Thursday, March 10, 2011

Public Choice Memorial for Mel Hinich

The Public Choice Society meetings are this weekend, in San Antonio, TX.

I can't travel, because of my eye. But I got Neanderbill to read a statement in my stead. Here is that statement. (Also there is the Public Choice memoriam, written by four of us.)

For the Session on Mel Hinich for Public Choice
San Antonio, Texas
March 12, 2011

I first met Melvin at the Public Choice meetings at the Hilton in Pheonix, Arizona, in 1984, in a hallway at the hotel. He was talking to Peter Ordeshook (who was smoking), and the two of them acted as they always did: artlessly impatient. Did you have something interesting to say? If so, take your shot. But the weather or baseball scores didn’t get you far. Mel always wanted to talk about the work, what he had been working on or what he would be working on. Mel talked more than anyone else I ever met in academics.
But he could also listen. After I moved to UT in the fall of 1986, I realized that I had the chance to start a second “graduate school.” My background in public choice and spatial theory was shallow, and Mel set out to improve me. We went for long walks, often at noon or 1 pm, in the Austin heat, and would come back drenched in sweat. Then Mel would scribble on his blackboard for half an hour, with me taking notes, and then I would go try type things up.
I often got back to my office, and realized that Mel had made a mistake. The model didn’t work the way he said it did. So the next morning I would go to show him the mistake.
But often it wasn’t a mistake at all. Mel had simply skipped three or four steps that seemed obvious to him. Once he filled in the argument so I could see what he was doing, I went back to writing.
Sometimes in the last few years people come up to me at conferences and ask, “Has Mel ever written anything, or did you write it all?” Then they snicker, “In fact, has Mel ever READ any of your joint work?!!”
The truth is that Mel did not much like to write. And even less did he like to edit. Sometimes, it was frustrating, because I would give him a finished chapter for comments, and his entire response the next day was, “That was good! Now, let’s talk about submarines…” (Or Russia. Or Shakespeare. Or…)
But what is “writing,” exactly? In many ways, I was Mel’s typist, his Boswell. True, Mel said things and I wrote them down, and later typed them. But the order of our names, Hinich and Munger, on our three books and many articles, accurately reflects the contributions we made. Mel was, and is, first.
If I had not met Mel, I would have missed out on the excitement of discovery, and the sense of eager mental searching. Without his tutelage, I would never have become President of the Public Choice Society or editor of the journal. I wouldn’t be at Duke, and I might never have gotten tenure.
And without his friendship I would have missed out on the grandest times, biggest laughs, and deepest talks in my life. Mel had two great loves, particularly in his 50s before he had a number of illnesses. These loves were talking and eating. If you ever had a meal with him, you know that there was a sense of excitement, since you can’t really eat and talk at the same time. Would the winner be the unstoppable force, or the immovable object?
Well, the premise of the question turned out to be false. Mel could in fact eat and talk at the same time. And he could eat a lot, for hours in fact. He preferred eating at someone’s house, rather than going to a restaurant. This was partly because he didn’t like to waste money. But it was also because he would likely have kept the restaurant open past closing time. His appetites, capacities, and abilities were simply larger than life. I’m not sure we will see his like again.
The Sunday before he died, Mel called me at home to discuss the introductory chapter we were working on for the second edition of Analytical Politics, our Cambridge book. The first edition has been translated into Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Russian. I have now made very substantial progress on that book, and hope to finish it by May.
On that new edition Mel’s name will still be first, where it belongs, even though once again he didn’t write that much of it. I will always miss him.

No comments: