Economist Ronald Coase, best known for the 'Coase Theorem'
about transaction costs, offered insights about information
gathering and management that parallel those of Alfred
Ronald Harry Coase was born in the UK in 1910, son of
a telegraphist in the Post Office. He was educated at
Kilburn Grammar as a scholarship boy and studied for a
Bachelor of Commerce degree at the London School of Economics,
where he was influenced by pioneering intellectual property
economist Arnold Plant. He was awarded a Cassel Travelling
Scholarship from the University of London, with the academic
year 1931-32 spent in the US studying industry structures.
He held a teaching position at the Dundee School of Economics
& Commerce from 1932 to 1934 (where he delivered the
lecture that preceded his landmark 1937 Economica
paper 'The Nature of the Firm'), at the University of
Liverpool as Assistant Lecturer from 1934 to 1935 and
at the London School of Economics from 1935. He was Assistant
Lecturer at the LSE from 1935 to 1938 and Lecturer from
1938 to 1947.
In 1940 he entered the civil service as a statistician,
initially as Head of Statistical Division at the Forestry
Commission and later at the Central Statistical Office,
ending as the War Cabinet's chief statistician. He was
Acting British Director of Statistics & Intelligence,
Combined Production & Resources Board and Representative
of the Central Statistical Office in Washington from 1945
He returned to the London School of Economics in 1946,
with nine months in the US in 1948 on a Rockefeller Fellowship
studying the American broadcasting industry. That resulted
in his book British Broadcasting: A Study in Monopoly
(1950). He was Reader at the LSE from 1947 to 1951.
Coase gained a doctorate of science (economics) at the
University of London, before moving to the United States
in 1951. After a teaching position at the University of
Buffalo he spent a year at the Center for Advanced Study
in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford in 1958, (with
a study of the Federal Communications Commission) before
moving to the University of Virginia in 1959. His 1961
'The Problem of Social Cost', building on his paper about
the FCC - and unlike 'The Nature of the Firm', was "an
instant success" and led to recruitment by the University
of Chicago (in the law school) in 1964.
In 1977 he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover
Institution, Stanford University and visiting Distinguished
Professor of Law & Economics at the University of
Kansas in 1991
He was editor of the Journal of Law & Economics
from 1964 to 1982.
Coase was awarded the 1991 Nobel prize in Economics for
his discovery of "the significance of transaction
costs and property rights for the institutional structure
and functioning of the economy".
Ironically, given frequent citation of his 1960 'The Problem
of Social Cost' (claimed as the most-cited paper in economics)
until after the Nobel he had honorary degrees from only
Yale (1989) and the University of Cologne (1988). He subsequently
was awarded honorary degrees from Washington University
(1991), the University of Dundee (1992), the University
of Buckingham (1995), Beloit College (1996) and the University
of Paris (1996).
Coase was is a Fellow of the British Academy, the European
Academy, and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
He was a member of the Honour Committee of Euroscience.
Coase's works include
'The Pig Cycle: A Rejoinder' in Economica 2
(1935) with R.F. Fowler
'Bacon Production and the Pig Cycle in Great Britain'
in Economica 2 (1935) with R.F Fowler
'The Problem of Duopoly Reconsidered' in Review
of Economic Studies 2 (1935)
'Some Notes on Monopoly Price' in Review of Economic
Studies 5 (1937)
'The Pig Cycle in Great Britain: An Explanation' in
Economica 4 (1937) with R.F Fowler
'The Nature of the Firm' in Economica 4 (November
Published Balance Sheets as an Aid to Economic Investigation-Some
Difficulties (London: Accounting Research Association
1938) with R.S Edwards & R.F Fowler
'The Iron and Steel Industry 1926-1935: An Investigation
Based on the Accounts of Public Companies' Special Memorandum
No. 49 of the London and Cambridge Economic Service
(London: 1939) with R.S Edwards & R.F Fowler
'Rowland Hill and the Penny Post' in Economica
'Wire Broadcasting in Great Britain' in Economica
'The Origin of the Monopoly of Broadcasting in Great
Britain' in Economica 14 (1948)
British Broadcasting: A Study in Monopoly (London:
'The Federal Communications Commission' in Journal
of Law & Economics 2 (October 1959)
'The Problem of Social Cost' in Journal of Law &
Economics 3 (October 1960)
'The British Post Office and the Messenger Companies'
in Journal of Law & Economics 4 (1961)
The Firm, the Market, and the Law (Chicago:
Uni of Chicago Press 1968) - seven essays, including
'The Nature of the Firm'
'The Lighthouse in Economics' in Journal of Law
& Economics 17 (October 1974)
'Advertising and Free Speech' in Journal of Legal
Studies 6 (1977)
How Should Economists Choose? (Washington:
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
'Professor Sir Arnold Plant: His Ideas and Influence'
in The Unfinished Agenda, Essays on the Political
Economy of Government Policy in Honour of Arthur Seldon
(London: Institute of Economic Affairs 1986) edited
by Martin Anderson
'Contracts and The Activities of Firms' in Journal
of Law & Economics 34 (1991)
Essays on Economics and Economists (Chicago:
Uni of Chicago Press 1995) - 15 essays, including the
'The Acquisition of Fisher Body by General Motors' in
Journal of Law & Economics 43 (2000)
biography and letters
Coase's 1991 Nobel autobiography is here.
There's been no major biographical study or published
collection of his correspondence.
The Legacy of Ronald Coase in Economic Analysis
(London: Elgar 1995) edited by by Steven Medema is of
value for essays by figures such as Mancur Olsen and Richard
Posner and for the comprehensive bibliography of Coase's
There is a concise statement of orthodoxy, enlivened by
quotes from Coase, in the 2003 report by the Dallas US
Federal Reserve Bank (PDF).
Questions about the role of government are explored in
David Moss' When All Else Fails: Government As The
Ultimate Risk Manager (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press