When Sherwin Rosen Stunned the Fifth World Congress of the Econometric Society


I remember hearing Sherwin Rosen speak to a good-sized auditorium of technical economists at a plenary session of the Fifth World Congress of the Econometric Society in 1985.[i]  Rosen was proceeding in his typically bemused style, when he suggested to the stunned audience that they might benefit from re-reading Alfred Marshall.  I remember him saying that there are some things in Marshall that we don’t talk about any more, but that we should still talk about.  I specifically remember him mentioning that Marshall had said that the success of the institution of contract depended on the correct expectation of a certain level of ethical behavior among the participants in the economy.  I wish I could remember the specifics better, but Rosen’s auditors were visibly dismayed, and I supposed that they were thinking something like:  ‘read Marshall?, here was the sad sight of a once proud theoretician, going soft and senile.’

[i]I remember a large auditorium-like venue for the session, but could not remember any other session details, so I dug out a copy of the program for the meetings.  The only plenary session participation listed for Rosen, was his serving as a discussant for Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmstrom’s “Theory of Contracts” paper, which was delivered on August 19, 1985 (see:  “Program . . .,” 1986, p. 471).  In searching through Rosen’s publications, I cannot find any evidence that his comment was ever published.  In an email response (email dated Nov. 19, 2006) to my inquiry, Bengt Holmstrom has replied:  “I know that his comment was not published.”

"Program of the Fifth World Congress of the Econometric Society.”  Econometrica 54, no. 2 (March 1986):  459-505.


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