Tag Archives: economists

Young Researcher Prefers Game Theory to Video Games

Post contributed by Elizabeth Dunn, Research Services Librarian

The Rubenstein Library’s Economists’ Papers Archive attracts numerous scholars from around the globe. This summer, it has also attracted one very special scholar: rising eighth grader Benjamin Knight. Nearly every day, he has been a quiet presence in our reading room, working his way diligently through boxes of our Oskar Morgenstern Papers.

Although we often welcome even very small children whose families make a pilgrimage to see our first edition Book of Mormon, Benjamin is the youngest serious researcher anyone can remember. Those of us on the Research Services staff found his interest in this important Austrian American economist intriguing. He was kind enough to take time out of his work to grant me an interview.

Photo of Benjamin Knight working with a box from the Oscar Morgenstern papers in the Rubenstein Library reading room.
Benjamin Knight in the Rubenstein Library reading room.
Photo by Elizabeth Dunn.

Asked how he became interested in Morgenstern, Benjamin replied that he had read an article about Von Neumann and Morgenstern. (The two economists overlapped at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton from 1938 until 1954. Morgenstern, an economist trained at the University of Vienna and influenced by Carl Menger, was grappling with the challenges of economic prediction. He knew John Von Neumann’s 1928 paper on the theory of games and the two collaborated on their influential 1944 book, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior.1) Benjamin was pleased to discover that we hold the Morgenstern Papers, and is using them to tease out the sources of Morgenstern’s key ideas: the University of Vienna or Princeton. More generally, he is interested in the application of game theory to the analysis of social interactions and political decision-making. Some of the Morgenstern documents are hand-written in German. Asked whether those were challenging, Benjamin replied that the handwriting is a little problematic, but translating the German, which he has never studied, is more difficult.

Benjamin has many other interests besides game theory. He represented Brazil (and, with partner Claire Thananopavarn, won Best Delegation) in the Eighth Annual Chapel Hill-Carrboro Middle School Model United Nations Conference in April. He was part of the Smith team at this year’s Middle School National Academic Quiz Championship Tournament and placed among the top twenty-five competitors in the 2017 Wake Technical Community College Regional State Math Contest. When not competing, Benjamin enjoys reading fiction, history, and politics.

Benjamin comes by his interest in social and political analysis naturally. His mother, cultural anthropologist Margaret “Lou” Brown, is Senior Research Scholar and Director of Programs at Duke University’s Forum for Scholars and Publics. His father Jack Knight is Frederic Cleaveland Professor of Law and Political Science and holds a joint appointment in Duke’s School of Law and Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Benjamin has not yet decided on a particular career path, but all of us in the Rubenstein are happy that he found us and look forward to following his continued successes.


  1. New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

In Memoriam – Professor Kenneth Arrow

Post contributed by Sara Seten Berghausen, Associate Curator of Collections

1972 telegram from Stockholm notifying Arrow that he’d been awarded the Nobel Prize.

Kenneth J. Arrow, Nobel-winning economist and professor emeritus at Stanford University, passed away last week at the age of 95. Arrow’s work had an impact not only in economics, but was influential in fields across the social sciences.

His extensive research, teaching and activism are documented in the Economists’ Papers Archive in Rubenstein Library, where Arrow’s professional papers are preserved and made available to researchers. His papers are some of the Archive’s most heavily used, and Arrow was always very responsive to researchers’ questions and supportive of their work.



An assignment completed by Arrow in fall 1939 in his Philosophy of Mathematics course


The Arrow papers document his work from his years as an undergraduate at City College of New York in late 1930s, through his graduate work at Columbia and the publication of his landmark book Social Choice and Individual Values in 1951, and includes research notes and extensive correspondence with other scholars from his later work in equilibrium theory, welfare theory, and as an advocate for addressing the hazards of global warming.



Milton Friedman Answers to Arthur Burns: Or, A Blog Post for Economics Geeks!

Finding a gem in a jumbled box of papers and images is always a fulfilling feeling, whether it be an arresting photograph, a revealing letter, or even a scrap of someone’s mundane—but relatable—life.  Of course, some of these gems are hidden and thus require a bit of searching before their worth can be noticed.  Much of this exploring was required with the gem I found in the Arthur F. Burns collection.

Arthur Burns was a notable 20th century economist and diplomat.  Among his achievements, he served as chief economic advisor to President Eisenhower; chaired the Federal Reserve under Nixon, Ford, and Carter; and represented the United States as ambassador to Germany under Reagan.  Because of his high stature in both academia and public service, Burns corresponded with dozens of notable figures in the mid-twentieth century, from the presidents he served to the economists with whom he worked.  This correspondence is a central component of the Arthur Burns papers in the Rubenstein Library, along with copies of Burns’ journals (1969-1974), photographs, and memorabilia.

As I processed an addition to the correspondence series of the collection, I came across some letters from Milton Friedman to Burns.  As an economist junkie, any chance to peek inside the mind of Friedman—a Nobel laureate and the father of monetarist economics—was more than worth my time.  Nevertheless, I expected only routine correspondence, for most of the letters seemed to comment only on personal matters.  But, boy, was I wrong!

Friedman (left) and Burns (right)

Within the second folder, I found what at first appeared to be only a routine letter between pals, dated February 1, 1951.  As I was about to put the letter aside, I noticed that near the bottom of the page Friedman jumped into defending his views, point by point, on the quantity theory of money in wartime.  After a bit of scrounging around the Internet, I discovered that the comments pertained to Friedman’s draft of “Price, Income, and Monetary Changes in Three Wartime Periods” (1952), which discusses the effects of war on prices and production in the American economy.

I was holding Friedman’s defense of his own work, a draft of which must have been previously critiqued by Burns.  So, as I read Friedman’s article and came up with my own disputes, I could look back at how he would respond.  For me, and for any researcher, this is a remarkable opportunity.  On top of this, it’s possible that Burns used some of this information to advise President Eisenhower during the Korean War.  With the extent of the correspondence between Burns and the President (206 letters in the collection), it’s possible that one may find some remnant of the above letter in Burns’s admonitions to Eisenhower.  That may be a hidden gem that requires more exploring!

Friedman Letter, page 1


Friedman Letter, page 2
Friedman Letter, page 3
Friedman Letter, page 4
Friedman Letter, page 5


Posted contributed by Levi Crews, Technical Services Department student assistant and a rising sophomore at Duke.

Bruno Foa’s Trip to Jerusalem

Portrait of Foa from the Bruno Foa Papers.

Bruno Foa (1905-1999) was an Italian-born, Jewish economist, lawyer, consultant, and professor. Educated in Italy as an economist and lawyer, Foa became Italy’s youngest full professor of economics at age 28. In 1937, he married Lisa Haimann, a refugee from Munich, and they moved to London in 1938. While in London, Foa worked for the British Broadcasting Company, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, and guest lectured at the London School of Economics. In 1940, Foa moved his family to the United States. He began work at Princeton University on a Rockefeller Foundation Grant and later moved to Washington D.C., where he worked for the Rockefeller Foundation, the Office of Inter-American Affairs, the Bureau of Latin American Affairs and the Federal Reserve Board.

We have recently re-processed the Bruno Foa Papers in order to enhance their description and access for researchers as part of the Economists Papers Project here at the Rubenstein Library. The papers include interesting details about his many trips abroad to Italy, Somalia, Spain, and the newly-established country of Israel. It is an added bonus when a collection we acquired for its relevance to the history of economics ends up including materials on other topics too–like mid-twentieth-century travel writings.

Souvenir postcard collected by Foa during his trip to Jerusalem.

During his life, Foa was invited several times to guest lecture at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His first trip was in 1946, just two years before Israel was declared a state. From his writings, Jerusalem seemed to be a city split between the struggles of the time and the echoes of the past. Foa writes, “Jerusalem is indeed an armed camp, and looks like a besieged place. Barbed wire–miles of it– is spread around all public buildings and throughout the city. Tanks and armored cars scout the streets day and night: one of them its Bren guns ready to fire, is permanently stationed at the center of Jaffa Road.” His letter then describes the resiliency of a people who have come to accept as normal daily bomb and landmine explosions, and the strain and tension developing between the Jewish and Arab populations.

But Foa also talks about the natural beauty of the city. From atop Mount Scopus, the view of the city seems to transcend the struggles going on below. “It is a stern view, since Jerusalem is built on stones (beautiful yellow stones) and is surrounded by rocky hills–yet it is a glorious view, when bathed by the warm Palestinian sunshine or the glory of the moon. There, on Mount Scopus, Titus and his legions stood, and from there laid siege to the city. There is the Valley of Final Judgement–as stern as death itself. On the other side, one can see the Jordan, the Dead Sea, the desert of Judaea and the mountains of Noab. Beauty, history and tragedy fill the air. It is a most unforgettable sight.” Bruno Foa’s writings allow us to take a step into the past and see Jerusalem as it stood nearly 70 years ago.

Post contributed by Vicki Eastman, a graduate student at Duke’s Center for the History of Political Economy.

Summer in the Archives with Oskar Morgenstern and Robert Solow

Summer in the Archives is a collaborative initiative of two institutions at Duke – the Center for the History of Political Economy and the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library — focusing on Rubenstein’s Economists’ Papers Project. It is based on joint work of Rubenstein’s staff and outside experts, who are often Ph.D. students in economics. The goal of Summer in the Archives is to improve the availability of the economists’ collections to the research community, as well as to allow young researchers to get hands-on experience with archival work.

Rubenstein Technical Services staff worked closely with myself and Crystal Wong, Ph.D. candidate at University of Washington. Our task was to improve description and organize the existing collections of distinguished economist Oskar Morgenstern and Nobel Prize winner Robert Solow. I would now like to share a couple of interesting “bits and pieces” that we came across while working with the collections.

Oskar Morgenstern

Oskar Morgenstern was born in today’s Austria and left his home country in the late 1930s to join Princeton University.  Among many other activities and contributions, Morgenstern was a co-founder of the Game Theory and an important force behind the rise of the Economics Department at NYU, which was one of his last projects before he lost his battle with cancer in the late 1970s.  The document that I want to bring the attention to is a 1950 letter from F.A. Hayek, another economist with Austrian roots, who received the Nobel Prize in 1974.

Economist Scandal: A letter from Hayek explaining his divorce. He went on to marry his cousin.

The letter is confidential and Hayek addresses it to his “Austrian friends in the U.S.,” listing five other addressees besides Morgenstern – Mises, Haberler, Furth, Machlup, and Schutz. In the letter, Hayek explains that he and his wife are separated because of the incompatibility of their characters. Hayek is taking the full blame for the separation and he also notes that his personal situation is related to his decision to move from London to the U.S. While other copies of the letter might still exist, I am not aware of them and it is possible that this is the only surviving copy. Whether that is the case or not, the letter certainly documents an interesting part of Hayek’s personal life – his divorce, his subsequent marriage to his cousin, and his related move from a comfortable professorial position at London School of Economics to the U.S.

Robert Solow

Crystal and I also spent a lot of time improving the description of the Robert Solow Papers’ correspondence series. One interesting exchange I found is from 1982, between Solow and Ronald Coase, another economics Nobel Prize winner. Both Solow and Coase put their finger on a critical issue of difference between social sciences and natural sciences.  It is no wonder, Coase says, that economists are so notoriously known for disagreeing with each other – an issue that was particularly noticeable during the recent economic crisis.  Unlike physicists, economists often cannot run controlled experiments and therefore cannot repeat such experiments to check conclusions of each-other’s research.  According to Coase, it is thereby much harder for economists to resolve their disagreements than it is for natural scientists.

The material that we went through is in many ways breathtaking. The quality and the quantity of thoughts and conversations in the collections lead an aspiring scholar towards humility. Indeed, greatness is hard to achieve; but there is no better inspiration than interaction with great minds – whether it is in person, or through their archives.

Post contributed by Dr. Simon Bilo, Assistant Professor in Economics at Allegheny College, PA.

Newly Rediscovered Papers of a Game Theory Pioneer

Oskar Morgenstern, n.d., from the Oskar Morgenstern Papers.
Oskar Morgenstern, n.d., from the Oskar Morgenstern Papers.

A project on the history of Mathematica Policy Research recently unearthed a historical treasure — a cache of personal papers, professional files, and correspondence by celebrated economist and mathematician Oskar Morgenstern, a founder of Mathematica.  They will now join the existing collection of Morgenstern Papers in the Economists’ Papers Project at the Rubenstein Library.

The newly rediscovered papers are linked to Morgenstern’s longstanding connection to Mathematica.  Along with several other Princeton University economists and mathematicians, Morgenstern founded Mathematica and served as chairman of its board.  He maintained an office at the company’s Princeton headquarters until his death in 1977.  “The materials, which we believe are from his Mathematica office, were recently discovered in our archives when we began compiling a history of the firm,” explained Paul Decker, president and CEO of Mathematica.

The additional papers comprise seventeen boxes of Morgenstern’s files and correspondence dating from 1940 through 1970.  The discovery of these new materials serendipitously matched a period of research on Morgenstern’s travels and correspondence conducted by his daughter, Karin Papp, who assisted in transferring the files from Mathematica’s offices to the Rubenstein Library.  The remainder of Morgenstern’s papers were donated to the Rubenstein Library by his widow Dorothy in the late 1980s.  Among his many achievements, Morgenstern’s Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, co-authored with John von Neumann, is a pioneering work on game theory.

This addition fills an important gap in the Morgenstern Papers, and will be made available for research use after being prepared by our staff.

Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections, adapted from a press release prepared by Mathematica Policy Research. 

The Martin Shubik Papers: From Early Game Theory to the Strategic Analysis of War

Martin Shubik, from the Yale Dept. of Economics webpage.

As research fellows at Duke’s Center for the History of Political Economy, this summer we processed the papers of Martin Shubik, emeritus professor of mathematical institutional economics at Yale University. By arranging and describing Shubik’s life-long correspondence, his class notes from the time of his graduate training at Princeton in the late 1940s, files of professional engagements, as well as materials related to nearly all of his published works, we had the chance to get an overview of Shubik’s distinguished career as an academic and a practicing economist during an important historical period encompassing the Cold War years in the United States.

While Shubik was born in New York City in 1926, he received his early education in England. After moving to Canada, he graduated with a B.A. in mathematics and subsequently with an M.A. in political economy from the University of Toronto in 1947. Equipped with this background, Shubik arrived at Princeton University in 1949, where the archival record begins. He received a Ph.D. in economics in 1953 under the supervision of Oskar Morgenstern, one of the founding fathers of game theory. The influence of his supervisor becomes apparent in Shubik’s collection, not only through the class notes Shubik took of Morgenstern’s lectures and in the correspondence with him throughout the years, but also indirectly through Shubik’s life-long contributions to game theory and its application to economic problems. And, like Morgenstern, Shubik frequently voiced a critical attitude towards purely theoretical work.

Shubik’s collection is a treasure-house of primary resources on economics, especially for researchers interested in the early years of game theory. Shubik was part of an inspiring group of students during his stay at Princeton, including Harold Kuhn, John McCarthy, John Milnor, John Nash (Nobel Prize, 1994), Norman Shapiro, and Lloyd Shapley (Nobel Prize, 2012), who were pioneers in the field of game theory and would continue to shape the history of American mathematical economics during the second half of the 20th century. Innumerable drafts of Shubik’s collaborative works, often accompanied by correspondence and research notes by his co-authors, afford an inspiring set of resources evoking that historical period. The collection contains Shubik’s and Shapley’s drafts and notes on their joint works on game theory, from their early papers in the 1950s to their collaboration during the 1970s at the RAND corporation. The collection also allows for personal glimpses into Shubik’s life. For example, Shubik’s life-long friendship and professional collaboration with Shapley is reflected in the extensive correspondence throughout their academic careers. Similarly, Shubik’s exchanges with Nash (sometimes through humorous cards and joke letters) offer a unique source for historians interested in the early years of game theory and the history of modern economics.

While Shubik made fundamental contributions to mathematical economics, the collection shows that his interests were not confined to academia. Very early in his career, he took on consultancy positions for companies including General Electric and the Watson Research Lab of IBM. He also took on research and teaching responsibilities outside of the U.S., participating in projects such as the Cowles Commission’s research on simulation modeling in Latin America. The collection also contains a large amount of correspondence, trip reports, memoranda, and conference invitations that reflect Shubik’s professional development as an expert in the strategic analysis of warfare. More generally, the material reflects not only the increasing use of mathematical methods in American economics during the Postwar period, but also affords insights into the actual application of those new theoretical tools to specific problems that economists were concerned with during that time, and the institutional context within which those undertakings were embedded.

The papers of Martin Shubik reveal the mosaic of the career of an exceptional and multi-faceted economist during a highly charged professional and political climate, and the degree to which the field of economics is built on collaborative research. In short, it is a must for any historian interested in the origins of modern economics.

Post contributed by Catherine Herfeld and Danilo Silva, research fellows at Duke’s Center for the History of Political Economy.


Reminder: The Rubenstein Library is closed until Jan. 7!

Introducing the 2012 Nobel Laureate Economist’s Papers

Alvin Roth, from http://scholar.harvard.edu/roth.

The 2012 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Honor of Alfred Nobel (commonly known as the Nobel Prize) was awarded yesterday to Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley “for the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design.”  We in the Rubenstein Library were delighted to hear this, as the Alvin Roth Papers arrived here last year and are now available for scholarly use as part of the Economists’ Papers Project.

Much of Roth’s work involves decision-making and matching within markets; perhaps the most important real-world application of his ideas involves more efficiently matching organ donors to those in need of a transplant.  His papers at the Rubenstein include drafts of his writings on these and other topics, a wealth of information from Roth’s early career at the University of Pittsburgh, and correspondence with dozens of economists including his fellow Nobel laureate Lloyd Shapley, Robert Aumann, and many more.

The Alvin Roth Papers join many other important collections in the Economists’ Papers Project in game theory and market design, including the papers of Leonid Hurwicz, Oskar Morgenstern, Martin Shubik, and Vernon Smith.  Congratulations, Professor Roth!

Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections. 

Introducing the Anna Schwartz Papers

Anna Schwartz in the New York Times, 1982.

I am pleased to announce a new finding aid for one of our newest collections, the Anna Schwartz Papers. Schwartz was an economist at the National Bureau for Economic Research, and collaborated with Milton Friedman on numerous works, including A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960. She also served as the executive director of the United States Gold Commission from 1981 to 1982. Her papers are an exciting addition to the Rubenstein’s Economists’ Papers Project.

The vast majority of the Anna Schwartz Papers are all business: her research and subject files on banking, monetary policy, currency, and the Federal Reserve; Gold Commission materials, including correspondence with fellow commissioner Ron Paul; collaborations and correspondence between Schwartz and Milton Friedman; and numerous articles and lectures by Schwartz from throughout her 70-year career. One bit of material that shows a more personal side of Schwartz are her many datebooks, from the 1950s to 2012, which help document her appointments, schedule, and contacts over the course of her life. I also really enjoyed seeing material from her time at Barnard College in the 1930s. She seemed to constantly win honors there, including Phi Beta Kappa.

Dozens of datebooks from the Anna Schwartz Papers
Dozens of datebooks from the Anna Schwartz Papers.

Upon Schwartz’s death earlier this year, her New York Times obituary described her as “a research economist who wrote monumental works on American financial history in collaboration with the Nobel laureate Milton Friedman while remaining largely in his shadow.” Now, with the opening of this collection, Anna Schwartz’s contributions and scholarship are finally out of the shadows, so to say, and freely available for everyone to use.

Post contributed by Meghan Lyon, Technical Services Archivist.

Juanita Kreps and the Merger of the Duke Woman’s College, 1972

Working on the Economists Papers Project at the Rubenstein Library this summer introduced two Duke economics graduate students to an inspiring and impressive figure who shaped the histories of both Duke University and the United States: Juanita Morris Kreps.  The description and arrangement of 58 boxes of her professional papers was made possible in summer 2011 by Matthew Panhans and Nori Takami, with funding from the Center for the History of Political Economy.

Krep's senior portraitBorn into a childhood of poverty in the small mining town of Lynch, Kentucky in 1921, Juanita Kreps emerged as one of the top students at Berea College, earning her a scholarship to study economics at Duke University, where she completed her M.A. and Ph.D.  She joined the faculty at Duke in 1955 and served as Dean of the Woman’s College and as Associate Provost; in these roles she oversaw the controversial 1972 merger of the Woman’s College and the men’s Trinity College to form the present coeducational undergraduate Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.  As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of that merger in 2012, many of us may not be aware of its deep significance to the history of Duke and to the future for women in higher education. Kreps’ papers hold many files of correspondence from alumna who responded to her calls for comments, accompanied by letters, speeches, and memoranda written by Kreps which reveal her own insights into this monumental change.

In 1972 Kreps became the first woman to hold the prestigious James B. Duke chair, and in 1973, Kreps was named a Vice President of the University.  In 1976 she left Duke to serve as the first female Secretary of Commerce under President Carter, also the first academic to serve in this role and the fourth woman ever to be a part of the Cabinet.  As the Secretary of Commerce, she was an advocate for the business community while also encouraging business to look beyond profits and towards social responsibility to workers, consumers, and the public.

Kreps at her deskPerhaps rooted in her humble beginnings in Kentucky, her academic research maintained real-world relevance.  Much of her work was on the value of women’s work, women’s education, and labor issues related to aging populations.  These and other topics that remain relevant today pervade her speeches, which are both witty and moving.  The plethora of thank you notes accompanying each speech offers clear evidence of the power of her words and ideas – but if this is not enough to convince you, come to the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library and read them for yourself!

Post contributed by Paula Mangiafico, Senior Processing Archivist for the Rubenstein Library. Matthew Panhans is an M.A. student in Duke’s Department of Economics. Norikazu Takami is a post-doctoral fellow at Duke’s Center for the History of Political Economy.