Oliver E. Williamson

Oliver E. Williamson
Williamson in 2009
Born Oliver Eaton Williamson
(1932-09-27) September 27, 1932
Superior, Wisconsin
Nationality United States
Institution University of California, Berkeley
Yale University
University of Pennsylvania
Field Microeconomics
School or
New Institutional Economics
Alma mater Carnegie Mellon, (Ph.D. 1963)
Stanford, (MBA 1960)
MIT, (B.Sc 1955)
Influences Chester Barnard
Ronald Coase
Richard Cyert
Ian Roderick Macneil
Herbert A. Simon
John R. Commons

John von Neumann Award (1999)

Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2009)
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

Oliver Eaton Williamson (born September 27, 1932) is an American economist, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and recipient of the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, which he shared with Elinor Ostrom.[1]


A student of Ronald Coase, Herbert A. Simon and Richard Cyert, he specializes in transaction cost economics. Williamson attended Central High School in Superior, Wisconsin.[2] He received his B.S. in management from the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1955, MBA from Stanford University in 1960, and his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University in 1963. From 1965 to 1983 he was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and from 1983 to 1988, Gordon B. Tweedy Professor of Economics of Law and Organization at Yale University. He has held professorships in business administration, economics, and law at the University of California, Berkeley since 1988 and is the Edgar F. Kaiser Professor Emeritus at the Haas School of Business.[3] As a Fulbright Distinguished Chair, in 1999 he taught Economics at the University of Siena.

Found to be one of the most cited authors in the social sciences,[4] in 2009, he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for "his analysis of economic governance, especially the boundaries of the firm",[5] sharing it with Elinor Ostrom.


By drawing attention at a high theoretical level to equivalences and differences between market and non-market decision-making, management and service provision, Williamson has been influential in the 1980s and 1990s debates on the boundaries between the public and private sectors.

His focus on the costs of transactions has led Williamson to distinguish between repeated case-by-case bargaining on the one hand and relationship-specific contracts on the other. For example, the repeated purchasing of coal from a spot market to meet the daily or weekly needs of an electric utility would represent case-by-case bargaining. But over time, the utility is likely to form ongoing relationships with a specific supplier, and the economics of the relationship-specific dealings will be importantly different, he has argued.

Other economists have tested Williamson's transaction-cost theories in empirical contexts. One important example is a paper by Paul L. Joskow, "Contract Duration and Relationship-Specific Investments: Empirical Evidence from Coal Markets", in American Economic Review, March 1987. The incomplete contracts approach to the theory of the firm and corporate finance is partly based on the work of Williamson and Coase.[6]

Williamson is credited with the development of the term "information impactedness", which applies in situations in which it is difficult to ascertain the costs to information. As he explains in Markets and Hierarchies, it exists "mainly because of uncertainty and opportunism, though bounded rationality is involved as well. It exists when true underlying circumstances relevant to the transaction, or related set of transactions, are known to one or more parties but cannot be costlessly discerned by or displayed for others".

Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences

In 2009, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited Williamson and Elinor Ostrom to share the 10-million Swedish kronor (£910,000; $1.44 million) prize "for his analysis of economic governance, especially the boundaries of the firm".[7] Williamson, in the BBC's paraphrase of the academy's reasoning, "developed a theory where business firms served as structures for conflict resolution".[8]

Awards and fellowships

Selected papers


  • Williamson, Oliver E. (1983). Markets and Hierarchies: Analysis and Antitrust Implications. New York: Macmillan Publishers. ISBN 0029353602. 
  • Williamson, Oliver E. (1985). The Economic Institutions of Capitalism. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 9780029348208. 
  • Williamson, Oliver E. (1989). Antitrust Economics. Basil Blackwell. ISBN 9780631171829. 
  • Williamson, Oliver E. (1990). Economic Organization. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 9780814792407. 
  • Williamson, Oliver E. (1991). The Nature of the Firm. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195065909. 
  • Williamson, Oliver E. (1995). Organization Theory: From Chester Barnard to the Present and Beyond. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195098303. 
  • Williamson, Oliver E. (1996). The Mechanisms of Governance. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195078241. 
  • Williamson, Oliver E. (1996). Industrial Organization. USA: Elgar Pub. ISBN 9781858984889. 

See also


  1. "Nobel Prizes 2009". www.nobelprize.org. Retrieved 2018-02-28.
  2. "Five Individuals, 1952 Cathedral Football Team Among 2010 HOF Inductees". Superior Telegram. February 11, 2010.
  3. "Curriculum Vitae of Oliver E. Williamson". University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2009-10-17.
  4. Pessali, Huascar F. (2006). "The rhetoric of Oliver Williamson's transaction cost economics". Journal of Institutional Economics. 2 (1): 45–65. doi:10.1017/S1744137405000238. ISSN 1744-1382.
  5. Sveriges Riksbank's Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2009. Sveriges Riksbank. 12 October 2009. Archived from the original on 17 October 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-12..
  6. Hart, Oliver, (1995), Firms, Contracts, and Financial Structure. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-828881-6.
  7. https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/2009/williamson-facts.html Retrieved May-05-21
  8. Special Issue of Journal of Retailing in Honor of The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2009 to Oliver E. Williamson, Volume 86, Issue 3, pp. 209–290 (September 2010). Edited by Arne Nygaard and Robert Dahlstrom

From the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley:

From the University of California, Berkeley:

In The News:

Preceded by
Paul Krugman
Laureate of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics
Served alongside: Elinor Ostrom
Succeeded by
Peter A. Diamond
Dale T. Mortensen
Christopher A. Pissarides
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