On Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, Justin Wolfers is quoted comparing Becker to Marx :
"no economist since Marx has had such a profound impact across the social
sciences, transforming not just economics, but also sociology,
political science, criminology, demography and legal scholarship"
I want to compare them in another respect. Both championed different forms of Rabid Economism. Marx's economism was holist, Becker's individualist, but both forms are equally reductionist and equally imbecilic. Marx's materialism reduces the cultural, the political, the ethical to super-structural epiphenomena: all were just distorted reflections of the underlying reality of class struggle. Becker thinks all human agency simply consists of maximizing utility. For neither thinker do human beings have the ability to think and act "for the sake of the world," as Hannah Arendt would say. For each, we are deluding ourselves if we think that acting can ever be a matter of trying to get things right - to do what is called for, to believe what is warranted -independent of what our interests dictate. For both, in other words, the concept of disinterested action - including the disinterested pursuit of truth - is a snare and a delusion. Finally, in this latter respect, both systems of thought are self-undermining: neither can make sense of itself as a disinterested attempt to understand the human condition.
(I owe my appreciation of this parallel to Deirdre's McCloskey hilarious charcterization of Stigler as "the last vulgar Marxist.")