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The Essential UCLA School of Economics

Written by: David R. Henderson, Steven Globerman
Narrated by: Michael Lenz
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Publisher's Summary

The UCLA tradition carries on in the work of dozens of economists who earned their PhDs at UCLA during its golden years. Because their work spread beyond UCLA, the tradition lives on in the work of scores of economists who had no formal connection with the school. The most important economists at UCLA during the 1970s were Armen Alchian, Harold Demsetz, Sam Peltzman, Benjamin Klein, Robert Clower, Alex Leijonhufvud, Jack Hirshleifer, William Allen, and George Hilton.

A distinguishing feature of most of the UCLA economists’ contributions is that they were non-mathematical. This was especially notable in an era in which mathematics had almost taken over economics. The major UCLA School contributors used mainly words and occasionally graphs. Another distinguishing feature is their use of basic economic analysis to understand behavior that had previously not been understood or had even been misunderstood.

The best-known member of the school, Armen Alchian, taught at UCLA from 1946 until his retirement in 1984. His insights and writings underlie a distinctive theme of the school’s approach to economics. In most productive activity, the profit motive, combined with private property rights, successfully aligns the interests of producers and consumers, often in subtle ways. Alchian had no use for formal models that did not teach us to look somewhere new in the known world. Nor had he any patience for findings that relied on fancy statistical procedures. Alchian saw basic economics as a powerful tool for explaining much of human behavior in both market and non-market settings.

The second most prominent member of the UCLA School was Harold Demsetz, who made major contributions to the study of property rights and to regulation and antitrust policy. He argued that market concentration could reflect the superior efficiency of firms with large market shares primarily resulting from innovation or from economies of scale. Government efforts to break up large firms or restrain their growth was, therefore, likely to reduce innovation and economic efficiency, with consequent harm to consumers.

Other academic research at the UCLA School included Klein’s work in monetary theory, and Clower and Leijonhufvud’s work in macroeconomics. Another famous UCLA School economist was Thomas Sowell, who wrote his 1975 book Race and Economics, a precursor to his much more extensive work on the economics of various ethnic groups, while at UCLA.

©2021 Fraser Institute (P)2022 Fraser Institute

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