By Jeffry A. Frieden
Alberto Alesina passed away last May, at the age of sixty-three. It will take me a long time to get over the shock and pain of his death, but I wanted to share some thoughts about this most intelligent of scholars and most generous of human beings.
I first met Alberto over thirty years ago. Guido Tabellini was then my colleague in economics (I was in political science) at UCLA, and he and Alberto were collaborating on their pathbreaking work on the political economy of macroeconomic policy. For a variety of reasons, Alberto was a frequent visitor to UCLA. We became friends almost immediately. We were young assistant professors then, on something of a crusade to establish political economy in both economics and political science. (There was a fine group of like-minded scholars in both departments at UCLA at the time, including David Dollar, Sebastian Edwards, Jack Hirshleifer, Ken Sokoloff, and Ed Leamer in economics; and Barbara Geddes, David Lake, Ron Rogowski, George Tsebelis, and Michael Wallerstein in political science.) The study of politics, especially in political science, had been dominated by what was called “behavioralism,” which focused on how cultural and psychological factors determined political behavior. In those early days of political economy, one of our principal goals was to show how this focus limited our understanding of politics, and how central economic interests were to political activity. It is paradoxical that in recent years Alberto and his many collaborators have worked hard to bring cultural and psychological factors back into political economy—a fact that demonstrates both his versatility and his willingness to entertain a vast array of factors in explaining our complex world. Read more on Centerpiece: https://wcfia.harvard.edu/publications/centerpiece/fall2020/in_memoriam