Nobel Laureate Shares his Career


Oliver WilliamsonNobel Prize winner Dr. Oliver Williamson presented a retrospective of his distinguished career in economics as a guest lecturer at James Madison University Nov. 14.

Williamson received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009 for his work in transaction cost economics, the cost of a product or service beyond the price. Williamson built on the work of Ronald Coase of the London School of Economics, who in the 1930s determined that there was a missing concept in economics – transaction cost.

Chronicling his career in economics, which he described as the most demanding of the social sciences, Williamson spoke fondly of his graduate student years at Carnegie Mellon University, where as a business student he discovered an interest in economics. There he combined his studies in economics and organizational theories.

After earning his doctoral degree, Williamson taught at the University of California at Berkeley for two years before moving to the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. In 1988, he returned to Berkeley, where he is a professor in the Graduate School and the Edgar F. Kaiser Professor Emeritus of Business, Economics and Law.

While at Penn, Williamson researched his most widely reproduced paper, “Transaction Cost Economics: The Governance of Contractual Relations.” His 1985 book, “The Economic Institutions of Capitalism: Firms, Markets, Relational Contracting,” is said to be the most frequently cited work in social science research.

Williamson related what he called “the anguish and joys of the Nobel Prize.” Throughout the 2000s, his name was annually considered in the running for the prestigious honor. In 2004, he told his Berkeley students that if he did not receive the prize with the next five years, he would not be a Nobel Prize winner. On Oct. 9, 2009, though, he received “The Call,” as he termed it, to join several Carnegie Mellon University colleagues in the august club.

“It was interesting to hear the progression he went through personally,” said Schyler Bogert, a senior majoring in economics who attended Williamson’s lecture. “The biggest insight I gained from his talk is how economics is a growing field in a lot of ways. Dr. Williamson’s area of expertise, transaction costs, is one in which people are making more discoveries about the little costs that go into microeconomic decision making.”

Williamson’s JMU appearance was sponsored by the JIN Lecture Series of the JMU College of Business and the Gilliam Center for Free Enterprise and Ethical Leadership.

Published: Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Last Updated: Monday, November 7, 2016

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