Harold Demsetz, UCLA Professor of Economics since 1971, died on January 4, 2019 at the age of 88. A grandchild of immigrants from eastern Europe, Harold grew up in a poor neighborhood on the west side of Chicago, where he met his surviving and loving wife Rita. He originally attended forestry school at the University of Washington but, as he described it, returned home after he got lost because the rule of looking at the side of the tree moss grows on for directions sent him around in circles. He had no such problems with economics, where he was able to navigate with ease through difficult issues.
When he ultimately decided to return to live on the West Coast by accepting a position at UCLA the department was at the forefront of price theory that, rather than formal analysis, focused on questions of how alternative property rights and institutional arrangements affected competitive behavior and market outcomes. Harold was a major intellectual force in this tradition.
When he was named a Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association in 2013 he was described as “one of the most creative and deep microeconomists of the 20th century.” The fact that Harold was at UCLA had the effect of moving the department to the center of research on these issues. His continual penetrating and insightful comments at workshops forced everyone, both faculty and students, to think in fundamental economic terms. When visiting with him a number of months ago he still wanted to talk about economics and had retained his sharpness. Harold was a treasured friend and colleague for over 40 years and I will surely miss him.