Karl Shell is without a doubt one of the central players in the development of economic theory and macroeconomics in the latter part of the twentieth century. He has made important contributions on topics ranging from growth theory, to overlapping generations, to extrinsic uncertainty, to monetary economics, to market games, and to technological innovation. His collaborations with Dave Cass are legend, and include the seminal formulation of the concept of sunspot equilibria. His “Notes on the Economics of Infinity,” and his papers with Yves Balasko are overlapping-generations classics. Shell's many coauthors read like a Who's Who in economics, and include (in no particular order) Joe Stiglitz, Franklin Fisher, Miguel Sidrauski, Ned Phelps, Duncan Foley, Walt Heller, Albert Ando, Jim Peck, Rod Garratt, Aditya Goenka, Christian Ghiglino, and Todd Keister. This is also a club to which we are also proud to belong.
Shell's research is first rate and highly innovative, but his full contribution to economic theory must also be judged by his long service as the editor of one of the profession's premier journals, the Journal of Economic Theory. As the founding editor of JET, Shell took a small upstart journal, originally envisioned as a niche outlet for papers on mathematical economics, and turned it into one of the best in the profession. JET has published papers that have had major impacts on the development of economic theory in all its various flavors.
Because of Shell's long stewardship of JET, the story of his professional life—which we hope we have captured in this interview—is also a history of the evolution of economic theory over the past quarter century. We spoke with Karl in his office at Cornell University and over lunch at the faculty club in the Statler, and the interview tapes we made were very much a three-way conversation between Karl and the two of us. In editing the transcripts of these tapes for publication, we wished to keep the focus of the conversation on Shell, and have therefore adopted the same anonymous “MD” moniker we used in our interview of Dave Cass to mask the identity of the questioner. We hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did.