Remembering Hans Theil: Surprises from the Author of Principles of Econometrics
West, Carol Taylor, Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics
I loved my advanced graduate econometrics class at the University of Michigan-my colleagues were bright, talented, and stimulating; Saul Hymans was clear, thorough, and entertaining; and all of us, students and professor alike, were awed by the new text that had just been published, Henri Theil's Principles of Econometrics. Theil and econometrics were synonymous for my class, and our course papers were among the first to cite what was to become a "citation classic."
In 1984, when I joined the faculty of the University of Florida, it was not without some trepidation that I faced the prospect of meeting the author of the "E-Bible"-where "E" in that context was "econometrics," not today's "electronic." Would I essentially be put through an econometrics qualifier again? Would I measure up? No exam occurred, and what struck me most was Hans' love of data. We didn't talk matrices, theorems, or econometric techniques-we talked about data. When I first met him, he had in hand a copy of The Florida Outlook, my quarterly publication giving historical data and forecasts for the state of Florida and its 20 metropolitan areas. He was excited by it: "Such fascinating numbers-history and forecasts over time and across regions-there is so much to be studied with this wonderful data set." And we talked about the numbers-how the historical "actuals" were developed, my frustrations with measurement error, how the state and metropolitan area forecasts related to each other, etc. We embarked on a series of joint articles based on my historical and forecasted data sets, and, throughout the collaboration, I was always amazed at how much Hans simply enjoyed looking at the numbers. Indeed, a new data set could animate him like the proverbial little boy on Christmas morning.
But collaborating with Hans could also be stressful-he was incredibly focused and had little patience when my other commitments did not allow me to adhere to his timetable. …