Obituary: Ray Rees

Ray Rees was born on 19 September 1943 to a poor working-class family in Port Talbot, Wales. By talent and tenacity, he managed to achieve academic success at Dyffryn Grammar School in Port Talbot and then earned a BSc (1964) and an MSc (1965) in Economics at the LSE. After a stint as an economist at the Electricity Council (1965-66), he returned to academia as a Lecturer at Queen Mary College (now QMUL), where he rose through the ranks to become a Reader in 1977, before moving as a Professor to the University of Wales, Cardiff (1978-87). He was involved in policy making, as advisor to HM Treasury (1968-72) and as a member of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (1985-87).

Somewhat frustrated by the Thatcher years, Ray and his family moved on to Guelph (1987-93) before eventually settling in Munich. They stayed there beyond his retirement in 2008 and I was lucky enough to meet him there as advisor for my PhD. Mind you, Ray himself never bothered to obtain a PhD, even though he fulfilled all the requirements – a fact incomprehensible to German university administrations, which insisted on bestowing either a “Dr” or a PhD upon him on all websites or nameplates up to his retirement.

Ray was a true-blooded economist who applied his excellent model-building skills to a wide array of topics in industrial organisation and regulation, agency theory, the economics of insurance and uncertainty, health economics, and public economics. His work on the economics of the household, mainly with Patricia Apps from the University of Sydney, is probably his best-known and most influential. Opening up the black box of the household, explicitly modelling (negotiations about) resource allocation, and identifying the determinants of these negotiations, helped to change the paradigm in household and family economics, paving the way for much novel empirical work.

Beyond his numerous papers, his presence in seminars left the strongest imprint on me. It showed just what a good economist he was. He regularly was the one asking the sharpest questions. There may have been people in a room who were more familiar with the topic or more versed in the applied method, but no one surpassed him in terms of impeccable economic intuition. He cut through to the core of the problem at hand, often exposing weaknesses in arguments, but always in an exemplary civil tone and in a constructive way, helping to improve the paper at hand.

Ray was also a brilliant and enthusiastic teacher. Students were enthralled by his lectures. He never got lost in technical details, but provided context and highlighted the practical importance of the concepts. I wish I could enchant my students when explaining Roy’s identity or Shephard’s lemma the way he did when he taught them. It helped that he was well versed in history, philosophy, and the history of economic thought. He continued to teach in Munich and to graduate students around the world long after his retirement.

His passion for educating students about economics is manifested by the fact that he co-authored several successful textbooks; the most prominent were the excellent Microeconomics with Hugh Gravelle and Mathematics for Economics with Michael Hoy, John Livernois, Chris McKenna, and Thanasis Stengos. On the latter, he worked hard up to the very end to finish the revision for the newest edition. Both of these texts shared Ray’s trademark style of balancing formal rigour with enough context and intuition to be accessible to a broader student audience.

To many readers of the Newsletter, Ray will also be familiar as the regular contributor of the Letter from Germany from the mid-nineties until 2013. In these Letters, he wove the political, societal, and economic issues of the time into light-hearted narratives, embedding them into classic Greek tragedies or tales about noise patterns in Bavarian beer gardens. But the lighter moments and narrative backdrops helped him to bring across the core point of his analysis. He did the same in many dinner speeches and laudations. Though it may hurt the vanity of some laureates, oftentimes for the audience the main act of such ceremonies was not the said laureate’s performance, but Ray’s always witty, refreshing, and entertaining dinner speech or laudation.

As a foreigner in Munich, he handled his British heritage flexibly, not least over football. When Germany eliminated England at the 1996 European Championship, he claimed disinterest – he was Welsh after all. Five years later, when Germany lost 5-1 to England – in Munich of all places – he felt English enough to share his glee with us. His sport, however, was not football, but rugby, where he had a successful career in high school and later at the LSE; so successful, in fact, that he had considered a professional career.

Luckily, he chose to become a scholar that taught generations of students and colleagues how to become better economists. But most of all, he was a great human being. When I took the duty of informing people of Ray’s demise, I received many responses that volunteered a story of how Ray had deeply affected them in their life, often in subtle ways, and never making a fuss about it. I like to believe that this is how he would want to be remembered, not only as a great scholar, but as a Mensch. And this is how those that knew him will remember him and miss him dearly for it. Ray is survived by his wife Denise and his two sons Zac and Dan with their families.


Florian Englmaier, LMU Munich


Ray Rees, economist, born 19 September 1943; died 29 December 2022.

Ray’s long-term friends and colleagues Mike Hoy and Hans-Werner Sinn have also written personal obituaries, for EGRIE and CESifo respectively.