Celebrating the life of Dale Jorgenson
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Remembering Dale Jorgenson
In Memoriam: Dale W. Jorgenson, Samuel W. Morris University Professor, Emeritus 1933 - 2022
June 10, 2022
The Economics Department has been saddened by the passing of Dale W. Jorgenson, Samuel W. Morris University Research Professor, Emeritus. Dale was a giant among economists, who has conducted groundbreaking research on information technology and economic growth, energy and the environment, tax policy and investment behavior, and applied econometrics. He was awarded the prestigious John Bates Clark Medal by the American Economic Association in 1971 and served as President of the Association in 2000. He was honored with nine honorary doctorates and membership in the American Philosophical Society, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Jorgenson was a Founding Member of the Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy of the National Research Council in 1991 and served as Chairman of the Board from 1998 to 2006. Together with his wife Linda, Dale was a beloved member of our community for over 50 years and he will be greatly missed.
Statement from Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics and and the Chairman of the Department of Economics:
Dale Jorgenson, a giant among economists, died on June 8, 2022. Dale received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1959; his thesis advisor was Wassily Leontief. Dale’s first teaching job was at Berkeley, where he became a full professor in just four years, in 1963, when he was only age 30. Berkeley was the leading economics department in the creation of advanced mathematical methods of equilibrium theory and their implications for econometric measurement. In the hands of Dale and others, the marriage of these ideas and techniques was infused into the curriculum from the very beginning of the PhD program.
In the late 1960s the Harvard Economics Department realized that it needed to join Berkeley at the forefront of these advances. Under the guidance of former Berkeley faculty members Richard Caves and Henry Rosovsky, two of our department chairs who themselves had moved from Berkeley to Cambridge, Dale was recruited by Harvard in 1969.
Coming at about the same time as the hiring of Zvi Griliches and Kenneth Arrow, along with Marty Feldstein joining the department as an assistant professor, Dale’s arrival marked the beginning of a renaissance in Harvard Economics. The new faculty, all housed in the old department building at 1737 Cambridge Street, generated enormous excitement. Additionally, Dale brought the Berkeley first-year theory course with him, teaching it himself, where it instantaneously became a hallmark of Harvard’s program. At the same time, he played a leading role in Harvard’s graduate econometrics training and continued to do so for many years. In 2002, Dale was named a University Professor, Harvard’s highest faculty honor.
Dale served his term as Chairman of the Economics Department with his singular organizational skills and characteristic efficiency. Over decades he selflessly focused on identifying and recruiting the best scholars to Harvard. While he had strong views about the best ways to carry on economic research, he never imposed them and sought to recruit the best scholars, in many different traditions, to Harvard. The parties that he and his wife, Linda, hosted were, for decades, central touch points for not just Harvard, but the broader Cambridge economics community.
For over 50 years, he did path-breaking research that helped to transform our discipline. The focus of his applied work evolved over the ensuing decades, touching many areas of application, but its hallmark remained the integration of economic theory and econometrics, both at the highest level. He sits comfortably in the pantheon of Harvard’s greatest economists.
Dale’s early work dealt with the stability of dynamic systems, such as Leontief’s input-output structure, and the optimal replacement of failing equipment, including ballistic missiles. He published an important, early multi-sector growth model in 1961. In econometrics his earliest contributions are exemplified by his papers in the Journal of the American Statistical Association on the optimal form of correcting for seasonality and “multiple regression analysis of a Poisson process.” In 1966, his seminal “Rational Distributed Lag Functions,” was published in Econometrica. The common theme in this work is the adaptation of cutting-edge econometrics to the realities of the available data, while solving important real-world problems.
A classic and very well-known example of Dale’s early papers is his 1963 Capital Theory and Investment Behavior, which brought the empirical study of investment as a component of national income in line with the microeconomic theory of investment as a component of wealth accumulation. It demonstrates Dale’s vision of how statistics can be used within models that presume optimizing behavior. This paper used tools that Dale created to understand the time series of productivity as measured across diverse sectors of the US economy. The citation for the John Bates Clark medal that Dale won in 1971 notes that “he is preeminently a master of the territory between economics and statistics, where both have to be applied in the study of concrete problems.”
Over the next almost six decades, Dale’s work would continue to combine data and theory in new ways and with new applications in mind. In 1967, he collaborated with Zvi Griliches to provide “The Explanation of Productivity Change,” which sparked a lively debate about just how much of economic growth can be accounted for by properly measured growth in factors, and how much was due to technical progress. In the same year, he published his paper on “Tax Policy and Investment Behavior,” together with Bob Hall, his Berkeley undergraduate student. The connection between taxes, investment, and economic growth would also become a Jorgenson leitmotif.
In all his applied work Jorgenson was careful to let the data enlighten the analysis as much as possible. That meant not choosing functional forms which constrained the conclusions that the analysis could deliver – for example about the shares of different factors in the income generated. Thus, Dale was a pioneer in the use of flexible functional forms, such as the translog production function. In doing so, he made major contributions to the measurement of the distributional consequences of growth on income and wealth, and their resulting welfare changes.
Dale’s longevity as a major researcher was extraordinary, and he continued to provide a definitive voice on some of the most prominent issues in economic policy. He served as president of the American Economics Association in 2000 and in his 2001 Presidential address to the AEA (American Economic Association), he documented which parts of the information technology revolution did and did not matter for economic growth. Growth accounting would be a central theme of Dale’s research for decades, and he made the topic his own. Dale’s unflagging work on improving national accounts led to changes in various national statistical agencies’ accounting systems and to the development of the international KLEMS (capital, labor, energy, material, and services) datasets in forty countries. In The World Economy: Growth or Stagnation? (2016), research from the World KLEMS initiative facilitates international growth comparisons on productivity and economic growth, showing that world economic growth has accelerated during the twenty-first century and that rapid growth will continue. In 2018, "Production and Welfare: Progress in Economic Measurement," Journal of Economic Literature, reviews Innovative advances in the measurement of production and welfare globally using KLEMS data.
His work also encompassed the long-term impact of energy policy. In the 1980s, he developed a multisector econometric general equilibrium model to analyze environmental regulation. His work on energy and environmental policy continued with the publication of his 2014 book, Double Dividend, which quantified the climate and growth benefits of a carbon tax used to fund a decrease in capital taxes.
In 1992 Harvard established a university-wide effort on the environment. Dale recognized the importance of future economic growth in China to world-wide environmental change. He helped establish the China Project within this university-wide initiative and has been one of its leaders throughout the past 30 years. Through countless trips to East Asia, he established and fostered links with many Chinese scholars – relationships which continue to this day.
In 2018, his work on human capital was the focus of his keynote lecture at the 10th Annual Conference, at the China Center for Human Capital and Labor Market Research in Beijing. Here he presented the most elaborate implementation of his approach to investment in human capital for any country in the world.
In 2020, Dale’s work was honored by the publication of Measuring Economic Growth and Productivity, edited by Barbara Fraumeni, a collection of papers by 58 authors. Finally, a soon to be published essay by John Fernald provides a more detailed intellectual history of Dale’s many contributions than can be accomplished here.
Dale was an incredibly special thesis advisor. To be a “Dale Jorgenson student” was to be a lifetime member of a very elite corps. Many of his students are also his coauthors, and are coauthors of each other - productive relationships that continue to endure over the decades.
In recent years Dale devoted an increasing proportion of his teaching to undergraduate education. In 2010 he introduced a course on Growth and Crisis in the World Economy. Then he taught a course on the Rise of Asia and the World Economy, and, most recently, on the Impact of Covid-19 on the World Economy. His success with students was evident from the favorite professor honor given to him by two consecutive senior classes. He and his wife Linda were very frequently guests of Dale’s undergraduates at their House Faculty Dinners – events that they enjoyed greatly.
In all these ways Dale Jorgenson had a massive and enduring impact on the economics profession as a whole, and especially on the Harvard economics department. He will be greatly missed.