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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Gary Becker

  • University of Chicago: Professor
  • Hoover Institution: Senior Fellow
  • Defense Policy Board: Former Member

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Gary Becker, the winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Economics, is a conservative writer and economist based at the University of Chicago and Stanford University's Hoover Institution. A well known proponent of reduced taxes and reduced government spending, Becker, who served on the Defense Policy Board in the Donald Rumsfeld Pentagon, has also championed an aggressive "war on terror" and the use of preemptive force against suspected terrorist targets. Becker has been associated with a number of rightist and neoconservative-led policy outfits, including the American Enterprise Institute, where he served on the council of academic advisers, and the Manhattan Institute, where he was member of the board of trustees.

In a December 2004 entry in his blog, the Becker-Posner Blog, which he coauthors with the conservative judge Richard Posner, Becker echoed the arguments of many proponents of the George W. Bush administration's "war on terror" that in an age of terrorism deterrence is no longer an adequate tool. Without citing any examples, Becker alleged that "it is becoming increasingly possible for terrorist organizations and governments to unleash biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons that will cause massive destruction." Thus, he argued, "the only really effective approach is to stop them before they engage in their attacks. This is accomplished by tracking them down and imprisoning or killing them based on evidence that they intend to engage in suicidal attacks. Those planning such acts can also be punished on the basis of intent. The same argument applies to dictators who are willing to use weapons of mass destruction to attack their enemies when they do not care if many of their populations are killed and maimed by retaliation from other countries."

More recently, in an August 2006 blog entry, Becker justified vigorous state surveillance of individual citizens in combating terrorism. He wrote: "Yes, I am skeptical of government since government actions are typically very inefficient and heavy-handed. Yet I support public police, a public armed forces, various regulations, and so on. In many areas even inefficient government actions are better than leaving them to the private sector alone. Terrorism is one of these important areas."

Why Becker, an economist with little experience in foreign and military policy, was chosen to serve on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board during the first Bush administration is a minor mystery. He was one of eight Hoover Institution fellows chosen to serve on the 31-member panel, which was heavily criticized during the first Bush administration because of the perceived conflicts of interests of its members, many of whom had strong ties to defense companies that stood to benefit from privileged information gleaned by board members (see "Advisers of Influence," Center for Public Integrity).

Becker's Nobel Prize was won, according to a Nobel Prize press release, for his efforts to extend "the domain of microeconomic analysis to a wide range of human behavior and interaction, including nonmarket behavior." According to the press release: "Gary Becker's research consists primarily of having extended the domain of economic theory to aspects of human behavior which had previously been dealt with—if at all—by other social science disciplines such as sociology, demography, and criminology. In so doing, he has stimulated economists to tackle new problems. ... Becker's applications of his basic model to different types of human behavior can be accounted for by distinguishing among four research areas: (i) investments in human capital; (ii) behavior of the family (or household), including distribution of work and allocation of time in the family; (iii) crime and punishment; and (iv) discrimination on the markets for labor and goods."

Describing his core economic views during a 1996 PBS interview, Becker said: "I think the main issue is government spending, and I would be willing to take a deficit if we can reduce government spending. I'm afraid we're going to mainly end the deficit by increasing taxes, rather than by cutting spending, and I think that will be a big mistake. ... I much prefer people to spend their own money their way than have the government spend the money for them the way they think it should be spent."

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Please note: IPS Right Web neither represents nor endorses any of the individuals or groups profiled on this site.


The Web Site of Gary Becker, University of Chicago, http://home.uchicago.edu/~gbecker/.

Hoover Institution Fellows: Gary Becker, http://www.hoover.org/bios/becker.html.

Gary Becker, "Preventive War—Becker," Becker-Posner Blog, December 5, 2004.

Gary Becker, "Response on Counteracting Terrorism—Becker," Becker-Posner Blog, August 20, 2006.

Gary Becker, 1992 Nobel Prize in Economics, Press Release, October 13, 1992, http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/1992/press.html.

Listing of Defense Policy Board members during Beckers' tenure, archived on the web site of the Federation of American Scientists, http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/dod/dpbmembers.html.

"Advisers of Influence," Center for Public Integrity, March 28, 2003, http://www.public-i.org/report.aspx?aid=91.

Nothing to Argue About," PBS, January 9, 1996.

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Gary Becker Résumé


  • Hoover Institution: Senior Fellow
  • University of Chicago: Lecturer in Law, University of Chicago Law School; Ford Foundation Visiting Professor of Economics, 1968-1969; Assistant Professor, 1954-1957; Recipient of Professional Achievement Award
  • Cato Institute: Member of Project Board, Project on Social Security Choice
  • American Economic Association: Distinguished Fellow, 1988; President, 1987; Recipient of John Bates Clark Medal
  • Manhattan Institute: Former Member, Board of Trustees
  • Mont Pelérin Society: Member; President, 1990-1992
  • National Academy of Education
  • Heartland Institute: Recipient of Liberty Prize, 2002
  • National Science Foundation: Recipient of National Medal of Science, 2000
  • Dole Presidential Campaign: Economic Policy Adviser, 1996
  • Liberální Institut: Recipient of Liberální Institut Annual Award, 1995
  • Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences: Recipient of Alfred Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, 1992
  • American Enterprise Institute: Council of Academic Advisers, 1989
  • Columbia University: Part-time Professor, 1957-1968
  • National Bureau of Economic Research: Researcher, 1957-1968
  • University of Michigan: Recipient of W.S. Woytinsky Award
  • National Institute of Health: Award of Merit
  • Government Service

  • Defense Policy Board: Former Member
  • Education

  • Princeton University: B.A., 1951
  • University of Chicago: M.A., 1953; Ph.D., 1955


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