26. Retrieved 2021-05-26.
  16. "Stigler, George J. (1911–1991)". Archived from the original on 2021-06-12. Retrieved 2021-06-27.
  17. "APS Member History". Archived from the original on 2023-01-20. Retrieved 2023-01-20.
  18. "George Joseph Stigler". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Archived from the original on 2023-01-20. Retrieved 2023-01-20.
  19. "George J. Stigler". Archived from the original on 2019-05-05. Retrieved 2023-01-20.
  20. Reviewed at Shepard B. Clough (1965). "Essays in the History of Economics. George J. Stigler," The Journal of Modern History, 37(3), p. 357. [ permanent dead link ] & Herbert M. Bernstein (1967), "Essays in the History of Economics by George J. Stigler," Technology and Culture, 8(1), pp. 136–138. Archived 2024-03-01 at the Wayback Machine

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Preceded by Laureate of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics
Succeeded by