his wit and rigorous intelligence, Morton Kamien has been
the intellectual gold standard at Kellogg for nearly four
decades. He retires this year
anything, but make it new.
served as a motto and framework for Mort
Kamien as he helped develop the Kellogg School's world-class
Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences Department (MEDS)
in the early 1970s.
Purdue University-trained economist who had been a professor
at Carnegie-Mellon since 1963, Kamien arrived at Northwestern
in 1970, three years after Stanley
Reiter, the person who recruited him. They distinguished
themselves as intellectual leaders, imparting analytical rigor
to business studies.
also attracted talented young faculty to the resource-constrained
school. It was a strategy Kamien had seen his former employer
was a good place for young faculty," said Kamien, who
nevertheless left the school when he felt pressured to divert
his passion for technical economics into a more policy-oriented
direction. "I didn't want to be pushed around."
Northwestern, he brought a desire to build an exemplary department.
had some ideas about how a department should be run,"
he says. "You get bright young people, put them together
and let them do whatever they wanted, as long as it was first
than hiring by discipline, Kamien, MEDS chairman from 1971-1975,
went after the best people, regardless of their field. "We
knew smarts," he says. In many cases, these turned out
to be game theorists who, after surviving Kamien and Co.'s
grueling interviews designed to weed out the "dancing
bears" from the stars, were hired and encouraged to pursue
research without departmental interference. "They didn't
have to do the work that I did," said Kamien, whose own
interests drew him to microeconomics, industrial organization,
entrepreneurship and dynamic optimization.
his many publications are contributions that helped found
the modern theory of limit pricing under uncertainty. Other
work was instrumental in developing the theory of patent races
— how firms compete to develop a new product or production
method. He has also produced two classic textbooks, co-authored
with Kellogg peer Nancy L. Schwartz. A fellow of the Econometric
Society, Kamien served as the Kellogg School's associate dean
for academic affairs three times, each a two-year stint. In
addition, the Joseph and Carole Levy Distinguished Professor
of Entrepreneurship has been director of the school's Heizer
Center for Entrepreneurial Studies for nearly 20 years.
the seriousness with which he approaches his work
— "People have this impression that I'm
very hard. I don't try to be," he says — Kamien
also displays wit and exceptional humor. These can appear
during a conversation that ranges from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
to Einstein's theories to Woody Allen's films.
might also show up in a discourse on the real message behind
The Wizard of Oz, a text Kamien says can be interpreted as a late
19th century populist allegory, with symbolism that argues
against the U.S. gold standard, then part of an economic milieu
creating hardships for American farmers and laborers.
all Kamien's academic achievements, he remains down-to-earth
— a vestige, perhaps, of his undergraduate days at City
College of New York. "It wasn't a prestigious place,
but the students were very, very smart," recalls Kamien.
"The tuition for the whole year was $10 — your
foundation also seems to have framed Kamien's research tastes,
which guard against privileging the abstract simply because it's abstract. Some scholars pride themselves on
doing work that "only five people in the world understand,"
he says. "This supposedly shows how brilliant they are,"
but that kind of research "may not be particularly useful
he retires this year, Kamien can reflect on a legacy that
includes his contributions to MEDS, a department he says is
especially strong in analytical political science, an area
where pioneering opportunities remain to be discovered.