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Leonid Hurwicz, Oldest Nobel Winner, Dies

June 25, 2008

By Ben Cohen, Star Tribune, Minneapolis

Jun. 25–Leonid Hurwicz, who shared the Nobel Prize in economics last year for developing a theory that helps explain how buyers and sellers can maximize their gains, died Tuesday night in Minneapolis.

The Minneapolis resident was 90 and had been on dialysis for two years. He was hospitalized a week ago.

Hurwicz was given his prize in Minneapolis last December because he couldn’t make the trip to Stockholm. He was the oldest person ever to win a Nobel, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

He shared his prize with Eric S. Maskin, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, N.J.; and Roger B. Myerson, 56, a professor at the University of Chicago.

The award was announced in October, and Hurwicz said he was surprised to win.

“There were times when other people said I was on the short list, but as time passed and nothing happened, I didn’t expect the recognition would come because people who were familiar with my work were slowly dying off,” he said.

In its announcement, the academy said the three “laid the foundations of mechanism design theory,” which plays a central role in contemporary economics and political science.

Essentially, the three men, starting in 1960 with Hurwicz, studied how game theory can help determine the best, most efficient method for allocating resources, the academy said.

Hurwicz — pronounced HER-wich — began teaching at the university in 1951. University President Robert Bruininks says he was “an extraordinary man” who left “a proud and lasting legacy.”

“Not only were his economic theories groundbreaking, but he was a renaissance scholar, with a keen interest in many disciplines, an incisive mind and quick wit and a natural grace that endeared him to so many people,” Bruininks said in a statement.

The award, known as the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, is not one of the original Nobel Prizes. It was created in 1968 by the Swedish central bank in Nobel’s memory. The winners share a $1.5 million prize.

When the award was announced last year, Hurwicz was still doing research, analyzing welfare economics and other topics, the school said.

He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Evelyn, of Minneapolis; daughters, Sarah Kogut of Minneapolis, and Ruth Markovitz of Ann Arbor, Mich.; sons, Michael of Eastsound, Wash., and Maxim of Minneapolis.; brother, Henry of Indio, Calif.; seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service is being planned in the fall at the University of Minnesota.

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