Ginzberg, Eli

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Ginzberg, Eli 1911-2002


Eli Ginzberg was born in New York City, the son of prominent rabbi Louis Ginzberg and the former Adele Katzenstein. He was the great-great-grandnephew on his fathers side of the Vilna Gaon, an eighteenth-century rabbi, Talmud scholar, kabbalist, and mathematician. The Vilna Gaon had studied Euclid, caused one of his students to translate Euclid into Hebrew, and was the author of A Ram in Three Parts, a mathematical analysis of Genesis 15:9. His followers initiated the modern Zionist movement. The family thus belonged to the intellectual, political, and financial elite of the Jewish community.

Ginzberg earned the AB, AM, and PhD from Columbia University in 1931, 1932, and 1935, respectively. Wesley Clair Mitchell and E. R. A. Seligman were his principal mentors, and his graduate schoolmates included Abram L. Harris Jr., Joseph Dorfman, and Robert Dorfman.

Ginzbergs career may perhaps be best categorized as that of an entrepreneurial statesman of economic ideas in academia and government. Upon receiving the doctorate, he joined the economics faculty of Columbia Graduate Business School, remaining until his 1979 retirement. There, Ginzberg uniquely focused his research and teaching on labor, health, and race policy issues in economics. He taught three courses or seminars per semester for more than thirty-three years. He also was given occasional responsibilities in the Graduate Department of Economics, College of General Studies, Barnard College, College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the School of Public Health. In 1938, he and Mitchell offered a seminar titled Economic Change and Economic Theory in the economics department. In the School of Public Health he taught Political Economy of Health Care.

During World War II, Ginzberg served the United Jewish Appeal and many agencies in the federal government, including the White House and the surgeon-generals office. At the Five-Power Conference on Reparations for Non-Repatriable Victims of Germany in June 1946, he served as a U.S. delegate. He was awarded the medal for Exceptional Civilian Service from the War Department in 1946. As a consultant to the U.S. Army from 1946 to 1955, he played a role in the armys desegregation.

Back at Columbia Business School in 1950, Ginzberg was appointed director of the Eisenhower Center for the Conservation of Human Resources, a position he held until 1979. He was promoted to full professor in 1952.

He was involved with the establishment of the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), being appointed a member of the National Mental Health Advisory Board in 1959. NIMH funded the nations first community-based advocacy planning institute in Brooklyn in 1968, a project that employed black Columbia and Yale graduate students in economics and a White House Fellow. He was involved with the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.

Ginzberg published at least 179 books and hundreds of articles, which may be categorized into six major themes: (1) history of economic thought, 2) labor economics, (3) industrial organization, (4) race and economics, (5) autobiography and biography, and (6) health economics.

His writings in the history of economic thought included Studies in the Economics of the Bible in the Jewish Quarterly Review (1932), the first systematic treatment of biblical economics since Adam Smith; his dissertation, Adam Smith and the Founding of Market Economics (1934); The House of Adam Smith (1964); The House of Adam Smith Revisited (1977); Economics at Columbia: Recollections of the Early 1930s (1990); and Wesley Clair Mitchell (1997).

In labor economics, Ginzbergs most important contributions were a theory of occupational choice and a general theory of the development and use of human resources. Most of his publications in this area addressed federal labor policy issues. He also served on the National Advisory Committee on Manpower Development and Training from 1962 to 1982.

Ginzbergs works in industrial organization contain his most important theoretical contributions. He developed the concept of a pluralistic economy including private, public, and nonprofit sectors, thus adding an explicit third sector to the private and public sectors of the mixed capitalist-socialist economy. The concept of the coequal third sector was the most striking view of the structure of a modern economy since Marx. It spawned a still growing international literature on the economics of nonprofit organizations (including most notably hospitals and universities) as a macrosector. Many interesting implications for welfare economics flooded the literature, led by Burton A. Weisbrod of the University of Wisconsin. Weisbrod argued that these organizations were substitutes for markets that had failed, so they assumed the functions of the market. Others argued that participants in such organizations did not seek to optimize objective functions but only satificed. Despite the empirical reality and growing significance of this sector, however, and the novelty of explanations for its existence, this literature may nevertheless be considered simply a more highly theoretical form of the utopian socialist literature of the early nineteenth century. In 1985 appeared the most interesting of all Ginzbergs works, Beyond Human Scale: The Large Corporation at Risk, with George Vojta. It showed the similarity of economic relations among micro-units of a macro-unit among such large-scale, complex organizations as corporations, the military, the Catholic Church, universities, and hospitals. The authors uniquely use the example of not-for-profit institutions whose pricing structures are hidden, that is, utilize transfer prices. Although explicit recognition of such prices dated to the 1890s and their naming to the 1950s, this was the first analysis of their implication for nongovernmental nonprofit organizations.

Ginzberg published more on the economics of race than any other nonblack economist of his time. Many of these publications addressed public policy as it affected racial issues.

Ginzberg published six biographies or autobiographies, including one on his father and one about a man from his fathers hometown, Emanuel Piore, whose wife, Nora Kahn Piore, was a professor of public health economics with Ginzberg at the Columbia School of Public Health.

Ginzberg wrote more about heath economic policy than any other subject. Among his many associates in medical and health economics were Michael M. Davis, Walton H. Hamilton, George H. H. Soule, Hugh Smythe, Roscoe G. Leland, Algie M. Simons, Frank G. Dickinson, Nora Kahn Piore, Eveline M. Burns, and Michael Grossman. He opposed the Clinton heath plan of the early 1990s, largely because he thought the president was politically inept in its pursuit.

In 1983, Ginzbergs separate focus on labor and the nonprofit sector were joined by the Monthly Labor Review in an article containing statistics on the size of the labor force in that sector. This article subsequently was cited by twenty-eight publications.

Because his books and articles generally represented policy and empirical analyses rather than the high mathematical economics favored by most economic journals beginning in the 1950s, he was involved in no professional polemics, and his critics were so few as to be unidentifiable.

SEE ALSO Capitalism, Black; Desegregation; Economics; Economics, Labor; Entrepreneurship; Harris, Abram L., Jr.; Health Economics; Industry; Jews; Medicaid; Medicare; Mitchell, Wesley Clair; Public Health; Public Policy; Race; Smith, Adam; Welfare; Work


Berg, Ivar E., ed. 1972. Human Resources and Economic Welfare: Essays in Honor of Eli Ginzberg. New York: Columbia University.

Berkowitz, Edward. 1998. History of Health Services Research Project: Interview with Eli Ginzberg. New York City, March 2. U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

Ginzberg, Eli. 1966. Keeper of the Law. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America.

Ginzberg, Eli. 1989. My Brothers Keeper: Personal Memoirs of a Public Life. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Ginzberg, Eli. 1993. The Eye of Illusion. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Ginzberg, Eli. 1997. New Deal Days, 19331934. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Ginzberg, Eli. 1997. The Long View: When Teaching Came Second. 21stC: The World of Research at Columbia University 2.2 (winter).

Ginzberg, Eli. 2002. The Economist as a Public Intellectual. Ed. Irving Louis Horowitz. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Piore, Emanuel R. 1990. Science and Academic Life in Transition.

Ed. Eli Ginzberg. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Rutherford, Malcolm. 2004. Institutional Economics at Columbia University. History of Political Economy 36 (1): 3178.

Julian Ellison

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Ginzberg, Eli

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