Obituary: Professor Michio Morishima ; Trenchant Econometrician at the LSE

By Tony Atkinson and Janet Hunter | The Independent (London, England), July 28, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: Professor Michio Morishima ; Trenchant Econometrician at the LSE

Tony Atkinson and Janet Hunter, The Independent (London, England)

MICHIO MORISHIMA was a distinguished mathematician and econometrician who made a major contribution to the discipline of economics during the second half of the 20th century. He lived and worked in Britain from the late 1960s, retiring as Sir John Hicks Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics.

Born in Osaka, Japan, in 1923, Morishima was brought up in a time of growing tension in East Asia, and his economics studies at Kyoto University were interrupted by conscription into the navy in December 1943. He obtained a degree in economics in 1946, continued to teach and research at Kyoto until 1951, and then took up a post at Osaka University. Here he taught until the late 1960s, a period during which he made extended visits to Oxford and Yale.

Feeling that his intellectual home increasingly lay outside Japan, Morishima took up a chair at Essex University before moving in 1970 to the LSE. He was appointed Sir John Hicks Professor of Economics in 1984.

His impact on LSE was profound, both through his academic contribution, and through his role in the establishment of the Suntory-Toyota research centres, which have over the last 25 years acted as the focus for a range of pathbreaking research in economics and related disciplines. In recognition of his contribution Morishima became an Honorary Fellow of the school, and received an honorary doctorate in 1995. In 1981 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy.

Morishima began as an economic theorist. He was much influenced by the distinguished British economist John Hicks (later, the joint winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize for Economics) and once described his reading Hicks's Value and Capital (1939) in 1942 as a form of passive resistance to the wartime Japanese government. His doctoral thesis was an imaginative formalisation of Hicks's work. Written in Japanese in 1950, it did not immediately have the great impact it would have had if published in English, but the depth and rigour of these early contributions were conveyed to Anglo-Saxon readers in a series of academic articles.

He soon established an international reputation as one of the world's leading economic theorists. His 1964 book Equilibrium, Stability and Growth, followed by The Theory of Economic Growth (1969), demonstrated his capacity to combine general equilibrium theory, activity analysis, and economic dynamics in a highly innovative way. Morishima's standing in the economics profession was reflected in his election as President of the Econometric Society in 1965.

After settling in Britain in 1968 Morishima began a series of books on three leading economists of the 19th century: Karl Marx, Leon Walras and David Ricardo. His aim was not an exercise in the history of economic thought, but to re-interpret their work in the light of modern economic theory. He challenged both the standard interpretations of these authors and contemporary general equilibrium theory. The subtitle to his book on Walras, Walras' Economics (1977), "A Pure Theory of Capital and Money", highlighted his intention to develop aspects that received less attention: growth, accumulation and the role of money. There was a strong unifying theme running through his work, culminating in a reformulation of general equilibrium theory in his 1992 book Capital and Credit.

Morishima made enduring contributions to mathematical economics, but he was no narrow theorist. He sought throughout his career to use economic theory as a means to understand the functioning of modern economies and societies.

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