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Franklin Fisher, professor emeritus of economics, dies at 84

Celebrated economist advanced economic theory, econometrics, and the study of industry and firm behavior.
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Franklin M. Fisher, Jane Berkowitz Carlton and Dennis William Carlton Professor of Microeconomics, emeritus
Franklin M. Fisher, Jane Berkowitz Carlton and Dennis William Carlton Professor of Microeconomics, emeritus
Photo courtesy of the Department of Economics

Franklin M. Fisher, the Jane Berkowitz Carlton and Dennis William Carlton Professor of Microeconomics, emeritus, died on April 29 at the age of 84. 

Fisher was born in New York City and received both his undergraduate degree and his PhD from Harvard University. He joined the MIT faculty in 1960, after a one-year post-PhD stint as an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. Fisher spent the rest of his career at MIT. In 2000, he was appointed the inaugural holder of the Jane Berkowitz Carlton and Dennis William Carlton Professorship of Microeconomics. He became a professor emeritus in 2004. 

Fisher was a versatile economist who made important contributions to economic theory, econometric methods, and the empirical analysis of firm and industry behavior. He was best known for his research on aggregation theory, estimation of simultaneous equation models, and the measurement and consequences of industry concentration. His contributions were widely celebrated. In 1973, he received the John Bates Clark Medal from the American Economic Association, an award then presented every other year to the American economist under the age of 40 who is judged to have made the most significant contributions to economic thought and knowledge. He served as president of the Econometric Society, was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held an honorary degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Fisher was actively involved in antitrust policy. He served as the lead economic expert for IBM in the 1970s, when the U.S. Department of Justice sued the firm for anticompetitive behavior. After the case was settled in the early 1980s, he and co-authors John McGowan and Joen Greenwood published "Folded, Spindled and Mutilated," a comprehensive analysis of the economic issues in the case. Several years later, Fisher served as the lead expert for the Department of Justice in another high-profile antitrust case, U.S. v. Microsoft. 

Late in his career, Fisher’s interests shifted to the economics of water distribution in the Middle East, leading a team to model water resources and identify opportunities for gains from cross-border water trading. 

Fisher was a very popular teacher and an active dissertation adviser. He served as the primary adviser for 47 doctoral students, and as the secondary adviser (committee member) for dozens more. Five of his advisees are current MIT faculty members, including Nancy L. Rose ’85, the current department head for Economics. 

“Frank was a wonderful mentor whose lectures combined technical rigor with a rich interest in applied questions," Rose says. "He was in high demand as a dissertation supervisor, where his advice ranged from econometric specifications to the craft of writing.”

Fisher was active in a broad range of outside pursuits. He was a silver life master of duplicate bridge and an avid sailor. His work with numerous nonprofit organizations included presidencies of American Friends of Peace Now, the New Israel Fund, and the American Jewish Congress New England Region.

He is survived by his wife, Ellen Paradise Fisher of Cambridge, Massachusetts; three children: Abraham and Abigail of Belmont, Massachusetts, and Naomi of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and their spouses; and eight grandchildren.   

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