We are saddened to note the death of Professor Yair Mundlak, one of our department’s most distinguished graduates and one of the leaders of the field of agricultural economics. He completed his M.S. in statistics at Berkeley in 1956, and his Ph.D. in agricultural economics in 1957.
Upon completion of his graduate training, Yair returned to Israel as an associate professor of agricultural economics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1970 he was promoted to full professor and appointed to the Ruth-Hochberg Chair in Agricultural Economics. Between 1965 and 1973, he headed the Department of Agricultural Economics, and from 1972-1974 served as the Dean of the School of Agriculture.
In addition to his academic appointments in Israel, from 1978 until his retirement in 1997, Yair also served as a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago, where he held the F.H. Prinze Chair in Economics.
Yair was most focused on agricultural production, economic growth, and econometrics. He was a great mentor, institution builder and pioneer in our field. Several members of our department offered to write personal remembrances of Yair, and I’m happy to include these below. We offer our sincere condolences to Yair’s family. He played an important role in our department and our profession, and he will be greatly missed.
Yair was one of our most distinguished alumni who kept in close contact with the department over the years and offered our ARE 200A several times. His work on the estimation of production functions and of systems of supply and demand was pioneering in addressing issues of identification. It appeared in numerous papers in Econometrica and other top economic journals. Along with George Kuznets, Ivan Lee, Jim Boles, and Irving Hoch he helped establish Giannini Hall as a hub of advanced econometric analysis and computational power on the Berkeley campus.
If you read John Kenneth Galbraith’s (another of our distinguished alumni) novel, The Tenured Professor, you will see how economics students were walking down to Giannini Hall to learn econometrics from the ARE professors. This is a generation that we should not forget as they helped place the Department on the map of top applied economics programs in the country. Yair was a terrific role model. We owe him much for what we are today.
Alain de Janvry
Yair Mundlak invited me to teach his agricultural economics course for one quarter at the University of Chicago around 1992. He was a gracious host, strongly encouraging innovative research that made sense and made a difference - the kind he produced himself. When I was at Chicago he was working on his book, Agriculture and Economic Growth; Theory and Measurement. I still use a chapter of this in my graduate course. I respect him greatly as a leading economic researcher, innovator of empirical methods, and friend.
We shall all miss him.
Yair Mundlak was one of my dissertation advisors at Chicago. He was not only a great economist and econometrician, but I also found him to be invariably warm, encouraging and helpful, something not even a great fan of Chicago economics would claim to be true of most of their faculty!
Among other encouragements he shared with me was the idea that Berkeley ARE might be a pretty good place to be an economist.
In addition to being a great economist and econometrician, Yair was a great institution builder. He came to Davis after the Israeli war of independence to study agriculture, then realized the beauty of economics, in particular the economics of agriculture, and moved to Berkeley to get his PhD.
After receiving his Berkeley PhD, Yair returned to Israel and built a top-notch department of agricultural economics almost from scratch. The old guard there was not quantitative, and as a young faculty member he changed the culture of the department and encouraged promising students to go abroad, especially to Berkeley and Chicago, and then return to the department in Israel. His friend, the late Pinhas Zusman, another graduate of our department, became a giant of agricultural economics on his own. Then there are Yoav Kislev, Assaf Razin, Eithan Hochman, Uri Regev, Ayal Kimhi and Yacov Tsur. All excellent economists, the last three are ARE graduates following in Yair’s footsteps. One of the biggest challenges in academia is to build new centers of excellence, especially in developing countries. Israel of the early 1960s was indeed a developing country, and Yair did a masterful job building the foundation for excellence in agricultural economics.
Yair served as chair and of his department and the dean of the School of Agriculture at the Hebrew University for a while, but he was mostly an excellent researcher. After his retirement in Israel he moved to the University of Chicago where for a while he joined D. Gale Johnson in maintaining a top agricultural economics program. Future leaders in the field including John Antle and Doug Larson were among his best students from that period.
Yair continued to be prolific as a researcher almost until the end. He developed a new approach to quantitative modeling of technological change in agriculture, including processes of technology switching and adoption. He applied his dynamic modeling to analyze agricultural economic growth in several countries- including Thailand, Philippine, Indonesia and Argentina. I find his 2005 paper “Economic Growth: Lessons from Two Centuries of American Agriculture" published in the Journal of Economic Literature to be his masterpiece.
Yair will be remembered and missed.
Over the years I developed much respect and admiration for Yair Mundlak. My first introduction to Yair was reading his Ph.D. dissertation, which I regard as one of the top five dissertations ever written by one of our Ph.D. students. Another top five dissertation was written by Pinhas Zusman and was published shortly thereafter in Econometrica (“An Investigation of the Dynamic Stability and Stationary States of the United States Potato Market”). A surprising fact is that Yair was a mentor of Zusman and strongly recommended that he come to Berkeley for his Ph.D.
I first met Yair when I arrived on the faculty at Harvard University. He was visiting the Economics Department and working closely with two giants of our profession, Zvi Griliches at Harvard and Dan McFadden at MIT. Yair and I began two econometric papers that were ultimately published after he returned to Hebrew University. We all learn from our co-authors, but Yair was special. He taught me the real meaning of the Leonardo da Vinci quote, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” One fact that few people know is that before Yair arrived at Harvard during the 1960s, he built one of the best, if not the best, Department of Agricultural Economics in the world at Hebrew University. He also served as Dean of its College of Agriculture at Rehovot.
In one of my stints as an editor, Yair had submitted a paper to the Journal of the American Statistical Association, which the reviewers had rejected. Yair engaged in educating not only the two reviewers, but me as well. The paper was ultimately accepted and won a merit American Statistical Association award. While at Harvard, we jointly taught a Statistical Decision Theory class. His insights and common sense were “a breath of fresh air.” Later, in 1978, he asked me to be a visiting professor at Hebrew University, and once again I had the opportunity to learn from Yair, living in his Rehovot house with my three children, and spending much time with him and his family at his vacation home on the Sea of Galilee. When I arrived in Berkeley and shortly thereafter became chairman of our department (declining at the time), for six years my most trusted advisor on critical decisions that our department faced was Yair Mundlak. He cared intensely about our department and was always readily prepared to offer his advice and counsel. For much of this time, he was a member of the economics faculty at University of Chicago and frequently had me and others from our department present seminars in the Agricultural Economics Workshop, a workshop that he revitalized following the death of Nobel laureate, T. W. Schultz. Later, when we set up the Institute for Policy Reform in Washington, DC (1990), I placed Yair on the Board of Directors along with Al Harberger, Anne Krueger, Vern Ruttan, Martin Baily, Mancur Olson and Ron McKinnon, all giants in their own right. Without question, the most insightful comments and strategic directions were offered by Yair. His wisdom was such a pleasure to observe.
When David Zilberman and I co-sponsored his prefatory article for the Annual Reviews of Resource Economics, I sent the article out to two Nobel Prize winners for their review and evaluation. One of them, James Heckman, was struck by the breadth of Yair’s research accomplishments. As a result, Heckman led an effort to prepare a nomination of Yair for the Noble Prize. Dan McFadden was very supportive of this nomination. Some years earlier, Yair had asked me to prepare a nomination for the Israeli prize. I’ve never been more engaged or supportive of any recommendation or nomination letter prepared over the course of my entire career. It may in fact be the best nomination proposal that I’ve ever written. This is because Yair was not only an intellectual giant, but among the best people that I or many of us have ever known.