Un économiste mémorable

STANFORD – Comme tant d’autres, j’ai d’abord fait la connaissance du prix Nobel d’économie Gary Becker, décédé le 3 mai dernier, par la lecture de ses ouvrages précurseurs, Human Capital (Le capital humain) et The Economics of Discrimination ( L’économie de la discrimination). Plusieurs dizaines d’économistes de renom ont reçu le prix en sciences économiques en mémoire d’Alfred Nobel depuis que la Banque de Suède a commencé à le remettre en 1969, mais Becker fait partie des rares économistes ayant fondamentalement bouleversé la manière dont les économistes (et les sociologues en général) appréhendent un large éventail de questions économiques importantes.

Becker est notamment connu pour avoir approché avec clairvoyance des questions qui n’avaient en général pas fait l’objet d’une analyse économique, en particulier les incitations économiques. Il a par exemple étudié l’éducation vue comme un investissement, évalué qui gagnait et qui perdait dans des situations de discrimination, analysé comment les familles faisaient usage de leur temps et expliqué les décisions prises par les femmes en matière de fécondité.

Ses travaux sur une ou deux de ces questions seulement auraient sans doute suffi à justifier l’attribution du prix en sciences économiques ; qu’il ait développé des approches novatrices sur autant de sujets différents est simplement remarquable. Il a amplement mérité les louanges de son mentor et ami de longue date, feu Milton Friedman (également lauréat du prix Nobel d’économie et qui, comme Becker, a au une influence décisive sur la compréhension de nombreux domaines par les économistes ). Becker, a déclaré Friedman, est « le chercheur en sciences sociales le plus important de la seconde moitié du XXe siècle ».

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