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Aaron Director, 102; Influential Scholar Blended Law, Economics

September 15, 2004|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Aaron Director, a University of Chicago scholar who influenced scores of legal minds through his work joining the fields of law and economics, has died. He was 102.

Director died Saturday at his retirement home in Los Altos Hills, Calif., the university announced Monday. The cause of death was not reported.

A passionate defender of free markets, Director was among the first U.S. scholars to apply the principles of economics to legal reasoning. As a combined field, law and economics attempts to apply the scientific methods of economics -- including statistics and price theory -- to behaviors that previously had been analyzed solely by appeal to the history and intuitions of the law.

Director is credited with influencing some of the leading legal minds in the country. His former students include federal appellate court Justice Richard Posner and former solicitor general and onetime Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork.

"Aaron Director's strength as a scholar was a remorseless logic and absolute intellectual integrity," Bork said. "Though he chose to publish little, his teaching, beginning with the economics of antitrust, made him a seminal figure in launching the law and economics movement, which has transformed wide areas of legal scholarship."

Director was born in 1901 in what is now Ukraine and immigrated with his family to the United States in 1913, settling in Portland, Ore. He edited the school yearbook in high school and planned on becoming a newspaper editor.

He went to Yale University on a scholarship, along with his friend Mark Rothko, the painter. Director graduated from Yale in three years and worked his way around the world doing a variety of manual jobs. He eventually returned to Portland, where he taught briefly at a local college before entering the University of Chicago's law school.

During World War II, Director held positions in the War Department and the Commerce Department.

Director returned to the University of Chicago in 1946 as a faculty member. He and fellow professor Edward Levi, who would later serve as president of the university and U.S. attorney general, developed an unprecedented method for applying economic analysis to legal theory.

"Aaron Director was first and foremost a teacher of teachers," said Douglas Baird, a professor and former dean of the University of Chicago Law School. "Take any course in antitrust or turn to any law review and what you encounter are the ideas and insights Aaron Director and Edward Levi debated in the classroom in the 1950s."

Although best known as a teacher, Director co-wrote the influential 1931 book "The Problem of Underemployment," with Paul Douglas. In 1958, Director founded the Journal of Law and Economics.

Although he retired and moved to California in 1965, Director continued teaching at the University of Chicago's law school. He was also affiliated with the Hoover Institution. He also taught economics at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and Howard University.

"Aaron was someone who by his personality as much as anything was able to make this great difference in the way that people looked at the law, even influencing people whose views were greatly different than his own," said Nobel laureate in economics Ronald Coase, who was a colleague of Director's at the University of Chicago

Director is survived by a sister, Rose Director Friedman of San Francisco. She is the wife of Nobel laureate in economics Milton Friedman.

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