Friday, June 21, 2013

Robert W. Fogel, 1926-2013

Robert W. Fogel, a Nobel Prize-winning economic historian, died on June 11, 2013.  At the time of his death, at 86, he remained an active faculty member in the Department of Economics and at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. Fogel was the Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of American Institutions, director of the University of Chicago Center for Population Economics, and a faculty member of the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought. Perhaps best known for Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (1974, written with Stanley Engerman)—in which was collected and analyzed massive data showing that slavery was a far more profitable economic institution than had been previously thought—Fogel had already generated controversy among historians with his earlier work, Railroads and American Economic Growth: Essays in Econometric History (1964), in which he argued that the U.S. economy in the 1800s would have grown at the same rate, even if railroads had not existed. He was a pioneer in the application of quantitative methods to economic history, dubbed "cliometrics," and  in the development of the use of counterfactuals among historians.
    More recently, Fogel had  focused on, in his words, “the problem of creating and studying larger life-cycle and intergenerational data sets.” The result was many research papers, articles and books on the economics of aging. His most recent book is Political Arithmetic: Simon Kuznets and the Empirical Tradition in Economics (University of Chicago Press, 2013); Kuznets was Fogel's thesis adviser at Johns Hopkins.
    Obituaries abound; examples can be found in the New York Times, The Economist, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and at the University of Chicago. Sir Roderick Floud has also posted a substantive commentary on the EHS website.