Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Barkley Rosser, 1948-2023

I've just learned that Barkley Rosser, the mainstay of this blog, died yesterday.  I'd crossed paths with him in Madison, WI in the early 70s and then reconnected in the late 1980s, even coauthoring a paper with his wife Marina in 1990 (I think).

Barkley and I would get together for a meal most years during the economics meetings.  He was a human tornado, quick and vociferous, backed up by a vault of reading, study and thinking.  He was uncommonly wide-ranging: although his reputation rested primarily on his work in complexity theory and nonlinear dynamics, he was a textbook coauthor in comparative systems and served as editor of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.  Of course, if you read his blog posts here, you would know how wide his horizons were.

Bark had a great sense of humor, loved to laugh, and was optimistic despite his cynicism.  He went out of his way to help others.  Given his never-ending intensity, I'm glad his heart held out for this long.

One of the sadder parts of aging is having to say final goodbye's to so many people who have meant so much.  Bye Bark.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for a fine remembrance. I sent along many thoughts to Marina yesterday and today.

Bruce said...

Sorry to hear. Barkley had me down to speak at JMU some years ago. Bruce Bartlett

Sandwichman said...

Barkley, Rest in Peace. I've known Barkley for decades and admired his breadth of interest and knowledge. Never had the pleasure to talk to him in person. He will be missed!

Not Trampis said...

I always read Barkes as he was interesting as well as smart. A sad loss

pgl said...

Barkley will be missed by economic bloggers across the spectrum.

kevin quinn said...

Like Tom, I never met Barkley. I have felt like a pygmy among giants on this blog --Barkley, Peter and Tom -- and Barkley had this intellectual depth and breadth that just astounded me. From the intricate mathematics of complexity to the deep knowledge of the incredible variety of actually-existing economies and economic institutions, topped off with a keen political intelligence and an abiding humanism that comes through in everything he did: a life well lived. RIP Barkley.

Anonymous said...

For hundreds of years, from the dawn of the Industrial Age through the middle of the 20th century, economics was considered a closed system operating in equilibrium, with humans making purely rational decisions in their own narrow self-interests. By the 1960s, however, a new way of thinking about economics—as a system in motion, one that is continually reinventing itself and involves interaction between many dispersed, heterogeneous agents—was emerging.

John Barkley Rosser Jr., then a student of economics at the University of Wisconsin, was among the proponents of this new heterodox school, which employed research methods and tools from disciplines such as psychology, physics. He stayed in Madison for all three degrees, earning his doctorate in 1976.

The son of a prominent mathematician, Rosser inherited his father’s talent for mathematical models and computational analysis, which has proven valuable for analyzing how modern economic structures form, reform and interact with human behavior. “Some of the mathematical interests that I have, and have had, are actually some of the things that my father did,” he said.

One of JMU’s longest-serving faculty members, Rosser joined the economics department in 1977 and became a full professor in 1988.

His first book, From Catastrophe to Chaos: A General Theory of Economic Discontinuities (1991), challenged established economic thinking that the world is fundamentally continuous. Rosser made the case for discontinuities, including catastrophe theory, chaos theory, synergetics and fractal geometry. The book was rejected by 13 publishers before finally appearing in print.

In 2004, Rosser answered some of the critics of modern economics, arguing that the profession was “moving away from a strict adherence to the holy trinity [of] rationality, selfishness and equilibrium” and toward the “four Cs of cybernetics, catastrophe, chaos and complexity.” “It was not a question of me moving toward orthodoxy as it was the profession moving closer to me,” he said.

Barkely and his wife, Marina, a native of Russia, married in 1987 after nearly three years of diplomatic entanglements between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. For all of his scholarship and professional accolades, Rosser said his proudest achievement is having helped establish legal precedent giving individuals the right to marry whom they choose, across national boundaries.

On Aug. 15, 1984, Rosser became legally engaged to the former Marina Rostislavovna Vcherashnaya, whom he met during an exchange trip to Moscow organized by Elizabeth Neatrour, JMU professor emerita of Russian. The couple was scheduled to be married Nov. 13, 1984. But after Barkley returned to the U.S., Marina was forced to resign from her position as senior researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, and he was not granted a visa to return to Moscow to marry her. Their blocked marriage case violated the Helsinki Accords signed by the Soviet Union in 1975. After diplomatic efforts linked to the emerging perestroika program of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, their case was finally resolved when Marina was allowed to travel to the U.S. They married May 24, 1987. That fall, Marina Rosser, a renowned economist with a long list of publications, joined the economics faculty at JMU.

"Barkley has always had an incredible sense of where the cutting edge is, and he was always pursuing it, against the odds of the mainstream."
— Marina Rosser
Marina Rosser describes her husband as a “rebel” in the field.
“Barkley has always had an incredible sense of where the cutting edge is, and he was always pursuing it, against the odds of the mainstream,” she said. “His books have gone in many different directions, but he has always remained true to himself.”
Adapted from
Published: Friday, January 14, 2022
Last Updated: Tuesday, April 19, 2022

R Mutt said...

I only knew him from this blog but I'll miss his posts and insights. A sad loss.

Saphsin said...

I just wanted to give my condolences as a casual reader and appreciator of this blog.

Richard Kane said...

As lay reader of this blog, I wanted to express how much Professor Rosser's writing had done to educate me over the years. To his wife Marina, I want to say that many share her sorrow. His memory is a blessing.

Rick Kane said...

As a lay reader of this blog, I found it, along with Mark Thoma's Economist View, Brad DeLong's Blog, & Uneasy Money to like a second college education. I will miss Professor Rosser and my condolences to his family and friends on his loss. May his memory be a blessing.

Anonymous said...

Very sad to hear. Lurking on this board over the years I really enjoyed reading his posts, especially on geopolitics.

Phil Rothman said...

Terribly sad. Condolences to his family & friends.