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RIP MIchael Perelman

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RIP MIchael Perelman

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Yves here. I was saddened to read of the death of Michael Perelman. I didn’t know him well, but I read some of his work and very much liked it. As the obituary below makes clear, Perelman was heterodox, of a Marxist slant. He was a professor at the University of California, Chico; like so many heteredox professors, he looks to have gotten a bit of a short shrift appointment-wise for not hewing to the orthodox position.

Perelman gave a short but very generous review of ECONNED shortly after it came out for a university book review service. I have to confess then I was still more a financial economics writer and only turning to political economy due to the failure of post crisis reforms to fix much of anything. Perelman had a blog on which he posted intermittently; I’d sometimes ping him about his posts. Even when he was writing on a well-trodden topic, Perelman would have a novel insight. We met briefly at a conference, likely the ASSA in Denver.

The only book of his considerable output that I have read is Railroading Economics, which upon reflection I should send along to Matt Stoller, since it discusses the tortured efforts of the time, both in regulation and in economic theory, to deal with the explosion of railroads, which like frackers and ride-sharing companies, were built more for the financial play than the service. The railroads also had very high fixed and very low marginal costs, so they would regularly engage in “ruinous” price competition and go bankrupt. The result was almost the mirror image of what you see today: economist of a commercial slant essentially calling for regulation of pricing from preventing inevitable price wars.

My impression from Perelman’s posts was that he came from a family that was borderline impoverished, so economic justice was a lived issue. I sensed he viscerally felt the importance of policies to ameliorate poverty and help children from modest backgrounds get the education and training to better themselves.

By Barkley Rosser, Professor of Economics at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Originally published at EconoSpeak

I have just learned that old friend Michael Perelman has “passed quietly in his sleep” (not reported of what) on September 21, 2020, having been born on October 1, 1939, so just shy of his 81st birthday.  I knew Michael for a long time and considered him a personal friend, although it has been some time since I have seen him in person.  He long had an active internet list and was officially signed on as one of the people who could post here on Econospeak when it started, and I remember him in fact posting a few times in the early days, but then stopped.  He was always insightful.

Michael received his PhD from the Agricultural Economics and Natural Resources Department at UC-Berkeley in 1971, where his major prof was George Kuznets, younger brother of Nobelist Simon Kuznets. Michael then taught for 47 years at Chico State University in California where he was widely praised as an excellent teacher.  Among his students was Mark Thoma who apparently was strongly influenced by Michael and who would later run the widely respected and busy blog, Economists View, no longer functioning unfortunately.

He was definitely of a heterodox and progressive position and active in URPE, someone who took Marx seriously while not necessarily buying into all things Marx advocated.  He wrote 19 books, which I shall list below, although I am missing the year for one of them.  As can be seen they covered a wide range of topics.

I would note a few of them that I think are the most important.  Probably the one with the biggest splash was his 2000 The Invention of Capitalism: The Secret History of Accumulation, in which among other things he revealed a lot of dirt on Adam Smith.  Another was his1987  Karl Marx’s Crises Theories: Labor Scarcity and Fictitious Capital, of especial interest now with all the wild speculative bubbles we are seeing with “fictitious capital” Marx’s term for asset values above their fundamental due to speculation. Then there is his 2003 The Perverse Economy: The Impacts of Markets on People and Nature, in which he attempted to reconcile Marx with environmentalism, although I think he made the fuller version of this argument in some articles. Along with Paul Burkett, he noted that while Marx did not see see land creating value, he was it as containing wealth and wrote quite a bit about the implications of the work of the German organic chemist, von Liebig, developer of the famous “Libig’s Law of the Minimum,” an important idea in both ecology and agricultural economics.

Below I list his books:

Farming for Profit in a Hungry World (1977)

Classical Political Economy: Primitive Accumulation and the Social Division of Labor (1983)

Karl Marx’s Crises Theories: Labor Scarcity and Fictitious Capital (1987)

Keynes, Investment Theory and the Economic Slowdown: The Role of Investment and q-Rartios (1989)

The Pathology of the U.S. Economy: The Costs of a Low Wage System (1993)

Critical Legal Studies (with James Boyle, 1994)

The End of Economics (1996)

Class Warfare in the Information Age (1998)

The Natural Instability of Markets: Expectations, Increasing Returns and the Collapse of Markets (1999) [also an excellent book and well-timed]

Transcending the Economy: On the Potential of Passionate Labor and the Waste of the Market (2000)

The Invention of Capitalism: The Secret History of Accumulation (2000)

The Pathology of the U.S. Economy Revisited: The Intractable Contradictions of Economic Policy (2001)

Steal this Idea: Intellectual Property and the Corporate Confiscation of Creativity (2002)

The Perverse Economy: The Impacts of Markets on People and Nature (2003)

Manufacturing Discontent: The Trap of Individualism in a Corporate Society (2005)

Railroading Economics: The Creation of the Free Market Mythology (2006)

The Confiscation of American Prosperity: From Right-Wing Extremism and Economic Ideology the Next Great Depression (2007) [another well-timed one]

The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers (2011)

Information, Social Relations and the Economy of High Technology (date unknown)

I shall miss him.

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