Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Suzanne Scotchmer (1950-2013)

Suzanne Scotchmer, an economics and law professor at Berkeley, recently passed away. From Brad DeLong, here is the note sent out to the Berkeley Law community. An excerpt:
"Suzanne was particularly inspirational as one of very few women writing in the field of theoretical economics. Friends, colleagues and students across the campus and across her disciplines shared a deep appreciation for Suzanne's tirelessly creative mind, her enthusiasm for intellectual engagement at the highest level, and her preternatural ability to see to the heart of a complex problem immediately and describe it with clarity and insight."
The Toulouse School of Economics, where Scotchmer sat on the Scientific Council since 2007, also wrote a very nice tribute.

Joshua Gans leaves a summary of Scotchmer's work in innovation economics. Gans' article also includes some moving recollections of Scotchmer from her former student Neil Gandal. Another of Scotchmer's former students, Diane Coyle, was a graduate student at Harvard in the early 1980s when Scotchmer was there as an assistant professor. Coyle writes, "Then, as now, economics was very male-dominated and it was unspeakably encouraging to have a female role model who was highly supportive of students – and a normal human being too, warm, funny, with outside interests."

In addition to her work in innovation economics and patent law, Scotchmer made numerous contributions in mathematical economics, game theory, and public finance. In one interesting paper, "On the Evolution of Attitudes towards Risk in Winner-Take-All Games" (1999) with Eddie Dekel, she studies endogenous preference formation:
"Economists typically take preferences as given. This sets them apart from other social scientists, such as psychologists, who often try to explain preferences. In this paper we explore an evolutionary model where preferences, in particular attitudes toward risk, are endogenously determined."
In another paper, "The short-run and long-run benefits of environmental improvement," she suggests a technique for calculating the social value of nonmarginal improvements to social goods such as environmental improvement. Another interesting paper is "Risk taking and gender in hierarchies" (2008), which sheds some light on the controversy about gender differentials labor market outcomes. Suzanne Scotchmer left a tremendous intellectual and personal legacy and will be greatly missed.

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