One of the first-movers in game theory, SFI External Professor Martin Shubik died August 22, 2018. He was 92 years old.
Shubik was among the early scholars who recognized that mathematical and statistical tools could be applied to social sciences, like economics. Through modeling and game theory, he sought to understand what he called “fundamental features of the economy,” particularly how pricing systems arise in economies, and how money and financial institutions evolve.
At the time of his death, he had published 22 books and more than 300 papers and scholarly articles. These include a 1953 paper with John Nash, a 1954 paper with Lloyd Shapley, cited in more than 2,000 other papers, and a 1959 paper titled “Edgeworth Market Games,” credited with establishing game theory in mainstream economics.
Shubik befriended the legendary game theorists Nash and Shapley while earning his Ph.D. at Princeton University, where the three shared a suite. After graduating from Princeton with a doctorate in economics, he joined the faculty at Yale University. There, he held faculty appointments from 1963 through 2018. He performed operations research for private companies and government agencies, and served on SFI’s external faculty from 1995-2018.
“Martin was a remarkable person,” External Professor Doyne Farmer writes in an email. “He was one of the pioneers of game theory and its uses in economics. He was involved with SFI from early days, and was always injecting interesting ideas. What amazed me most about Martin was his persistence — he was working hard and exploring new ideas right up to the end.”
In 2005, with Farmer and External Professor Eric Smith, Shubik coauthored an article in Physics Today that asked whether economics could be the next physical science. In it, they discussed universal regularities that arise in complex economies, and quantitative approaches to studying systems comprised of strategic decision-makers.
Having collaborated with Shubik over 20 years, Smith says he was touched by Shubik’s “force of will” and “love of being alive, no matter what and no matter in what circumstance.” The two researchers co-authored a book on “The Guidance of an Enterprise Economy” (MIT Press, 2016) which extended a trilogy of books Shubik wrote on the theory of money — his central research interest.
“Martin’s most fundamental research interest was the theory of money, and other institutions that made life a playable game,” writes Science Board member John Geanakoplos (Yale), who co-authored six papers with Shubik. “Martin made a great deal of money, as a consultant, and as an investor. He always said that an economist had to see the world, and he strongly recommended that I do something in the world on the side. But never too much. Martin was devoted to the life of the scholar. He cared more about the theory of money than money.”
This page will be updated with a link to John Geanakoplos’s full obituary for Martin Shubik.