Wednesday, February 3, 2021

RIP MIchael Perelman

 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.

Barkley Rosser


Anonymous said...

A very prolific and impactful author...

Here is a blog that Dr. Perelman posted at:

The book Information, Social Relations and the Economics of High Technology was published in January 1991:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this memorial.

Sandwichman said...

This stings and brings many memories. Michael encouraged my research both directly and indirectly. There would be no "Sandwichman" without Michael Perelman and his PEN-L. I never met him personally but considered him a friend. A while ago Sabri Oncu mentioned to me that Michael had Alzheimer's. said...

It has been several years since I have had any communication with him and longer than that since I saw him, but I gather he was teaching up until about two years ago. Yes, PEN-L was his list, quite a busy and successful one I would say in its heyday.

He was a very nice guy in person, very mellow.

Sandwichman said...

Fond Farewell: Economics Professor Emeritus Michael Perelman

Ashley Gebb November 5, 2020

Professor Emeritus Michael Perelman, who taught economics at Chico State for 47 years, passed away September 21. He was 80.

Born October 1, 1939, he studied at the University of Michigan and San Francisco State University before earning his PhD in agricultural economics from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1971, he was hired as an economics professor at Chico State, the start of a career that would span almost a half-century. He is remembered as much for the deep connections he formed with his students and colleagues, as well as a speaker at economic summits throughout the world and prolific author—writing 19 books and numerous articles during his decades-long tenure.

As a scholar, Perelman also frequently connected with individuals around the globe to share in their study of economics. Rodrigo Moreno Marques, now a professor at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil, had the chance to work with him in 2012 as a PhD candidate after reading several of his books. They met every morning that summer to study and work in his campus office, and Marques remembers him to be enthusiastic and thought-provoking.

“The aims of Perelman’s work and life were clear for me: not only to reveal the contradictions of our unequal and unfair society but also to develop ways and strategies to overcome its barbarism,” he said. “Throughout his life, mainly devoted to emancipating human beings, he has planted these seeds. They have been growing and will continue to produce many fruits. Someday the world that Michael envisioned in his dreams will be the world we will live in.”

Vincent Portillo (English, ’09; MA, English, ’15), who now is a PhD candidate at Syracuse University, met Perelman as a master’s student in the English Department while taking a handful of economics classes and remembers him to be a generous and welcoming man. Memorably, Portillo said Perelman offered him the opportunity to co-author a book manuscript on the political economy of war.

“I was certainly ‘unqualified’ in that I did not hold the credentials for the work he proposed,” he said. “Michael set me up with a desk and an office next to his. We read, wrote, and sometimes revised side-by-side. Michael gave me a chance others would have likely denied me, teaching me the value of mentorship and community as twin foundations of our work as researchers and teachers.”

Statistics professor Edward Roualdes (Mathematics, Economics, ’08) recalls that with Perelman’s infectious personality and deep passion for economics, he was “just the professor I needed when I started as a student at Chico State.”

“For those students who wanted a standard macroeconomics course, he provided it. For the other students who wanted to be more adventurous, he catered to it,” he said. “Michael’s love of learning was infectious. I caught the bug. If I’ve had any successes as an academic, Michael deserves much of the credit.”

Sandwichman said...

Even though it’s been nearly 40 years since Brian Kelly (Economics, ’80) had Perelman as his professor and advisor, he remembers him as both a bright and wonderful instructor and a caring human being.

“Dr. Perelman was not the most conventional professor, teaching classes in Marxist economics and economics of underdeveloped countries—most often with the lights off or lowly dimmed,” Kelly said. “While most of Chico’s economic professors at the time had a more conservative appearance, Dr. Perelman with his long hair and beard, flip-flops, and soft-spoken manner did not fit that mold. I learned a lot from him and will remember him always as a wonderful and passionate professor and for the positive imprint he made on me.”

A fearless cyclist, Perelman biked to work every day, rain or shine, and pedaled to the gym daily at lunch, where he would listen to podcasts while exercising. Wildcat Recreation Center Director Curtis Sicheneder shared that even after his retirement in 2018, Perelman remained a regular and in addition to traditional workouts, he always played basketball with the students while wearing his headphones.

“He was not the least bit intimidated to go up against much younger, faster, and stronger players,” Sicheneder said. “I think the students respected his grit and enjoyed having him in the games.”

Perelman is survived by his wife, Blanche, daughter Jessica, and brother Dale. Final arrangements have taken place.

The University flag will be lowered Monday, November 9, in his honor.

kevin quinn said...

RIP MIchael. I remember him on the blog and wondered why he left some years ago. Barkley, you solved a mystery for me - I was surprised, and delighted, to see Mark Thoma's periodic posting of passages from Hunt's History of Economic Thought text on Economist's view. How, I wondered, did this pretty orthodox (albeit "saltwater) macro guy at Oregon come to be acquainted with Hunt's text? Now I know: he was Michael's student at Chico.

(PS: I wish Mark was still doing EV!)

almostlost said...

Wow, I'm dumbfounded I hadn't heard of him until now, and a quick perusal tells me I have to read his work. Just ordered a couple of his books.