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In memoriam: Hugo Sonnenschein (1940-2021)

Hugo Sonnenschein delivering a speech in Barcelona

The BSE community is deeply saddened by the loss of Hugo Sonnenschein, advisor and dear friend of the BSE, who passed away on July 15, 2021.

Hugo’s affiliation with the Barcelona economics community began in the 1960s, when he coincided at the University of Minnesota with graduate students from Spain who were studying there at the time. 

“Hugo Sonnenschein was great in research, with students, in university leadership, in so many things. But for me, as for so many others, he was first and foremost an extraordinary mentor,” said Andreu Mas-Colell, founder of the BSE. “He became a reference and example when our lives touched in 1970. Since then I have benefited in all my academic adventures from his legendary qualities: generosity, good judgement, deepness of thought, goodness of heart, sensitivity, and soundness of advice. What would Hugo recommend in this or that circumstance is a question that has accompanied me all my life and that will accompany me for what remains of it.”

Professor Sonnenschein watched the development of Economics in Barcelona with great pleasure. At a lecture he gave in 2008, not long after the BSE was founded, he said, “With the bringing together of the Barcelona Economics community behind the BSE, I am convinced we are witnessing a special moment."

Chair of the BSE Scientific Council (2008-2021)

It was a privilege and an honor for the BSE to have Hugo as Chair of our Scientific Council since the very beginning. In this role, Hugo provided strategic guidance for our academic programs and research initiatives.

"Hugo contributed greatly to the BSE. His wise advice at all times, his continuous support, his energy and enthusiasm will be always remembered and immensely missed," said BSE Director Teresa Garcia-Milà.

Paulina Beato, Chair of the BSE Board of Trustees, said that Hugo’s advice and suggestions were clever, useful, and to the point, and that they were always special and relevant for each person and group.

“Thanks to Hugo, I always have in mind that what happens in a group decision is quite different from what happens in an individual decision. His views and approaches have helped me to organize my thinking around those differences,” Beato said.

Over the years, Hugo would come to Barcelona to meet with the Scientific Council and for special events such as the BSE 10th Anniversary Celebration in 2017. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he recorded a video message for the Class of 2020’s virtual graduation ceremony.

"I was impressed by how much time and energy Hugo gave to the BSE,” said Ramon Marimon, Chair of the Board of Trustees from (2012-2018). “He simply believed in the project. And this was his strength and his contribution. Many conversations we had can be summarized, in my mind, with one piece of advice: 'keep going, but always set the standards high.’ Now, Hugo is gone. We feel his loss and empathy for his friends, but his advice remains.”

"The loss of Hugo will be deeply felt by the Board and all the community of the BSE,” said Joaquín Almunia, honorary president of the BSE.“ His work as Chair of the Scientific Council was superb, and his friendship and personality will always be remembered.

A distinguished academic and leader

BSE is only one institution that benefited from Hugo Sonnenschein’s wisdom and energy. After receiving his PhD in Economics from Purdue University in 1964, he served on the Economics faculties of the University of Minnesota, the University of Massachusetts, Northwestern, and Princeton. He held leadership roles at University of Pennsylvania and Princeton before he was named president of the University of Chicago, a position he held from 1993-2000.

In his academic work, Hugo made key contributions to the advance of economic theory: in general equilibrium — the Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu Theorem, general equilibrium in abstract economies; on the mathematical structure of market demand functions; on different market structures, such as dynamic monopoly, Cournot duopoly, monopolistic competition; on mechanism design; and on political economy.

Hugo was distinguished for his academic contributions with the 2009 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (shared with Andreu Mas-Colell) for Economics, Finance, and Management. Among many other honors, he was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Philosophical Society, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association.

Professor Salvador Barberà recalls that Hugo always demanded much of himself. "He sought excellence in all of his many activities and achieved it in all dimensions: as a researcher, as a teacher, as an advisor in many fields, as a bold and innovative university leader. His example led many others to set higher standards for themselves and for society, and in that effort they could count on Hugo's solid, critical, yet always gentle and generous help," Barberà said.

Our sympathy goes out to Hugo’s wife, Elizabeth Gunn Sonnenschein, their daughters, and their grandchildren, and to the entire University of Chicago community.

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