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Uri Regev: an unsung hero of resource economics

David Zilberman, professor, agriculture and resource economics | June 1, 2015

Uri Regev, a teacher and friend of mine, passed away on April 22 in Israel at the age of 80. Uri grew up in Kibbutz Yagur in Israel, studied economics at Hebrew University and came to Berkeley, where he got his Ph.D. in agricultural economics in 1968. He spent most of his career at Ben Gurion University of the Desert in Israel, and was a frequent visitor to Berkeley, where he produced some of his best work in the 1970s.
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Uri’s research was multi-disciplinary when being a multi-disciplinarian was not cool. His work integrated biology and economics- studying “bio-economics” — especially the economics of pest control — and his work laid the foundation to a large body of research.

Uri was among the first to study the economics of resistance to pesticides. His co-authored paper with Darrell Hueth[1] suggested that pests have a certain amount of vulnerability to pesticides, and it wears off the more pesticides are applied, and that resistance to the treatment is increasing. Therefore, when deciding to apply pesticides, people should take into account the future cost of the resistance built up, and reduce the use of pesticides accordingly. This analysis resulted in formulas that actually established rules on how resistance considerations affect how much and when to apply chemicals and what the social cost is of over-application in terms of excess future pest damage. Regev and collaborators went on to apply this model[2], and today the formulation they introduced has been expanded and is widely used today.

Another paper[3] was the first to introduce considerations of predator-prey relationships among species to the economics of pest control. It considers situations when a plant is attacked by two pests when one of them is a predator of the other. The predator reduces the damage of the prey, and if you ignore this and eliminate the predator, the damage may become much bigger if the prey is the bigger pest. Therefore, the control of the predator needs to consider cost of the resulting damage by the prey.

Uri had an enduring, productive and inspiring collaboration with a leading entomologist, Andy Gutierrez. Andy applied their models to develop real world strategies of pest control that recognized such complex relationships and have saved many millions of dollars over the years.

Another innovation of Regev and Gutierrez has been modeling the outcomes of multitrophic food chains (e.g. algae — krill — fish –humans)[4]. As human harvesting capacities grow, market-driven harvesting activities may steer the system away from sustainable outcomes towards destruction. The analysis identifies different scenarios where ignoring the rules governing interaction among species will result in undesired outcomes. Improved human harvesting capacity requires policy interventions that will restrain resource exploitation and sustain the ecosystem.

Uri’s work did not get much attention in the 1970s when his work initially appeared, even at his own university at the time in Tel Aviv. But his research has gained much recognition over time — Uri was very satisfied when, about 20 years ago, his work was featured prominently at a conference on the economics of resistance with applications to both pest control and medicine, sponsored by Resources for the Future.

I owe Regev a debt of gratitude. He was chair of the economics department at Tel Aviv University, where I did my undergraduate studies. Every year, he invited the top performers in the second year of the program for a conversation. I will always remember my interview with him: he asked me about my plans and earnings (I was working fulltime while going to school, which was not unusual in those days). I told him that I was earning well as a programmer and I would like to consider pursuing my education beyond a bachelor’s degree. He encouraged me to consider pursuing a Ph.D. in economics and recommended that I take a course in econometrics. He told me that the course was tough, but valuable, and that taking it would help me decide if I should pursue a career in economics.

One month later, I was invited to a ceremony where I received an envelope from the department with a large certificate. Unlike others who received similar envelopes, however, my envelope did not contain a check, which made me appreciate Uri’s sense for social justice and eye for talent. Uri later recommended me to Eithan Hochman as a possible research assistant, which eventually led me to Berkeley.

Uri was a real gentlemanDSCN0043. He was a very kind and supportive colleague and teacher, with infectious intellectual curiosity and a zest for life and adventure. He appreciated the good things in life, was very musical, and actually continued to play the flute till the very end. He loved his wife Nurit deeply and his three daughters and grandchildren. One of his daughters, Tali Regev, has a Ph.D. in economics from MIT; another daughter, Shiri Regev, is a law professor specializing in civil rights; and a third, Gili, is an MD researching control of diseases (interestingly, her research relies on models based on her father’s work on predator-prey relationships).

Uri’s memory will live in the heart of his family, students and friends, and in the work of the people who follow his research.

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[1] Hueth, D., and Uri Regev. “Optimal agricultural pest management with increasing pest resistance.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 56, no. 3 (1974): 543-552

[2] see for example Regev, Uri, Haim Shalit, and A. P. Gutierrez. “On the optimal allocation of pesticides with increasing resistance: the case of alfalfa weevil.” Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 10, no. 1 (1983): 86-100

[3] Feder, Gershon, and U. Regev. “Biological interactions and environmental effects in the economics of pest control.” Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 2, no. 2 (1975): 75-91

[4] Regev, U., Andrew P. Gutierrez, Sebastian J. Schreiber, and David Zilberman. “Biological and economic foundations of renewable resource exploitation.” Ecological Economics 26, no. 3 (1998): 227-242

Comments to “Uri Regev: an unsung hero of resource economics

  1. David, what a great tribute! I met Uri the first time at the RFF workshop and later at a workshop in Rome and other conferences. He was a great and sharp scientist and a very nice person to communicate and exchange with. I will miss him.

  2. Thanks, David, for writing such an informative tribute to your mentor, one of our intellectual forefathers, and a special person.

  3. Fascinating. I knew nothing about Uri Regev, but now I have learned how economics can be applied to pesticides, renewable resources and much else. I hope Uri’s achievements will inspire the next generations of Cal students reading this blog.

  4. A wonderful celebration and remembrance of Professor Regev’s contributions to our field. Thank you, David.

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