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Thanks, Bob

I have promised to follow up on an earlier post on friend Bob Prasch, who passed away last year. He was the subject of a session sponsored by AFEE at the recent San Francisco economics conference. Again, the acronym stands for Association for Evolutionary Economics. As many will know, the first generation of U.S. Institutionalists took up the “evolutionary” banner, defining themselves in opposition to the physics-inspired approach of the early neoclassical school. Bob was active in this group, as well as the Association for Social Economics, mentioned in my previous post.

First, in the wake of a chat at the conference, Eric Hake provides this link to the organization’s obituary for Prasch.

Bob was a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont and had been been a classmate more than 25 years ago in a graduate program at Berkeley. He was inspirational–if not always optimistic–in my decision to return to the hunt for a Ph.D. in economics in 1995. His reports from the front line as a young academic were not always happy ones. I received only a handful of the typewritten letters from Bob, who at one point even apologized for being a “shabby correspondent”! I was happy and almost amazed when he told me years latter that after the travails mentioned in various letters, he had been granted tenure at Middlebury.

In person, the cheerful and upbeat Prasch was often one to marvel–sometimes in dismay–at the latest goods and developments that capitalism had brought the American consumer.

The session in Prasch’s honor, entitled “Why Labor Is Not Like Broccoli,” focused on his work related to labor markets and institutions. One of Bob’s strong beliefs was that markets for different kinds of commodities were unlike and operated in differing ways. This observation recalls an classroom incident in which we asked a classmate from the Ph.D. program in Finance to explain why that program shared core microeconomics courses with our own Economics program. Trying to explain, the student, in tie and white shirt, protested, “We also study how markets work.” Many years later, I wondered if this mild before-class confrontation of sorts was the inspiration for the title of Bob’s book How Markets Work. One of Bob’s many works, this effort shared the argument that profound and relevant differences in fact exist among markets.

Randy Wray’s new book about Hyman P. Minsky’s ideas has received another good review.   The accolades this time appear in Times Higher Education. Bob was a strong believer in the seriousness of Minsky’s ideas in the late 1980s, as the US stock market mysteriously crashed and the country dealt with the legacy of the S&L crisis–an earlier catastrophic episode in a series that is increasingly well documented–though perhaps there remains much to be done in understanding such phenomena theoretically. Bob was amenable to and interested in heterodox efforts in this direction that involved nonlinear dynamics.

Needless to say, at an evening event at the conference, people who recalled Bob expressed sadness over this loss.

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