David R. Henderson  

George Hilton on Utility Regulation and Digestive Tracts

The Pigovian Minarchist Tax Fo... Monetary Policy: The more amb...

Shortly after economist George Hilton, who had taught me at UCLA, had died, I wrote a short remembrance. Another UCLA alum, Robert Helms, has sent me one more. Here it is:

When George got to the part of the course looking at public utility regulation, he would remind us that in unregulated markets the prices and market values of inputs were determined as a derived demand from the value that consumers put on the final product being produced (ie, the economics of factor markets). George would then explain that the procedure in public utility regulation of trying to determine the price of a product by adding up the costs of the inputs is, as George would say, "like trying to reverse the flow of the digestive tract."

I have a couple more to add, that have little to do with economics. One is total trivia; the other is about life.

George, learning that I was from Canada, asked me whom the McDonald-Cartier Freeway in Toronto was named after. I had not realized I was walking into a trap. I answered "Sir John A. Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada and Jacques Cartier, the 16th century French explorer, who claimed Canada for the French government." I think I smiled slightly, happy to have been thrown a softball. But I noticed Hilton beaming. "Why should he be so happy to have that answer?," I wondered. I soon found out.
"Right on Macdonald, wrong on Cartier," he said. "It's named after George-Etienne Cartier, one of the fathers of Confederation. So many Canadians get that wrong."

My guess is that Hilton said what I'm about to quote when I was fretting that I had made this or that career mistake. I used to do that a lot. Hilton said, "Never worry about the thing you didn't do, because if you had done it, you might have been hit by a truck."

Comments and Sharing

CATEGORIES: Obituaries , Regulation

COMMENTS (4 to date)
Tom West writes:

As a Canadian, I just learned something. Now to annoy my friend with his Masters in Canadian history :-) Thanks!

David R. Henderson writes:

@Tom West,
Yeah, right? To pull it off, Hilton style, you need to ask deadpan with a hint of curiosity, so that, like me, they won’t see you coming.

Tom West writes:
ThomasH writes:

"like trying to reverse the flow of the digestive tract." is a neat crack but why isn't the profit maximizing price of a good supplied by a monopolist just as much a reflection of supply as of demand? And if a regulator wants to fix the price doesn't she need to take both into account? It seems the digestive system has to flow both ways whatever the market structure.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top