John Burr Williams


John Burr Williams : biography

October 1, 1900 – September 15, 1989


  • The Theory of Investment Value. Harvard University Press 1938; 1997 reprint, Fraser Publishing. ISBN 0-87034-126-X
  • International trade under flexible exchange rates. 1954
  • Interest, Growth & Inflation 1964; 1998 reprint, Fraser Publishing. ISBN 0-87034-131-6


Williams studied mathematics and chemistry at Harvard University, and enrolled at Harvard Business School in 1923. After graduating, he worked as a security analyst, where he realised that "how to estimate the fair value was a puzzle indeed… To be a good investment analyst, one needs to be an expert economist also." In 1932 he enrolled at Harvard for a Ph.D. in economics, with the hopes of learning what had caused the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the subsequent economic depression of the 1930s. For his thesis, Joseph Schumpeter suggested the question of the intrinsic value of a common stock, for which Williams’ personal experience and background would serve him in good stead. He received his doctorate in 1940.

Williams sent The Theory of Investment Value for publication before he had won faculty approval for his doctorate. The work discusses Williams’ general theory, as well as providing over 20 specific mathematical models; it also contains a second section devoted to case studies. Various publishers refused the work since it contained algebraic symbols, and Harvard University Press published The Theory of Investment Value in 1938, only after Williams had agreed to pay part of the printing cost. The work has been influential since its publication; Mark Rubinstein describes it as an "insufficiently appreciated classic".

From 1927 until his death, Williams worked in the management of private investment portfolios and security analysis. He taught economics and investment analysis as a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison; he also wrote many articles for economic journals.