Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Wachter earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, joining Penn right after he graduated. At Penn, he served as a professor at the Penn Carey Law School, an economics professor at the School of Arts and Sciences, a professor of management at the Wharton School, and a deputy provost of the University.
During his time at Penn, Wachter also helped build Penn Carey Law’s Institute for Law & Economics — an interdisciplinary hub led by Penn Carey Law, Wharton, and the Department of Economics — which leads research corporate law, governance, business, and finance.
“Years ago, Professor Wachter was able to envision how vigorous discussion could spark lively debate and lead to reconsideration of law and policy,” ILE Executive Director Larry Hamermesh told Penn Carey Law. “That was his genius.”
Wachter was specifically interested in the intersection between law and economics. He researched and sought reforms in unemployment, wage fluctuations, and the conflicting roles of corporations in society, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Wachter also served as a Commissioner of Congress’s Minimum Wage Study Commission, as well as an economics consultant for different organizations including the National Science Foundation, the Council of Economic Advisers, and the Federal Reserve System.
“[Wachter] was one of the pillars of the business law faculty,” Jill E. Fisch, Saul A. Fox Distinguished Professor of Business Law and current Co-Director of ILE, told Penn Carey Law. “When you think business law at Penn, you think Michael Wachter.”
Wachter’s former students are now among some of the most prominent practitioners and judges in the country, according to Fisch. The late professor celebrated his 50th year at Penn in 2019.
In addition to introducing corporate law classes to the University, Wachter also authored and co-authored over 100 research papers, and edited a number of books.
“I lucked out,” Wachter said in the video. “I had no idea I was choosing a career that was going the right way. But it went the right way.”
In honor of his achievements, the Law School established the Michael L. Wachter Distinguished Fellowship in Law and Policy in July 2020.
“Michael was a role model for us all, but, most of all, it was his constant focus on doing what was best for the students and being there for them – that is the example we all should emulate,” Leo E. Strine Jr., the first Michael L. Wachter Distinguished Fellow in Law and Policy and a member of ILE’s advising board, said. “The Penn community lost a giant.”
Donations in memory of Wachter can be made to the Michael Wachter Endowed Business Law Fund.