Albert Fishlow Awarded the 2020 Harvard Centennial Medal

On May 27, 2020, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences awarded Albert Fishlow its Centennial Medal, which honors scholars’ “fundamental and lasting contributions to knowledge, to their disciplines, to their colleagues, and to society.”

Professor Fishlow has been the quintessential scholar on Latin America among U.S. academics for nearly six decades. His early contributions to the understanding of income distribution and poverty have influenced generations of economists working on one of the most relevant questions for the region. In his seminal work on this topic, published in the American Economic Review in 1972, Fishlow showed how low levels of per capita income in Brazil were linked to low levels of productivity and inappropriately targeted social policies. He highlighted the relationship between income inequality and years of schooling, as well as the impact of race and institutional factors. Nearly half a century later, his insights remain accurate and completely relevant.

His long list of contributions, including his 2011 book Starting Over: Brazil Since 1985, published by the Brookings Institution, are remarkable examples of the use of economic principles and empirical evidence to understand complex development questions. His trademark, which has influenced thousands of students, is the ability to combine economics with a deep knowledge of history and the role of institutions.

Albert Fishlow has been a mentor for several generations of Latin American economists. More than a professor and advisor, he has been a positive force in the lives and careers of many Latin Americans who have been active players in the political and policy debates of the region. He has taught his students how to apply analytical rigor and keep a critical attitude, avoiding the dogmatism that is so common in the region. This approach has influenced many in the profession beyond those who have directly interacted with him, and is perhaps his most lasting legacy.

A former Director of the Institute of Latin American Studies and founding Director of the Center for Brazilian Studies at Columbia University, Dr. Fishlow is now professor emeritus. He spent 22 years at the University of California, Berkeley, advising on hundreds of doctoral dissertations with the same principles of relevance, analytical rigor, and intellectual breadth that are found in his contributions and profusely displayed in his classes.

As one of the founders and the first president of the Latin American and Caribbean Economic Association (LACEA), Dr. Fishlow is also an institution builder. LACEA has played a decisive role in the advancement of the profession in the region and elsewhere.

His friends and former students at ILAS and Columbia University are very proud of this award that recognizes the intellectual leadership and the amazing legacy of Albert Fishlow.

Mauricio Cárdenas

Visiting Research Scholar, Center on Global Energy Policy, SIPA, Columbia University, and former Finance Minister of Colombia. Ph.D. in Economics (1991), University of California at Berkeley and former student of Albert Fishlow.