Friday, May 7, 2021

The Death of Dick Day

I learned a few days ago that Richard (Dick) Hollis Day died about a month ago.  There is no obit yet, so I do not have exact dates of birth or death, but communicating with an old mutual friend who knows his oldest son, apparently he succumbed to dementia and related problems that had him declining over the last several years at his home in Cambria, California.  He was born in 1933, but not sure of exact date, so he was either 87 or 88.  

Dick was somebody I think underappreciated by the economics profession who in my view played an important role on several fronts, both intellectually and in other ways. I shall note a prominent one of the latter being that he was he founding editor in 1981 of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization (JEBO), with me replacing him in that position in 2001 (lasting until end of 2010).  This "heterodox but respected" journal was very much his creation, and he published many papers that have since become highly respected although unpublishable in top journals back then.  The first in the first issue was one on new institutional economics by Nobelist Oliver Williamson and the second was the paper on mental accounting that was cited by the Nobel Committee when Richard Thaler received the prize.  It is the case that many ideas he championed back then have now become much more respectable, such as new institutional economics and behavioral and experimental economics, especially after the Nobel awards in 2001 and 2002 respectively for George Akerlof and Vernon Smith.

It was also a major outlet for papers on chaos theory, a matter he himself was an early student of in economics, as well as broader complexity economics and other topics still not fully accepted, such as more heterodox approaches to evolutionary economics and econophysics.  Papers on both Marxist economics as well as Austrian economics appeared in the journal.  Dick had a broad perspective and open mind.

His own life and career followed a non--orrthodox path, although he received some serious recognitions over the years.  Born in Iowa in 1933 he got a BS in General Science in 1955 from Iowa State and with an interest in agricultural economics and development economics probably his earlier (he was on the ed board of the Journal of Development Economics for many decades). He attended Harvard from 1955-58, receiving his PhD from there in 1961 on "Recursive Programming Models for Explaining Investment and Technological Change in Agricultural and Industrial Sectors." This was the base for his first of 4 books in 1963, published by North-Holland.

He served in the US Air Force 1958-62, and then was a special consultant for Richard Reuter iduring 1962, who was leading JFK's Food for Peace program.  In many ways his political and world view reflected his identification with a JFK view of the world, Keynesian in macroeconomics, but with a tendency to a pro-military and hawkish view of US foreign policy.  He was also a deep student of existentialism and always enjoyed standing out in most groups as not fully agreeing with anybody and holding to his positions.  This certainly helped him as he forged into uncharted territory in later years.

He was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1963-76, where I first got to know him.  He co-founded the Social Systems Research Institute there with Guy Orcutt, grandfather of recent JB Clark award winner, Emi Nakamura. In 1976 he moved to the University of Southern California, where he remained for the rest of his career, chairing the department for periods of time and also founding and leading for many years its Modeling Research Group.  There he met his second wife, Barbara, who would later be his Managing Editor at JEBO after he got it going.

In terms of ideas, besides recursive programming and simulation analysis, he was interested in disequilibrium models of economic growth.  This led him to publish early papers on chaos theory in economics and other complexity approaches to economics.  It was this interest that drew us together in the 1990s as I published on such matters, and he brought me on board to do various things at JEBO.  He also from an early time disagreed with fully rational models, admiring the bounded rationality/behavioral economics approach of Herbert Simon, who was on board at JEBO at its founding.

Besides that first book, and 9 edited volumes and 180 articles, I shall mention just three others.  One was an edited volume he produced in 1975 out of a conference he organized at the (Army) Mathematics Research Center, which had been bombed in 1970 when my late father directed it, coedited with Ted Groves. This volume, Adaptive Economic Models, Academic Press, contained papers by various economists who would later publish in the area of behavioral models of firm behavior as well as on complexity economics. The others are a two volume series he published in 1994 and 2000 at MIT Press, on Complex Economic Dynamics. These two, especially the first one, remain central to defining modern complexity dynamics, especially its dynamic type.  

I shall close with a curious anecdote.  He visited at many other places over the years, including MIT, Harvard, U. of Paris, Gottingen, U. of Siena, Athens, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton during 1979. It happens that during that year a large conference was held to honor the centennial of the birth of Albert Einstein.  Somehow I learned about it, and while driving from Harrisonburg to New York I stopped by there and just walked into it uninvited, arriving in time for the main event, a debate between Eugene Wigner and John Wheeler about the cosmological implications of black holes.  I saw Dick, the only person there I personally knew, and so stood with him to watch this heavy duty debate, as they had sharply contrasting views.  In any case, that he was there and for that shows the breadth of his interests. I am proud to have worked with him and shall miss him.

Barkley Rosser

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good remembrance - here is bio and CV: