RIP David M. Grether

RIP David M. Grether

 I have only just now learned that Dave Grether died on Sept. 12 of causes unreported at age 82. He was an emeritus prof of econ at Cal Tech.  He received his PhD in 1969 from Stanford in econometrics. He soon was at Cal Tech where he spent the rest of his career, soon becoming an early figure in experimental economics, co-authoring papers with a colleague, Charles Plott, whom many think should have shared the Nobel Prize with Vernon Smith for founding experimental economics. Dave’s most famous paper was with Plott in 1979 in the AER on preference reversals, an anomaly in which people are seen to violate a standard axiom of rational preferences in economic theory, although they found that if people redo the experiment numerous times they tend to start behaving more like economic theory predicts. Cal Tech has since then been a leading location for experimental economics and still is.

Dave is perhaps less well known than some others partly because he moved heavily into administration. Cal Tech does not have a separate econ department, with it in a Social Sciences School. He served as its Director for a substantial period, and then would become Chair of the Humanities and Social Sciences Division, with him being widely praised in both of those positions. This latter position reflected that he had a very broad knowledge and view of things, apparently having a fully scholarly knowledge of history. Part of why Cal Tech became and remains a top location for experimental economics reflects his efforts in those positions.

I came to know him because another thing he did was to become a coeditor of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization (JEBO), the coeditor largely in charge of handling papers on experimental economics, with JEBO a leading outlet for such papers.  He was appointed to that position by the journal’s founder, the late Dick Day, who just died a few months ago also. I edited the journal from 2001-2010, with Dave staying on as that coeditor until about two years before I stepped aside. I came to both respect him and also like him a lot, a very open-minded and wise person.

One thing he played a major role in was playing the key role in getting the first paper on field experiments by John List and Jason Shogren, a professor of his at U. of Wyoming where he got his PhD. At the time John was basically an unknown, although now he is at the U. of Chicago and widely viewed as near certain to get his own Nobel basically for publishing that paper. At a conference honoring Dave Grether, an organizer managed to inveigle a leading advocate of lab experiments to engage in unpleasant criticism of John, that being at a time when the field experimentalists were challenging the lab folks for getting funding support from NSF for their experiments. John was put on a hot seat, from where he handled himself well.  But Dave was upset about this and went behind the scenes to make peace between the parties. He was that kind of guy.

Anyway, I am sorry to learn that he has passed, someone who played a more important role behind a lot of scenes than many realized. I shall miss him.

Barkley Rosser