My special gift to Ronald Coase for his 99th birthday

In some sense, my “gift” to Prof. Ronald Coase for his 99th birthday is “special”. More on this later.

For the last 20+ years of my life, many of my thinking has been shaped and influenced by Coase, and yet I have not met him in person. Of course, how much have I actually learned or understood remains a mystery. (big smile) Allow me to share two stories.

I remember some years ago during the first year of my MBA program, somehow the topic of lighthouse came up. And I, quite off-handedly, mentioned to my classmate (he majored in economics, and I majored in computer science) that lighthouse is usually given as an example of a public good but this categorization is actually wrong.

Well, to my surprise, my classmate insisted that, “No no no. Lighthouse is a public good and you cannot charge any money for the use of it.” After a minute or so of discussion, we got back to our schoolwork. To me, from that moment on, I realized I was lucky to have some special insights. I’ve learned Coase’s ideas, including those in “The Lighthouse in Economics” via Prof. Steven Cheung‘s articles in Chinese when I was attending high school in Hong Kong. I have learned the importance in asking questions. And try not to take things/”established facts” for granted.

In yet another MBA class, this time an ethics class. The professor asked a simple question, something like, “Why do we have ‘company’/’corporation’?” In hope to lead to some discussions about ethics (well, it was an ethics course after all). What my professor didn’t expect was me raising my hand and answered, “To reduce transaction cost.” :)

Now, without further delay, allow me to present my “special” and virtual gift to Prof. Coase. Wishing Prof. Coase a very happy 99th birthday (in advance) and good health for many more years to come.

My “special” “gift”

This gift is “special” because I think the best gift to give to someone like Prof. Coase, who has everything he needs in the world and likely every material thing he wants, is to “pay it forward“. Prof. Coase himself doesn’t really benefit from the gift itself, it is the people who may learn from Prof. Coase that are benefitting. So I am “paying it forward” or “gifting” forward.

As you may know, the wonderfully insightful (and often humorous) 2003 Coase Lecture was delivered by Prof. Coase himself. And the full lecture has been available online via Coase Institute for free download and viewing for some time now. Unfortunately, unless the person has an extremely fast internet connection and have patient to wait for an hour or two or more, downloading the 525MB quicktime video file (this is very big) can still be quite a challenge. And for those that have slower regular internet access, viewing the lecture is practically impossible.

So as a “special” gift to Prof. Coase for his 99th birthday, I have taken the initiative and spent most of the night (well, actually last night and now well into the wee hours) to compress and upload the video onto YouTube.

This “gift” is “special” also because I’ve bent quite a few rules. Since this is a gift for Prof. Coase’s 99th birthday, I hope the “deciders” don’t mind and will let me give this “gift”. :)

Hope you enjoy the 2003 Coase Lecture (in 6 parts).

note: Videos on YouTube can be viewed around the world even with slow internet connections.And I’ve divided the video into 6 parts, partly because of the length limitation I’ve to work with, partly because it also allows viewers to watch different segments of the speech repeatedly to further their understanding if they wish.

4 Responses to My special gift to Ronald Coase for his 99th birthday

  1. […] 送給九十九歲高斯的特別生日禮物 送給九十九歲高斯的特別生日禮物 (英文版) […]

  2. andreaskluth says:

    That’s a very special gift indeed. the more lectures, especially great lectures, are uploaded by connoisseurs such as you the better for posterity.

    What a great example of British humor, not to mention intellect, Coase is.

  3. kempton says:


    Thanks for your kind words. It means a lot coming from someone like you, a reporter from The Economist, who knows and appreciates Coase.

    I want to see great ideas be appreciated by as many people as possible. (I hope the “deciders” feel the same. :)

    Right, the British humour. The intellect. The humility (giving credit to a student for a key idea in the FCC paper). And the encouragement he tries to give to students in thinking on their own, ignoring their elders, and working with their peers.

    I re-watched the lecture twice last night and still learned something. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched the speech now.

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