Ngo Van Long

Ngo Van Long(1948-2022)

by Hassan Benchekroun

We are very sad to share the news that our dear friend and colleague Professor Ngo Van Long passed away from acute myeloid leukemia on January 15th, 2022. He passed away peacefully in Montreal surrounded by the love of his family: his spouse Kim, his son Bach, his daughter Chi and her partner Eric and his granddaughter Bambou.

Professor Long was born in Vietnam in 1948 and moved to Australia to pursue his higher education. He started his academic career at the Australian National University, joined McGill in 1989 as a Full Professor and since 2003 was a James McGill Professor. He made significant and lasting contributions in several areas in economic theory, including natural resource economics, environmental economic theory, industrial organization, game theory and dynamic games.

From the start of his career, he attacked some of the most pressing societal issues related to the scarcity of resources and environmental policies, their impact on economic development and growth, both in a national and international context. His work contributed to the development of the theoretical tools to deal with intertemporal constraints in economic theory arising from resource scarcity. He pioneered the extensions of dynamic economic theory to cover strategic interactions and game theory. A nonexclusive list of the societal challenges that his research agenda addressed includes the sustainability of resource use, the transitioning to clean energy sources, sustainability of climate agreements, intergenerational equity, transmission of social norms and fostering cooperation.

He has served on the editorial boards of 16 scientific journals including the most influential in his areas of interest such as Journal of International Economics, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Resource and Energy Economics, Dynamic Games and Applications, European Journal of Political Economy, Journal of Public Economic Theory and the Canadian Journal of Economics. He published 8 books and more than 190 articles in the top general journals in the discipline such as Econometrica, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Journal of Economic Theory, the International Economic Review, the Economic Journal, Economic Theory, as well as in the best journals of their respective fields such as Dynamic Games and Applications, Games and Economic Behavior, Journal of Development Economics, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Journal of International Economics, Journal of Public Economics and the Rand Journal of Economics.

Professor Long will be remembered as a most humble, gentle, kind, and generous colleague. More than 80 scholars from all around the globe had the privilege to have him as a co-author, and to many he was an exceptional and inspiring mentor. In fact, many of us had the privilege to know him as an advisor and then as a colleague and friend. He would never point to a mistake made by his co-author or by a speaker in a seminar, but rather ask if a given approach is sound, or ask for clarification. Since his doubts would inevitably end-up being founded, one can’t help but assume he knew all along that he was right. Working with him often pushed his co-authors to attack overly ambitious research questions probably because we felt that, in the end, Long would have our back and come to the rescue. He was always approachable; in scientific events he would socialize mostly with junior colleagues and graduate students offering gentle advice and encouragement.

Two of his books published by Cambridge University Press, ‘Optimal Control Theory and Static Optimization in Economics’, co-authored with D. Léonard and ‘Differential Games in Economics and Management Science’, co-authored with E. Dockner, S. Jorgensen, and G. Sorger, instantly became the authority respectively in dynamic optimization and in differential games. These books are a good reflection of his character: they both bring state of the art sophisticated technical material at a level that is accessible to a graduate student or a junior researcher. In these books, and his work in general, concise presentation and rigorous treatment were never at the expense of accessibility. His more recent book, ‘Dynamic Games in Economics: A Survey’, manages to achieve the same tour de force while generously offering a wide range of potential applications of the technical tools covered and potential research questions: a real treasure for graduate students and young scholars.

His more recent research also reflects his optimistic view towards human nature and the ability of agents to behave in a more cooperative and altruistic way than what standard economic theory assumes. Indeed, in his latest research he examines the outcome of private contributions to public goods when players are Kantian. While under a standard individual rationality criterion an individual deviates from an equilibrium action as soon as it is beneficial for her to do so, under a Kantian social norm, a player deviates from a proposed equilibrium action only if she would be better off if all other individuals deviate in the same way. In his recent work, he highlights the role of moral education when adherence to a Kantian norm results in warm glow and shows how collectively, parents have an incentive to inculcate moral education to their offsprings. Applying his novel generalized concept of Kant-Nash equilibrium to climate change mitigation, he demonstrated how, increasing the share of countries following a Kantian norm, results in a cleaner environment and in all the parties being better off. An inspiring set of optimistic contributions that brings a glimpse of hope to some of the most pressing challenges our societies currently face.

Long will be tremendously missed by us all.

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