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Lester Thurow, influential MIT economist, dead at 77

Economist Lester Thurow, dead at 77.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Lester Thurow, an influential Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist who addressed the challenges and consequences of a global economy, has died. He was 77.

The university announced Tuesday that Thurow had died Friday at his home in Westport, Mass. No cause was given.

After focusing on income distribution early in his career, Thurow became a leading public voice in examining the defining features of globalization, including the competitiveness of national economies at a time of industrial change, and worker welfare.

He started teaching at MIT in 1968 and was dean of the university’s Sloan School of Management from 1987 until 1993.

Thurow was an advocate for policies that defied political labeling but would help society and business make long-term investments to spur growth, telling Fortune magazine in 1987 that he just wanted “to make the world better.”

“Lester Thurow spent his life trying to make society more farsighted and more fair,” MIT president L. Rafael Reif said. “As a member of the faculty, as dean of MIT Sloan, as a successful author and as an adviser to political giants, he embodied MIT’s mission to advance knowledge and educate students in service to the nation and the world.”

Thurow was born in Livingston, Montana, the son of a Methodist minister and a teacher. Growing up in Montana, he worked in copper mines during the summers when he was a young man.

Lester C. Thurow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and business school dean, seen here in his office in 1987, has died. AP file photo
Lester C. Thurow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and business school dean, seen here in his office in 1987, has died. AP file photo

Graduating from Williams College, he won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University and went on to get a doctorate in economics from Harvard University. After beginning his teaching career at Harvard, he moved to nearby MIT.

Thurow wrote a series of best-selling books that included “The Zero-Sum Society” (1980), “Head to Head: The Coming Economic Battle Among Japan, Europe, and America” (1992), “The Future of Capitalism: How Today’s Economic Forces Shape Tomorrow’s World” (1996) and “Building Wealth: The New Rules for Individuals, Companies, and Nations in a Knowledge-Based Economy.”

According to MIT, “His interest in bringing economics to the public sphere was intensified in the 1970s, when he failed to land a position in the Carter administration and chose to influence economic discussion through other avenues.”

In a 1997 story, he told The New York Times: “I decided that if I could not have the king’s ear, I would talk to the public. That’s the other way to have an impact on the economic system.”

He is survived by his wife Anni, sons Torben and Ethan, stepchildren Yaron and Yael, seven grandchildren and a brother, Chuck.