Wednesday, October 17

Professor emeritus in economics, Armen Alchian, dies


Armen Alchian
Armen Alchian

Armen Alchian, a professor emeritus in economics known for his research of business relationships and firms, died Feb. 19 of natural causes. He was 98.

“He was the father of the modern-day economics department at UCLA, and set the future for it,” said John Riley, chair of the economics department who first met Alchian in 1973.

William Allen, a friend of Alchian’s for 61 years and a professor emeritus in the economics department, said the department went through a “golden age” from 1950 to 1980 because of Alchian’s presence and leadership in the department.

“This was the Alchian Age,” Allen said.

Alchian was not only influential in the economics department, but in the classroom as well, said Ed McDevitt, the department’s academic program coordinator and lecturer. He had Alchian as a professor in 1978 in a first-year graduate sequence course in microeconomics.

“He was an original thinker; he had an unconventional way of teaching his classes that got students to think like real economists,” McDevitt said.

Allen said Alchian often asked thought-provoking questions to capture his students’ attention during lectures.

“His motivation was to understand how the world works and how people behaved,” Allen said. “He used elementary analytics to explain economic concepts. This is where he was brilliant.”

He said one of the most popular questions Alchian would ask his students and answer in terms of economics was why there was not a market for babies.

His method of teaching encouraged faculty members to sit in on his lectures, Riley said.

Allen said Alchian conveyed his passion for economics not only through teaching, but through his writing. Alchian wrote many articles, essays and several textbooks on economics that are now considered as classics, Allen added.

Allen said he and a former student have been working for the past two years to rewrite one of Alchian’s textbooks in honor of Alchian.

Riley said he remembers looking at the Pacific Ocean from the window of Alchian’s office – his first interaction with Alchian.

The two ran up four flights of stairs to get a better view of Catalina Island, which can only be seen from Bunche Hall after a storm.

“This is how Alchian introduced me to UCLA; I felt I had passed my first UCLA test,” Riley said.

Alchian will be remembered most for his passion for economics, and his way of applying that passion to real-life events, Allen said.

“(Alchian) was not simply interested in how the world operates,” he said. “He was interested in how he could articulate and solve it.”

He is survived by his wife of 73 years, Pauline Alchian, his two children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A private event is planned for March 23 in the UCLA Faculty Center.

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