Wednesday, August 5, 2020
By virtually any measure, Oliver Williamson has been one of the most influential scholars in the economic organization and institutions. He is widely credited (including by Ronald Coase himself) with rescuing transaction cost economics from its tautological origins by showing how the advantages and liabilities of alternative organizational arrangements could be related to features of transactions in a way that allowed refutable hypotheses to be generated and tested. In doing so, Williamson opened the door to the systematic investigation of a host of organizational problems that had previously resisted economic analysis. Though firmly rooted in economics, Williamson’s scholarship drew on and had a tremendous influence on law, political science, and organization theory. Indeed, there is hardly a niche in the social sciences that has not been affected in some way by Williamson’s writings.
In this essay, I try to convey some of the personal and professional qualities of Oliver Williamson drawn from recollections of my relationship with him over the years.