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The Elgar Companion to Ronald H. Coase

The Elgar Companion to Ronald H. Coase

Edited by Claude Ménard and Elodie Bertrand

Ronald H. Coase was one of the most innovative and provocative economists of the twentieth century. Besides his best known papers on ‘The Nature of the Firm’ and ‘The Problem of Social Cost’, he had a major role in the development of the field of law and economics, and made numerous influential contributions to topics including public utilities, regulation and the functioning of markets. In this comprehensive Companion, 31 leading economists, social scientists and legal scholars assess the impact of his work with particular reference to the research programs initiated, the influence on policymakers, and the challenge to conventional perspectives.

Chapter 5: Revisiting Coase on anticipations and the cobweb model

George W. Evans and Roger Guesnerie

Subjects: economics and finance, history of economic thought, industrial organisation, institutional economics, law and economics, law - academic, law and economics


Ronald Coase wrote four articles on the cobweb model, or more specifically on the so-called pig cycle. The focus was on practical policy: the claim by the UK Reorganisation Commission for Pigs and Pig Products, in their 1932 Report, that government intervention was needed to stabilize prices in the pig industry. However, these papers, co-authored with Ronald Fowler and published in Economica between 1935 and 1940 (Coase and Fowler 1935a, 1935b, 1937, 1940), also grappled with a question of lasting importance in economics: the role of anticipations about the future, and more specifically of expectations of future prices. In this chapter we describe and assess the arguments presented by Coase and Fowler, and locate them within the subsequent development of the theory of expectation formation. Their papers are sometimes cited as being at the origin of Muth’s 1961 article on rational expectations. This is speculative, since Muth refers to the papers only briefly at the end of his article; and we are also doubtful that Coase would recognize the rational expectations hypothesis as capturing his own view.

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