Robert C. Merton, 1997 Nobel Prize winner in economics, has been at the forefront of research on many topics in financial economics. In this publication, leading researchers explain Merton’s impact on financial theory and practice.
In 2019, MIT hosted a 75th birthday symposium in honor of Robert C. Merton. The event included presentations by students and colleagues explaining the influence Merton has had on the profession and on their ideas. Each presenter focused on a specific aspect of Merton’s life and contributions so that the audience could gain a full picture of Merton’s influence while avoiding repetition across presentations. The brief contains edited transcripts of some of the speeches and panel discussions that took place at the symposium. The presentations cover Merton’s career, highlighting both his foundational work on continuous time finance and the functional approach to understanding organizations as well as recent work on retirement security and trust. Some of the presentations unveil new aspects of his life. Merton’s father, Robert K. Merton, was one of the most important sociologists of the 20th century, being the originator of concepts such as role model, unanticipated consequences, and self-fulfilling prophecies. Another of the presentations makes a convincing case for Merton as the first financial engineer; the presenter argues that a body of knowledge becomes a science when a field of engineering emerges from it. If that is the case, this brief achieves two goals. It celebrates the influence of Merton on the theory and practice of finance through a series of engaging presentations, and it traces the birth of finance as a science on its own.
Updated July 2020 to include “Robert C. Merton’s Seminal Insights, Revisited” by Robert A. Jarrow.