The Passing of Oliver Williamson

By John de Figueiredo

Oliver Williamson passed away on May 21, 2020 in Berkeley, California.  He made a series of seminal contributions to the creation of the field of organizational and institutional economics.  Oliver recognized that because contracts are necessarily incomplete, numerous hazards might arise that would impede effective contracting.  When these hazards are sufficiently large, transactional markets will break down and require alternative, and sometimes elaborate, forms of governance, such as joint ventures, firms, and government institutions.  His ideas were codified in his theory of transaction cost economics and were applied across many disciplines in the social sciences.  Oliver was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1994 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009 for his contributions.  Oliver co-founded the Society for Institutional and Organizational Economics in 1997 (formerly known as the International Society for New Institutional Economics) with fellow Nobel Laureates Ronald Coase and Douglass North to deepen our understanding of organizations and institutions. Oliver was brilliant in his ideas, demanding in his expectations, munificent with his time, gentle in his critiques, and modest in his fame.  The Society mourns his passing.  In the next few days the Society will be posting a series of short essays honoring his contributions and life.