Statement on the passing of Nobel laureate Robert Solow
A founding member of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth’s Steering Committee, Solow was also a longtime partner and advisor to the organization
Robert Solow, the Nobel laureate and longtime economics professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, passed away in late 2023. Solow revolutionized the field with his insights on the role of technological innovation in driving economic growth. Many of us at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, including our past and current staff, learned from him both directly and indirectly over the years because of his seminal role in the creation and growth of our organization.
Starting in 2008, Solow collaborated with the Sandler Foundation in leading a series of meetings with economic thought leaders who would go on to found Equitable Growth, among them former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, Princeton economics professor and former Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System Alan Blinder, and University of California, Berkeley economics professor Emmanuel Saez. Solow’s economic wisdom, pragmatic orientation, and high standards were critical to those meetings and to the drive to create Equitable Growth.
With Solow on board with the idea of what would eventually become Equitable Growth, Podesta and co-founder and former president and CEO Heather Boushey proceeded with the creation of the organization. Meanwhile, Solow and Saez helped build our highly influential Steering Committee, which has provided critical guidance to the organization’s development and grantmaking since its founding.
True to form, Solow threw himself into making Equitable Growth a success. For the launch of Equitable Growth, he sat down for an extended chat on why understanding the need for more equitable U.S. economic growth is so vital to strong, sustainable, and broad-based growth. One of our first events, co-hosted by the Economic Policy Institute, featured Solow and the suddenly very famous Thomas Piketty, the Paris School of Economics professor who had just released his revolutionary book, Capital in the 21st Century, on rising wealth and income inequality around the world.
Always generous with his time, Solow also gave two private seminars to Equitable Growth staff in our early days, helping all of us better understand the underlying dynamics behind economic inequality. In 2017, he sat down for an interview with Boushey in one of the first installments of our “In Conversation” series.
Solow’s contributions to the early and enduring success of our academic grantmaking program is incalculable. He was central to the development of our initial Request for Proposals, which identified core drivers of economic growth: innovation and human capital. This first RFP also identified how inequality could be a drag on growth by creating macroeconomic and financial imbalances, stifling the development and deployment of human capital, and eroding the quality of and trust in the socio-political institutions that govern the economic commons.
This overarching frame has guided our grantmaking since that first Request for Proposals and led to important research showing, for example, that racial and gender discrimination is leading to a misallocation of talent that, in turn, affects aggregate productivity in the economy. “I see and experience the legacy of Robert Solow in so many ways at Equitable Growth,” said president and CEO Shayna Strom. “His insights into the dynamics of inequality in the size and distribution of income and wealth in our nation continue to guide our grantmaking and policy research and analysis.”
For more than half a century, Robert Solow was a giant in economics, and we were fortunate and honored to have had him as one of our most important early mentors and supporters. His legacy will live on in the people and institutions he touched, including Equitable Growth.
“Bob was an American treasure and as delightful a human being as he was a pillar of economics,” said Steve Daetz, president of the Sandler Foundation and Equitable Growth’s board chair. “His warmth, humor, intellect, and pragmatic insights were present in every meeting, and his active engagement in Equitable Growth’s founding was inspiring and indispensable.”