An Economic Exploration of Sex, Marriage and Family
Chapter 28: Epilogue
Gary Becker is often rated as the most prominent economist to expand the scope of economics. Indeed, he is the most important contributor to the fields of family and labour economics, which have become the core of modern economic research. In his Nobel Prize speech, Becker summarized his approach as follows: '[it] assumes that individuals maximize welfare as they conceive it, whether they be selfish, altruistic, loyal, spiteful, or masochistic'. In particular, a cornerstone assumption he made in the study of fertility is that children are considered durable goods from their parents' perspective. As such, parents are naturally concerned about the quality of their children in the same way as they care about the quality of a television or other common durable goods. Becker's path-breaking contributions stem not only from his intelligence and vision but also from his courage to challenge widely accepted and politically correct social norms or 'morality'. For example, again in his Nobel Prize speech, Becker offers the following recollection: Human capital is so uncontroversial nowadays that it may be difficult to appreciate the hostility in the 1950s and 1960s toward the approach that went with the term. The very concept of human capital was alleged to be demeaning because it treated people as machines. To approach schooling as an investment rather than a cultural experience was considered unfeeling and extremely narrow. As a result, I hesitated a long time before deciding to call my book Human Capital, and hedged the risk by using a long subtitle.
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