Remembering Julius Margolis
Julius Margolis, professor emeritus of economics at UC Irvine, died Friday, March 16, of kidney failure. The retired economist was 91.
Alternately known as Julie, Julius or Jules, depending on the era, Margolis is described by colleagues as a founding figure in economics, a person of boundless energy and a Renaissance man. He was recruited by UCI in 1976 to strengthen the scholarly prominence of social sciences on the young campus by attracting top economists.
Margolis also helped establish UCI’s Center for Global Peace & Conflict Studies, which hosts an annual lecture series in his name and will dedicate a seminar room in his honor. The multidisciplinary research entity, housed in the social sciences, promotes scholarly, student and public understanding of international peace and conflict.
Julie was one of the first people I met when I visited UCI, for a conference in honor of Anthony Downs that Julie had organized. I was just starting my career and was touched at how graciously Julie included me and the other then youngsters at the conference -- Bernie Grofman and Sam Popkin and Carole Uhlaner-- in events with people like Downs, even then a legend. Once I joined the UCI faculty, the Margolises, Eastons, Cancians, and the Petraccas joined Wil and me to make up a little theatre group that would meet at each other's homes to read a play. Later when Julie and Doris lived on campus I would often drop by their house to chat and see how many inches of wall space remained free for yet more pictures. (Julie had by then morphed into Jules, a great painter and sculptor.) I did not work closely with Julie on CGPACS matters but had tremendous admiration for what he helped create there. What I remember most is Julie's humanity, his remarkable sensitivity to children, and his care for Doris as her Parkinsons took hold. Despite all his accomplishments, Julie always remained down to earth, an egalitarian who respected everyone and treated them equally. He could be ruthless in table tennis competitions, and he loved good intellectual debate. I don't think he knew how to be dishonest and was always frank and open in his opinions, something I cherished in him. The world has lost a wonderful human being. I shall miss him.
- Kristen Renwick Monroe, Professor of Political Science and Director of the UCI Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality, University of California-Irvine
I first came to know Julius Margolis at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1960s or early 1970s where he directed a research institute that focused on urban and public economics. By this time Julie was already an established figure in the profession, and thus an organizer and facilitator of national groups in “Public Finance,” as it used to be called. In this he had the support not only of Penn, but also of The Brookings Institution and of Resources for the Future, two Washington think tanks (at a time when there not so many of these). With their individual funding, and National Science Foundation sponsorship as well, Julie chaired the Committee on Urban and Public Economics (COUPE) which held semi-annual meetings. Invitations and membership were highly coveted, as these meetings often reported path breaking results. I remember meetings that included at various times Richard Musgrave, Sherwin Rosen, Joseph Stiglitz, Mancur Olson, Eitan Berglas, Charles Tiebout, James Buchanan, Finis Welsh, Peter Mieszkowski, Burton Weisbrod, Eugene Smolensky, Charles Schultze, Henry Aaron, and no doubt many others of similar stature all happy and eager to assemble at Julie’s invitation.
Maybe one reason for the eager participation was the publication of one of its precursor proceedings, viz. J. Margolis and M. Guitton eds.(1969), Public Economics: An analysis of public production and consumption and their relations to the private sectors, Proceedings of a conference of The International Economic Association, Biarritz , France. (MacMillan, New York). Although that book is in my office and I do not have it with me as I write, I can say that one focus—to which Margolis’ contribution was crucial —concerned the relations between economic efficiency in the provision of a public good (roughly a good “enjoyed” equally by all), social optimality in the overall allocation of society’s resources, and the tax or price structure according to which the good was paid for. Nowadays economists trained in analysis of the public sector might regard this issue as elementary. But it was not elementary when Margolis tackled it. From Lindahl in 1919 to Samuelson in the 1950’s and Musgrave in 1967 the question was often muddled, until final clarity thanks to Bergstrom, Blume, and Varian in 1986.
The year I arrived at UCI was the year that Julie Margolis retired, but our friendship nevertheless flourished. Until our final encounter in May 2011, he maintained a sharp and skeptical inquisitiveness, and a ready sense of humor always admired by his colleagues. Years ago, after an elaborate and particularly oblique seminar presentation, he turned to me and almost plaintively said something like: “Basically economics is just about discovering then comparing costs and benefits, don’t you think?”
- Martin C. McGuire, Department of Economics, University of California-Irvine
Julie Margolis was never afraid to take on a new task or project if he felt that it was necessary and worthwhile. And during the early 1980s he saw clearly the need to build a broad-gauged effort, a multi-disciplined effort to address the dangers arising from the fearful and thoughtless militarism of that era. UCI at the time was not much focused on international studies, and certainly not on peace and war, but Julie argued, quite doggedly and persuasively, that it was time for us to bring such things to the attention of this campus. He saw the role of economics in the subject, but he realized that the challenge was broader than his own field, so he put together, and inspired, an improbable band of relevant people (including two Nobel Prize-winners) from every campus school. We called ourselves "Global Peace and Conflict Studies" and since money was available from the University of California for such groups, we were able to invest in creating and sponsoring undergraduate courses, a research library, graduate fellowships, extended visits by scholars, and regular public lectures. With generous donations from community leaders, we established three endowed chairs which were dedicated to the study of peace. Indeed, GPACS was the burr under the saddle that ultimately led UCI to create a Program in International Studies. Some found Julie's often biting humor hard to take, but he was invariably honest, rational, and sensible, never intimidated, always resourceful. It is appropriate that the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies continues to honor Julie's passion for peace with the annual Margolis Lecture, which has brought noted statesmen to this campus for more than 20 years.
- Keith Nelson, Professor Emeritus of History, Director of Religious Studies, University of California-Irvine