Herb Gintis, 1940-2023

Herb Gintis, 1940-2023

Peter Dorman @ Econospeak

My dissertation chair, Herb Gintis, died yesterday in Northampton, Mass.  We didn’t stay in touch after I graduated—our interests and perspectives diverged—but I will always appreciate what he gave of himself at a difficult time in my life.

After my first dissertation went awry (don’t ask!), Herb, who had been on my committee, stepped in and helped me identify a new topic.  I had to learn a new set of tools, and he was patient as I stumbled through what I now recognize as elementary technical hurdles.  He even watched my kid on a couple of occasions, so I could have a few hours of freedom.  I’ve heard dissertation advisors don’t always do this!

I confess that our final session together was rocky.  At my dissertation defense I attacked my own work, and it was Herb who defended it.  He even had to convince me to publish the game theoretic modeling in a journal—I had become so embarrassed by it.  It was a terrible closure to a relationship for which I remain deeply grateful.  In recent years I had thought about contacting him again just to let him know how much his generosity meant to me, but I delayed….and now it’s too late.

So I’m taking this opportunity to say that, although Herb could be crusty—he had a reputation for this—he was also a true mensch.  He had an open mind and bottomless curiosity.  He rose to the top ranks in a field, evolutionary game theory, he didn’t take up seriously until middle age.  His intellectual partnership with Sam Bowles resulted in one of the most productive twosomes in the history of economics.  (Can you name any others?)

Here is Herb’s Wikipedia entry, and here is his website.  An impressive guy.