He came from a family of Polish Jews who, evacuated from the Kingdom of Poland during World War I, took refuge in Moscow for a short time. At the beginning of 1919, he returned to Warsaw with his family. His father was a lawyer, a graduate of the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1938, Leonid graduated in law from the University of Warsaw. Initially, he intended to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, in his sophomore year in law, he took compulsory economics courses and developed an interest in the discipline more than any other. Hurwicz’s father, sensing a new passion, suggested to his son that instead of establishing a law firm in Poland, he applied to the London School of Economics. Young Hurwicz studied there in the years 1938–39 and listened to lectures by Fridrich Hayek, among others. Then he spent a few more months at the Geneva Institute of Higher International Studies. In 1940, he emigrated to the USA, where he continued his economic studies at the University of Chicago and Harvard University.
“I have spent in Warsaw 20 years of my childhood and youth, then my father, seeing my passion for economy, sent me to London to study there. This is how my path to Nobel Prize began.”
During his professional career, he worked at many renowned universities in the USA: in Minnesota, Illinois, Chicago, Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, Stanford. He has also worked in the Far East countries such as Indonesia, India, China and Japan. He was an employee of international organizations and a consultant to American government agencies and institutions. In his scientific activity, he was interested in various areas of economics – the theory of general equilibrium (including the theory of exchange), the theory of demand, consumption and welfare, the theory of prices, the theory of development and planning. In the 1950s, he worked with the later Nobel Prize winner Kenneth Arrow on nonlinear programming. The work of Hurwicz in the field of research on decentralization (decomposition) and the effectiveness of economic systems and resource allocation processes attracted the greatest interest in the economics community.
Leonid Hurwicz was the chairman of the Econometric Society and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1980 he received an honorary doctorate from Northwestern University, in 1989 from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, in 1993 from the University of Chicago and Keiō University, and in 1994 from the Warsaw School of Economics. On October 15, 2007, together with Erik S. Maskin and Roger Myerson, he received the Bank of Sweden Award. Alfred Nobel for his work on a theory that implements mathematical systems in economic processes, which, using mathematical equations and algorithms, allows to assess the correct functioning of markets. Theory helped economists determine effective market mechanisms, regulatory patterns, and election procedures, and today plays a central role in many areas of economics and in political science. The economist died in 2008 in Minneapolis.