2019 ESTEEMED Honoree

Uri Possen in his office 2007

Uri Possen in his office 2007

 

The Honoree – Uri Meir Possen, Cornell Professor, Macroeconomist, Chair Cornell Department of Economics . Born in 1942, Possen graduated from the University of Toronto with a B.A. in mathematics in 1965 and a M.A. in economics in 1967 and earned his Ph.D. at Yale in economics in 1971, supervised by James Tobin, who later became a Nobel Laureate.

Possen joined the Cornell faculty as an assistant professor in 1971. He was promoted to associate professor in 1977 and to full professor in 1987, serving as chair of the Department of Economics 2002-08.

An expert in public finance and monetary economics, Possen worked in the area of Keynesian economics. He frequently collaborated with public sector economist Pierre Pestieau, a former assistant professor at Cornell and now professor emeritus at the Université de Liège, Belgium.

"They did interesting work on the intersection between the broad effects of policies on the macroeconomy and on public sector institutions and mechanisms -- how you get a government policy implemented as well as its broader effects on the economy," said Richard Schuler, professor emeritus of economics, who knew Possen for more than 40 years.

Specifically Possen conducted research on topics of tax evasion, occupational choice, taxation when markets are incomplete, social security, public finance and monetary economics. His work appeared in publications including the Journal of Public Economics, International Economic Review, Quarterly Journal of Economics and Econometrica.

Uri was trained as a macroeconomist, but he quickly sought to draw policy implications from theory, and he continuously searched for mechanisms that might be effective in implementing policy. This led the intellectual connection between macro and public economics - - analysis of the big picture and how to get it done.

Uri was collegial - - in his research, in his guidance of students and as department chair. Most of his publications were coauthored collaborations, many with present or former colleagues on Cornell’s faculty. His body of joint work with Pierre Pestieau and with Steve Slutsky, both public sector economists continued throughout Uri’s lifetime. Their joint work formed the heart of Uri’s effort to introduce the reality of institutions and particular mechanisms to the implementation of macroeconomic policies. Early examples were their work on particular types of fiscal policy, whether they led to the over- or under-supply of public goods and whether or not the structure (multi-level or unitary) of government(s) mattered.

Many of the analyses with Pestieau focused upon the distributional consequences of macro-policies. Later, more purely public sector analyses with both Pestieau (Professor of Economics Emeritus, at the Universite de Liege, in Belgium) and Slutsky (Professor of Economics at the University of Florida) explored the simultaneous interaction between alternative tax policies, tax evasion and government enforcement policies. These analyses highlight Uri’s pursuit of modeling the reality of a society and of tailoring proposed policy to accommodate human anticipation and reaction, including the impact of the random deployment of policies on individual and aggregate response.

He also collaborated with Liam Ebrill at the International Monetary Fund (also a former economics department colleague at Cornell) to explore the added complications that inflation might add to a fiscal policy’s effect on the economy. Later on, Uri became adept at working out numerical simulations of particular models to gain an understanding of the relative size (effectiveness) of alternative prescriptions. Early in his career he had also incorporated the use of real numbers as an educational tool in an undergraduate course on asset markets. There, in the 1970s, long before Wall Street was flying high, he encouraged each student to “invest” in a hypothetical portfolio of securities that they selected, and Uri then had them submit the results monthly for comparison and analysis, a time-consuming activity for a large class. What mattered to Uri is that the students loved it and learned through it.

Uri’s overriding concern was for the well-being of others he came in contact with. His door was always open to students and colleagues, he always strove to understand why things were the way they were and how they could be made better.

Selected Research Articles