Leonid Hurwicz

August 21, 1917 – June 24, 2008

Brief Biography

Leonid “Leo” Hurwicz was a leader in game theory who spent the majority of his career as a professor of economics and mathematics at the University of Minnesota. He introduced important approaches to mechanism design, in particular developing the theory incentive compatibility to achieve desired outcomes in economics and the social sciences. Over the course of his academic career, his was a visiting professor at many of the world’s leading institutions, including Stanford University; the University of California, Berkeley; Warsaw School of Economics; Tokyo University; and Northwestern University.

Originally educated in law, the Russian-born Hurwicz received his LL.M. from the University of Warsaw in 1938. As a Jew, Hurwicz fled Warsaw prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 and continued his studies at the London School of Economics and the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. After arriving in the United States in 1940, he held a series of research positions at MIT, Harvard University, and the University of Chicago prior to receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1945-1946. Hurwicz never earned a degree in economics, stating later in life that, “Whatever economics I learned I learned by listening.”

As a research associate for the Cowles Commission for Research in Economics from 1942-1946, Hurwicz worked on problems of business-cycle theory and time series. Though he left that position to become an associate professor of economics at Iowa State University, he remained a consultant to the Commission and the RAND Corporation.  It was at Cowles where Hurwicz met Stanford economist and game theorist, Kenneth J. Arrow. He and Arrow would go on to publish a number of works together on information efficiency, linear and non-linear programming, and mechanism design.

Around 1960, he developed the theory of incentive compatibility, suggesting a system in which all participants involved would fare best when motivating incentives where openly outlined. This, in turn, compels individuals to reveal whatever private information the system intends to discover. Unlike previous work in mechanism design, Hurwicz's theory stressed the difficulty of communication rather than the incentives himself. The proper allocation of incentives among all parties was the key to mechanism’s success in achieving its purpose.

In 1951 Hurwicz was hired by the University of Minnesota where he taught full time until 1988 and supervised graduate students until the fall semester of 2006. He advised numerous students who would go on to greatly influence the field of econometrics including 2000 Nobel Laureate Daniel McFadden. Focusing primarily on game theory in the social sciences, Hurwicz was an active researcher. The University of Minnesota summarized his body of work as the “comparison and analysis of systems and techniques of economic organization, welfare economics, game-theoretic implementation of social choice goals, and modeling economic institutions."

In 2007, at age ninety, Hurwicz became the oldest person to win a Nobel Prize, splitting the award three ways with Eric S. Maskin and Roger B. Myerson, “for having laid the foundations of mechanism design theory”. The prize was somewhat unexpected as Hurwicz himself stated that, “I didn’t expect the recognition would come because people who were familiar with my work were slowly dying off.” He passed away the following year after kidney complications led to renal failure.  

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Leonid Hurwicz

Jewish Virtual Library. Biography: Leonid Hurwicz. Accessed December 15, 2014. (link)

Nobel Prize. Nobel Prizes and Laureates: Leonid Hurwicz - Biographical. Accessed October 31, 2018. (link)

University of Minnesota Department of Economics. Perspectives on Leo Hurwicz, A Celebration of 90 Years. Accessed December 15, 2014. (link)

Duignan Brian (2013) Leonid Hurwicz. Duignan Brian, ed. Notable Economists (Britannica Educational Publishing, New York), 104-5. 


University of Warsaw, LL.M. 1938

London School of Economics

Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Oral Histories

Leonid Hurwicz (2007) Interview with Adam Smith. October 15. Phone Interview. Nobel Prize Foundation (audio). 


New York Times (2008) Leonid Hurwicz, Nobel Economist, Dies at 90. (June 26). (link)


Leonid Hurwicz Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. (link)

Awards and Honors

National Medal of Science 1990

Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences 2007

Professional Service

The Econometrics Society, President 1979

Selected Publications

Arrow K., Hurwicz L., & Uzawa H. (1958). Studies in linear and non-linear programming. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Arrow K. J. & Hurwicz L. (1958). Decentralization and computation in resource allocation. Stanford University, Department of Economics.

Arrow K. J. & Hurwicz L. (1960). Stability of the gradient process in n-person games. Journal of the Society for Industrial & Applied Mathematics, 8(2), 280-294.

Hurwicz L. (1960). Optimality and informational efficiency in resource allocation process. Arrow K, Karlin S., & Suppes P. eds. in Mathematical methods in the social sciences, 1959: Proceedings of the first Stanford Symposium (pp. 27-47). Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Arrow K. J., Hurwicz L., & Uzawa H. (1961). Constraint qualifications in maximization problems. Naval Research Logistics Quarterly, 8(2), 175-191.

Arrow K. J. & Hurwicz L. (1972). An optimality criterion for decision-making under ignorance.Uncertainty and expectations in economics, 1-11. Shackle G. L. S, Carter C. F., & Ford, J. L. (1972). in Uncertainty and expectations in economics: essays in honour of G.L.S. Shackle.[Clifton] N.J.: A.M. Kelley.

Hurwicz, L. (1986).On Informational Decentralization and Efficiency of Resource Allocation Mechanisms. Minneapolis, Minn.: Institute for Mathematics and its Applications.

Hurwicz L. & Reiter S. (2006). Designing economic mechanisms. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Hurwicz L. (2014). Programming in linear spaces. Traces and Emergence of Nonlinear Programming, 131-195. Springer Basel: New York.

Additional Resources

Leonid Hurwicz Mathematical Genealogy

Nobel Prize. Prize Lecture by Leonid Hurwicz (49 minutes). Video. Accessed December 16, 2014. (link)