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Professor Frederic Sterling Lee (1949-2014): An Appreciation

Fred lee

Fred Lee passed away on 23rd October 2014 following a brave fight against lung cancer.  It is a significant honour for me that the President of the Association for Social Economics (ASE), Prof Mark White, invited me to write a few words commemorating and celebrating Fred’s substantial, and valued contribution to the ASE, and to the wider community of heterodox economics.  This task fills me with considerable sadness as I count myself as one of the many fortunate people whose lives were enriched by Fred, both professionally and personally, and I will miss him dearly.  I feel deep sympathy for Fred’s family: Ruth, his wife, Sally, their daughter, her husband, and Fred’s two granddaughters.  I hope that appreciations such as this, the many condolences posted on Fred Lee’s website (http://heterodoxnews.com/leefs/), and the moving tribute from Fred’s former PhD student, Dr Tae-Hee Jo, are of some comfort to Fred’s family and friends.

Fred was born in November 1949 in New York and grew up in Virginia.  From an early age Fred was interested in progressive politics, and never lost this interest or enthusiasm.  After graduating with a History degree in the 1970s, Fred, together with Ruth, worked in Saudi Arabia for a few years.  Later in the 1970s he returned to education, embarking upon his economics studies initially at Columbia University in New York.  It was here that he met Alfred Eichner who encouraged Fred to study for a PhD.  During this period, Fred and Ruth spent time in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Despite the PhD programme at Edinburgh not being to his liking, Fred later told me that he rated the city as one of his favorite places.  I’m sure he didn’t just tell me this because I’m a native of Glasgow.

Fred graduated from Rutgers University in 1983 with a PhD, writing his dissertation on Post Keynesian micro theory.  As Fred observed in his short autobiography: ‘Predestined to Heterodoxy or How I Became a Heterodox Economist’:

When I entered Rutgers I was a Post Keynesian-heterodox economist; and with (Paul) Davidson, (Jan) Kregel, Eichner, and Nina Shapiro as my professors, there was no chance that I would deviate. (http://heterodoxnews.com/leefs/cv/predestine/)

From his PhD thesis Fred started to publish papers on Post Keynesian microeconomics, especially related to Gardiner Means’ approach to pricing.  Alfred Eichner was a major influence on Fred’s approach, Fred describing Eichner as his “mentor and friend”.

Following graduation from Rutgers, Fred taught at the University of California – Riverside; Roosevelt University, then crossing the Atlantic to England to teach at Staffordshire Polytechnic (Stoke-on-Trent) and De Montfort University (Leicester); returning to the US in 2000 to the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC) where he spent the rest of his career.  Fred retained a great affinity and affection for the places he taught.  In the summer of 2014 he revisited his old stomping grounds in Stoke and Leicester.

Fred served on the editorial board of the Review of Social Economy from 2006 until he assumed the editorship of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 2009-10.  He also served as a trustee of the ASE, and was a highly active member of the association and the editorial board.  He was awarded the Helen Potter Prize in 1988 for his article entitled: ‘A New Dealer in Agriculture: G. C. Means and the Writing of Industrial Prices’ published in the Review.

Of course, Fred’s work was recognized by other fraternal associations, such as the European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy, EAEPE, which awarded him the Gunnar Myrdal Prize in 2000 for his monograph entitled: Post Keynesian Price Theory.  The Myrdal Prize is awarded to the best monograph that broadly reflects the theoretical perspectives of EAEPE.  Fred’s academic interests were many and varied, transcending the boundaries of the heterodox economic associations.  Nonetheless, he was especially noted for his work on price theory from a Post Keynesian perspective; developing the work of institutionalist economist, Gardner Means, Post Keynesian, Michal Kalecki, and industrial economist, Philip W. S. Andrews.  Later in his career, Fred worked on the history of heterodox economics, particularly in the Anglophone world, and strategies to develop the impact of heterodox economics journals.  He also made telling contributions to the debate over the impact of the research assessment exercise on the evolution of economics in the UK, and how this further marginalized heterodox economists.  Last year he assumed the role of President of the Association for Evolutionary Economics, AFEE, a position he vigorously and enthusiastically served until his passing.

Despite his numerous academic achievements, Fred is perhaps best known for his tireless work in promoting the causes of heterodox economics and economists.  Fred was passionate about the institution building and reproduction of heterodox economics.  In this his contribution is enormous.  He was instrumental in establishing the UK-based Association for Heterodox Economics (AHE) in 1999.  The AHE was initially established to offer economists the opportunity to present heterodox work that they were not afforded at the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society (RES).  Fred was struck how North American economists could present heterodox work at the premier US economics meetings, under the auspices of the Allied Social Science Associations (ASSA), but that no such facility existed in the UK.  However, the RES had no desire to adopt the ASSA model, and hence the AHE swiftly became established as a successful heterodox economics association hosting an annual conference that attracts many scholars from all over Europe and beyond.  Fred was awarded honorary life membership of the AHE.  Indeed, despite battling cancer, he was able to present a keynote lecture to the 2014 AHE conference at the University of Greenwich in July.  Fred’s address was typically powerful and provocative as he presented a finely crafted critique of mainstream price theory.  It is a testament to his enthusiasm, stamina, and willingness to advance the cause of heterodox economics that he presented his lecture and answered questions following his address in a session that lasted around two hours.

As part of his innovative institution-building strategy for heterodox economics, Fred launched the Heterodox Economics Newsletter in 2004, passing the editorial baton to Tae-Hee Jo and Ted Schmidt in 2009.  This was a significant undertaking as the Newsletter seeks to collate and disseminate information about conferences, job vacancies, journal publications, edited volumes, and books within heterodox schools of thought.

Fred’s enthusiasm for the reproduction of heterodoxy is also evident from his contribution to teaching and learning.  Having visited UMKC on a number of occasions, I have no doubts of his popularity among his students, who saw him as generous with his time, enthusiastic for his subject and his students: in short, inspiring.  Indeed, Tae-Hee Jo highlights Fred’s concern about heterodox economics students when recounting that upon learning that he had terminal cancer, Fred and Ruth immediately moved to establish a fund to finance heterodox economics students in heterodox PhD programmes.

Again, whether it was establishing associations, foundations, newsletters, welcoming visiting scholars to UMKC, contributing his time to the varied heterodox economics associations, or manning the International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics, ICAPE, booth at ASSA meetings, Fred was prepared to advance the cause of pluralism in economics and progressive economic thought in whatever way he could.  His energy and enthusiasm were astounding.  Quite simply, he was inspirational.

From a personal perspective, two episodes of my encounters with Fred illustrate what a special individual he was.  First: on the occasions I visited UMKC, Fred organized a series of events around guest lectures and seminars to staff and students.  These events were designed to introduce UMKC students to international scholars, and for these scholars to exchange knowledge within a vibrant and exciting heterodox economics campus.  The atmosphere was intellectually stimulating, and participants were supportive and highly encouraging in seeking to progress research and teaching in heterodox economics.  Fred expended much time and effort to ensure that visitors were welcomed and supported in their work.  Having been a beneficiary of this hospitality, I am extremely grateful.  Second, during the summer of 2014, Fred observed that he was fortunate in that he was receiving excellent medical care.  Many in his position may have (with understandable justification) observed their misfortune.  For me, this was the measure of the man: his glass was always at least half-full.  He was a caring, affable, and optimistic person with seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm.  I count myself as privileged to have known Fred and count him as a friend.  I’ll miss his intellectual drive at conferences and other gatherings.  More than this, I’ll miss Fred the person: his beaming, mischievous smile, and good humour.

A memorial service for Fred will be held on Saturday, November 8th, at 1:00pm in the Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Road, St. Louis, Missouri.  His ashes will be scattered at a later date at the Haymarket Martyrs Monument in Chicago, IL. Condolences may be sent via Fred Lee’s website at: http://heterodoxnews.com/leefs and memorial contributions can be made to the Frederic S. Lee Heterodox Economics Scholarship Fund which is housed at the Kansas City Community Foundation. Donations can be made at: https://gkccfonlinedonations.org/give/leeh00.asp.


Robert McMaster

Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow

31st October 2014

(I thank Prof Tae-Hee Jo and John Henry for their guidance in ensuring the accuracy of this appreciation.  Of course, any remaining errors are mine alone.)


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