Julius Margolis, professor emeritus of economics at UC Irvine, died Friday, March 16, of kidney failure. The retired economist was 91.
Alternately known as Julie, Julius or Jules, depending on the era, Margolis is described by colleagues as a founding figure in economics, a person of boundless energy and a Renaissance man. He was recruited by UCI in 1976 to strengthen the scholarly prominence of social sciences on the young campus by attracting top economists.
Margolis also helped establish UCI’s Center for Global Peace & Conflict Studies, which hosts an annual lecture series in his name and will dedicate a seminar room in his honor. The multidisciplinary research entity, housed in the social sciences, promotes scholarly, student and public understanding of international peace and conflict.
Such a project is consistent with Margolis’ commitment to bettering society, recalled political science professor William R. Schonfeld, former social sciences dean. “Some people spend their energy advancing their own private interests; Julie’s energy was aimed at trying to do good for the community,” Schonfeld said. “He was a real institution builder.”
One of Margolis’ first campus achievements was to attract one of the leading econometricians in the world – Jack Johnston – who held the chair in econometrics at the University of Manchester in England, Schonfeld said. “And he served a major role in focusing attention on what UCI was doing, which helped us bring out for consideration a group of absolutely first-rate people. He was a foundational person in the development of economics on campus.”
In addition to developing economics and conflict-resolution programs, Margolis helped plan University Hills, UCI’s academic community in residence that provides affordable housing to eligible full-time employees. William Parker, professor and chair of physics & astronomy at UCI who helped create the Irvine Campus Housing Authority, said that he and Margolis shared an understanding of the importance of faculty housing to the future growth of the campus, though they sometimes clashed over details.
“The discussions around these disagreements resulted in a better program that has been of considerable assistance to faculty recruiting for nearly three decades,” Parker said. “Julie was imaginative with solutions to difficult problems, insightful about university practices and procedures, and knowledgeable about the personalities and motivations of key university decision makers.”
Margolis, born in New York, earned an undergraduate degree at City College of New York in 1941 and completed a doctorate at Harvard University in 1949. He taught at the University of Chicago, Stanford University, UC Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania, where he was serving as director of the Fels Institute of Government when he was recruited by UCI. Margolis was active in the National Bureau of Economic Research and on the Federal Reserve System’s board of governors and was a consultant to agencies ranging from the National Parks Service to the RAND Corp. and the Kennedy administration.
He was a leader in advancing the fields of policy analysis and modern public policy education. With funding from the Social Science Research Council, he helped promote rational choice theory and microeconomic modeling in the study of politics.
“Julius Margolis always showed a deep understanding of economics and economic phenomena,” said Nobel laureate Kenneth J. Arrow, Joan Kenney Professor of Economics Emeritus at Stanford. “He frequently showed how standard economic theory was inadequate but, at the same time, was eager to show its relevance where appropriate. He was especially good at setting agendas, particularly for the application of economic analysis to policy, and at stimulating others with his vision.”
Kenneth Shepsle, the George D. Markham Professor of Government at Harvard, said he often ran into Margolis at conferences on the then “newfangled mathematical/microeconomic approach to the study of politics.” Inspired by a Stanford doctoral dissertation in economics directed by Margolis and a subsequent book by Anthony Downs called An Economic Theory of Democracy, the theory compares politicians to economic producers and citizen-voters to consumers to illustrate the kind of rational behavior in politics that is postulated in neoclassical economic models.
“As a result,” Shepsle said, “it provided a bridge for political science to adopt and adapt the tools of modern economics and the rational choice paradigm. Downs’ book, UCI’s own Bernard Grofman and others coming of age in the 1960s and ’70s continue to influence more than half a century later. Among the many things Julie Margolis accomplished in a very full life, this is one of his lasting legacies.”
After retiring in 1988, Margolis headed in a new direction: exploring his artistic side through sculpture and painting.
“He was an amazing guy – a Renaissance man,” said Grofman, professor of political science at UCI. “He decided he would start a completely new second career in painting. His art was wonderful and abstract.”
On his art website, Margolis wrote: “Fifty years of economics and then art. Economics is precise analysis to understand or solve social problems. By contrast, art is ambiguous and the language is expressive and often private….”
Margolis also became an avid table tennis player, Grofman said, serving on the executive board of the National Seniors Table Tennis Tournament Association.
As for his various names?
“He was Julie to anyone who knew him as a friend in the early years,” Grofman said. “And he was Julius formally. And after he became a painter, he decided he would be known as Jules. He was a character, a wonderful dry wit and a world-class economist.”
Julius Margolis is survived by his wife of 70 years, Doris Margolis; his daughter, Jane Margolis; his son-in-law, Mark Peterson; his granddaughter, Sophie Margolis-Peterson; his son, Carl Margolis; and his daughter-in-law, Carol Moll. The family requests that donations in his name be made to the Center for Global Peace & Conflict Studies. Contact Rosemarie Swatez at email@example.com or 949-824-2511.
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