In Memoriam: ARE Alum David Edward Buschena

May 13, 2010
by David Zilberman

Last week I lost a dear friend, collaborator, and one of our most beloved alumni as Dave Buschena past away after a valiant struggle with cancer. I first heard about Dave when his professor at University of Minnesota and our alumni, Claudia Parliament, called me to recommend him for our graduate program. She described Dave as “super bright, hard working, and a really nice guy that really cares about agriculture and the world.” This was an apt description. Dave took my first year class and even though he lacked in mathematical training, he caught on really fast and was one of the best students. I was teaching risk at the time and he would always approach me after class to ask me questions about risk management and what the theory implies for trading and farming. Many times I didn’t understand his questions and in most cases I couldn’t answer what he asked. It was clear to me that I was teaching risk, but he was managing risk. And indeed he was a practitioner of risk management, and he was a wonderful advisor to people who were interested in agricultural risk management.

Dave has had incredible intellectual curiosity and he was interested in many topics, including industrial organization of agriculture, consumer preferences for food and what affects it, and international trade and international relationships. His dissertation was on the economics of risk management. Dave realized the limitations of traditional expected utility theory that was being used to manage risk and was fascinated by new behavioral theories that modified it. He got the insight that people make different choices when alternatives are similar or dissimilar, they use more rigorous rules between choices that are different, while using almost random choices when things are similar. His dissertation was set to test this theory. While he came with this idea, it started appearing in the literature so his main contribution was to show that the similarity approach really worked empirically. In order to do it, he became an expert on experimental design working with Barbara Mellers in the psychology department to develop an “industrial strength” experiment to test his hypothesis, and indeed the data proved him right, and he went on to publish several influential papers. His work on risk was so good that one of the papers that we submitted to Journal of Risk and Uncertainty was accepted “as is,” the only time that it ever happened to me. Dave was one of the key people to introduce modern behavioral and psychological risk analysis to agricultural economics and at the same time was crucial in developing practical and simple rules for risk management. `
Dave was a wonderful friend. He loved nature, sports, and people. I really enjoyed many trips with him, and working with him was always fun. I enjoyed learning from him about life in the West and got a new perspective on hunting and adventure. I took my sons to Montana to visit him and his wife, Maire, and they really enjoyed it. Dave was the best guide for Yellowstone that you could ask for. The kids really appreciated it when he introduced them to guns and target practice. For years they bugged me to take them back to Dave and emphasized that the time and location would be modified to have less Yellowstone and more guns.

Dave’s expertise with guns came in handy. One of the strange visitors in our department was always complaining that Irma Adelman stole his big idea by developing the CGE models that made her famous. (He was wrong.) One day this fellow came to the office with a wooden box and to all of us it looked like an exotic lunch box. Dave realized that it was a box for a weapon. We notified the police, and indeed the guy had a loaded gun.

Dave and Maire visited us in Berkeley just a couple of months back and Dave looked good. Leorah and I had a glimmer of hope that this brave man would overcome this terrible affliction, but it didn’t happen. I feel fortunate to have known him and to have collaborated with him. He made the world a better place and had a huge and lasting impact on the many people he touched. He made a lasting contribution to agricultural economics, and we will always treasure his memory.