May 6, 2010

Economics professors and bloggers Becker and Posner, live

U of C professors Gary Becker and Richard Posner tackled drunk driving, ethnic profiling and the possibility of a “fat tax” Monday at a talk in Kent Hall, billed as a live version of their Becker-Posner Blog.

Becker, a Nobel Laureate and economics professor, and Posner, a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and a senior lecturer at the Law School, co-write The Becker-Posner Blog, in which the they take in-depth looks at national economic debates. They are co-authors of Uncommon Sense: Economic Insights, from Marriage to Terrorism.

While both Becker and Posner agreed that human behavior should be understood in terms of economic incentives, the pair disagreed on the merits of ethnic profiling and whether or not smoking provided a positive externality to American taxpayers.

The two developed some unconventional theories in the course of their conversation. “The world would be better off if people were much smaller,” Posner said, in discussing airline providers which charged obese passengers for two seats. “If we had a project to shrink people a little bit by each generation, we would have a much higher ratio of land to people, and smaller people consume less and so on.”

By the end, even with their disagreements, Becker and Posner agreed on one important thing: “It is often said that the typical end of discussion between two professors is: we need more research,” Becker said.

The often funny discussion drew a good-sized audience. “I thought it was a lot of fun. It was interesting because I had read about most of these topics on their blog and in their book. It was interesting to see how their opinions have evolved and how they changed when expressed verbally,” first-year David McDiarmid said.

The talk was hosted by the Chicago Society.