Douglas North

I was very fortunate to have taken Theory of Property Rights from Douglas North, in the last class he taught at the University of Washington.  Even though it was an undergraduate course, it seemed to be triply stocked with grad students sitting in.

Outside of the intro principles courses, this course contained more insight than the all of the other economics courses that I have taken, undergraduate and graduate, combined.  

After 30+ years of not being immersed in Economics, here are the highlights I remember:

Ronald Coase's The Problem of Social Cost.

Coase's The Nature of the Firm (why aren't all economic transactions piecework).  As eye-opening in a "permanently change the way you look a the world" way as was the The Problem of Social Cost.  

Steven N. S. Cheung, who had originated the course and the UW before departing for riches in Hong Kong.  His thoughts on "Will China Go Capitalist" permanently changed my thinking on how governments work.  (His answer was yes, because China's governing class want to get rich, and socialism is a way for them to remain poor.)

Oliver Williamson's work on the contractual nature of the firm.  Along with Coase, Williamson showed how the boundaries of the firm is not nearly as sharp as one might think.  His approach provides the framework, for example, of understanding what Apple is doing when it hires other firms to manufacture chips and devices that it designs, and highlights the issues around that business arrangement.  (He also illustrates why it's not as sharply distinguishable from Apple buying and running the factories themselves as one might think.)

Hayek's Use of Knowledge in Society

The concept of property rights as a stream of expected utility.  

The cost of defining property rights as well as the benefits.  

I still have two binders of photocopied articles for the reading list for that class, despite my wife's intermittent poking at me to get rid of stuff I'll "never look at again."  The calss was just too great an experience for that.