Michael C. Jensen, Who Helped Reshape Modern Capitalism, Dies at 84

Michael C. Jensen, an economist and Harvard Business School professor whose evangelizing for stock options, golden parachutes and leveraged buyouts helped to reshape modern capitalism and empower Wall Street’s greed-is-good era, died on April 4 at his home in Sarasota, Fla. He was 84.

The death was confirmed by his daughter Natalie Jensen-Noll. She did not specify a cause.

Even before he embarked on a peculiar late-career intellectual partnership with Werner Erhard, the controversial self-help guru who created est, Professor Jensen’s colleagues considered him among the most freethinking and divisive economists of his generation.

“Mike was a kind of born proselytizer,” Eugene F. Fama, a University of Chicago professor and Nobel laureate in economics who collaborated with Professor Jensen, said in an interview. “He was very sure of himself in terms of his ideas being correct and, you know, pathbreaking.”

They were also incendiary.

In his book “The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite” (2017), the journalist Duff McDonald called Professor Jensen an “instrument of intellectual violence” who “created a Frankenstein that no one knows how to kill.”

Professor Jensen began his academic career in the late 1960s, when a seismic shift in economic theory was underway. For decades, students studying management — especially at Harvard Business School — were taught that executives (and their companies) should have a social conscience.

Then, in 1970, the economist and free-market theorist Milton Friedman published his groundbreaking essay, “A Friedman Doctrine — The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits,” in The New York Times Magazine.

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