A Case of Mistaken Identity: George Stigler, 'The Problem of Social Cost,' and the Coase Theorem

51 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2010

See all articles by Steven G. Medema

Steven G. Medema

Duke University - Department of Economics

Date Written: July 29, 2010


“The Problem of Social Cost” is rightly credited with helping to launch the economic analysis of law. George Stigler plays a central role in the professional receipt of Coase's work and, in particular, of the Coase theorem. While Coase's negotiation result was taken up in the scholarly literature not long after the publication of “The Problem of Social Cost,” it was Stigler who gave the theorem its name and introduced it to scores of readers in The Theory of Price (1966). His remaking of Coase's idea into a “theorem” had significant rhetorical force, which, combined with the challenge that it pose to received thinking about externality problems both lent credibility to the idea and made it a force to be reckoned with. The present paper analyzes Stigler's various commentaries on the Coase theorem with a view to getting at both how Stigler understood the theorem and its import and why he exhibited such a fascination with it over the last thirty years of his life.

Keywords: Coase theorem, Coase, Stigler

JEL Classification: A12, B2, B31, D62, K0

Suggested Citation

Medema, Steven G., A Case of Mistaken Identity: George Stigler, 'The Problem of Social Cost,' and the Coase Theorem (July 29, 2010). European Journal of Law and Economics, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1650649 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1650649

Steven G. Medema (Contact Author)

Duke University - Department of Economics ( email )

213 Social Sciences Building
Box 90097
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

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