Influences

26 October 2010 at 8:55 pm 3 comments

| Scott Masten |

Oliver Williamson has obviously had an enormous influence on my research and career, but I encountered Olly only fairly late in my education; in fact, I didn’t take Olly’s Industrial Organization course until my last semester of course work, in the fall of my third year in graduate school. Prior to that, my primary field had been comparative economic systems or, as it was called at Penn, comparative economic planning. My interest in the latter field and, indeed, my decision to go to graduate school in the first place I owe to Edwin Dolan. I had entered college intending to go to law school and enrolled in Dolan’s Economic Analysis of Law seminar in the winter of my sophomore year. That course was eye-opening for me in two respects. First, after spending long days in the library stacks reading law cases (when the next best alternative activity was skiing), I decided that that was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Second, I learned that I could engage the “fun” (that is, the analytical) part of law by continuing in economics, which I already found appealing.

At the conclusion of the course, Dolan suggested that I might be interested in taking his Comparative Economics Systems course. I recall that it didn’t actually seem all that attractive at the time, but I took it anyway and had my first — and only, as an undergrad — exposure to Mises, Hayek, and the Austrian School generally. (Dolan had similarly provided my sole undergraduate exposure to Coase in the earlier course.) From studying the problems of Soviet central planning, I first learned about the difficulties of devising incentive schemes, including multi-task agency problems, which were well-known (albeit not formally modeled) in the Soviet incentive literature. We also covered the Yugoslav labor-managed firm, and I went on to write my senior thesis on “Co-determination and the Participatory Continuum” under Dolan’s supervision. Dolan’s two classes were also special in that they were the only undergraduate economics courses I had in which I had the opportunity to write papers. (Both required a take-home essay exam with the option of submitting a paper, which I exercised in both cases.)

I took both of Dolan’s classes in 1975, which was, of course, the same year that Market and Hierarchies was published. In retrospect, comparative systems was markets and hierarchies on a grand scale. So I was in a sense well primed in 1979 to absorb the insights that Williamson had to offer when I sat down in his class for the first time. But I might never have been in that class, and indeed might not have become an economist at all, had it not been for the issues and thinkers that I was originally exposed to in Dolan’s courses.

What prompts this bit of retrospection is that I discovered today (via a link at Marginal Revolution) that Ed Dolan has a blog that he describes as “A Resource for Understanding and Teaching Economics.” On the basis of my experience, I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description of the blog’s owner as well.

Entry filed under: Austrian Economics, Ephemera, Former Guest Bloggers, People. Tags: .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Peter Klein  |  27 October 2010 at 9:01 am

    Thanks Scott. Dolan is also a hero to contemporary Austrian economists for organizing and hosting the 1974 conference in South Royalton, VT that marked the start of the “Austrian revival” in the US. (The proceedings were published as The Foundations of Austrian Economics, edited by Dolan, in 1976). I didn’t realize that was only his *second* greatest accomplishment.

  • 2. Scott Masten  |  27 October 2010 at 9:20 am

    Temporally, at least, the conference would have been his first. But I’ll presume you are ranking in terms importance!

  • 3. Peter Klein  |  27 October 2010 at 9:51 am

    Exactly!

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