Aaron Director, an economist whose influence is underappreciated but difficult to exaggerate, died last weekend at the age of 102. Here is a snip from a commemoration at the University of Chicago:
[I]t was his appointment to the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School in 1946 that marked the beginning of his greatest influence. With fellow faculty member Henry Simons, Director first began to apply the principles of economics to legal reasoning, eventually training generations of law students and even his colleagues on the faculty in this then-new way of thinking about the law. His many students and colleagues, including future Federal Judges Richard Posner, Robert Bork and Frank Easterbrook, spread his ideas further, creating what has been called "the greatest innovation in legal thinking since the adoption of the case method."
"Aaron Director was first and foremost a teacher of teachers," said Douglas Baird, Professor and former Dean of the University of Chicago Law School. "Take any course in antitrust or turn to any law review and what you encounter are the ideas and insights Aaron Director and Edward Levi debated in the classroom in the 1950s."
Director’s own publications were modest in number, but his contributions to his colleagues’ thinking were considerable. University of Chicago colleague and future Nobel laureate, the late George Stigler often said, "most of Aaron’s articles have been published under the names of his colleagues."
A considerable amount of knowledge is transferred among scholars not in print, but through an "oral tradition." Director is a perfect example of this, for his influence came not through his published work, but through civil argument with his colleagues. I came to know of Director in the same way during graduate school at the University of Washington. Director had many champions there, including John McGee, who loved to tell a tale. One of his favorites was about the Chicago faculty's initial reluctance to accept the Coase theorem, an issue that was resolved through argument at a post-seminar dinner at Director's house.
Appreciations have already appeared at Atlantic Blog, whose author is a Chicago graduate and fellow UW Ph.D., Cafe Hayek, which includes a note on Director's influence on McGee, and Marginal Revolution. We all share a debt to Director's "absolute intellectual integrity," and his willingness to clarify and shape the ideas of others.