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In Memoriam

Rendigs Fels (1917-2010)

Professor Emeritus Rendigs Fels in his officeProfessor of Economics, Emeritus

Ren Fels was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on June 11, 1917 and died in Nashville, Tennessee on January 24, 2010. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a master’s degree from Columbia University before serving in the U.S. Army in the Second World War. After the war, Fels returned to Harvard where he earned his Ph.D. in 1948. He accepted his first (and only) permanent academic appointment at Vanderbilt University in 1948, retiring in 1982.

Ren Fels was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on June 11, 1917 and died in Nashville, Tennessee on January 24, 2010. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a master’s degree from Columbia University before serving in the U.S. Army in the Second World War. After the war, Fels returned to Harvard where he earned his Ph.D. in 1948. He accepted his first (and only) permanent academic appointment at Vanderbilt University in 1948, retiring in 1982. He twice chaired Vanderbilt’s Department of Economics, and earlier played an important role in creating and directing the Graduate Program in Economic Development, a Master’s degree program which continues to attract students from around the world. In his first seven years at Vanderbilt, Fels published eight articles in the three leading journals in economics, American Economic Review, Quarterly Journal of Economics, and Journal of Political Economy. The majority of these articles were about business cycles. He also wrote two books on business cycles, American Business Cycles 1865-1897 (1959), and Forecasting and Recognizing Business Cycle Turning Points (1968).

Fels was elected president of the Southern Economic Association for 1966-67 and the Midwest Economics Association for 1984-85. In 1970, he became Secretary-Treasurer of the American Economic Association (AEA) and moved its office from Evanston, Illinois to Nashville, where it has remained since. He remained Treasurer of the AEA from 1976-87. While an officer of the Association, he was instrumental in starting the Journal of Economic Perspectives (JEP), a publication designed to showcase new ideas and policy issues in economics in language accessible to people who are not professional economists. The Association’s financial capacity to initiate the JEP by 1987 reflects Fels’ astute management of the Association, which in 1970 was teetering on the edge of a financial cliff.

Fels’ initial research focused on the theory of business cycles and on the explanation of American business cycles between 1865 and 1897. This research eventually led to Fels’ first book on American business cycles, which included an analysis of the depression of the 1890s. Scholars have subsequently cited Fels’ estimates of the turning points of particular business cycles. Fels examined the four main approaches that scholars had taken to business cycles: the inductive approach of the National Business of Economic Research (NBER), the deductive, the econometric, and the historical approaches. After criticizing the first three, he opted for the historical one, with its tailor-made (rather than generic) explanation of individual cycles.

In 1964 Fels published an edition of Schumpeter’s monumental Business Cycles: A Theoretical, Historical, and Statistical Analysis of the Capitalist Process (1939), which he abridged to less than half its original length in order to make it accessible to other economists. This was a labor of love, to which Fels added an introduction and (as an epilogue) an eighteen-page summary attempting to reduce this long-winded work to its essentials. Reducing lengthy prose to its essentials was one of Fels’ particular skills. One author of this biographical note once received a two word letter from Fels. Later, he discovered an even shorter letter Fels had sent to someone. After the salutation, it said simply: “No.”

While retaining an interest in business cycles, Fels later turned his attention to post-Second World War growth in the USA and to the recession of 1949 in articles appearing in the American Economic Review in 1955, 1963 and 1965. Fels and Elton Hinshaw co-authored an NBER volume, Forecasting and Recognizing Business Cycle Turning Points (1968). This book was part of an NBER project designed to appraise the reliability of short-term business forecasts.

Sometime in the 1950s, a growing interest in research on teaching economics began to compete with Fels’ work on business cycles. He wrote his first article about economic education in 1955, a note in the American Economic Review titled “On Teaching Elementary Economics.” It introduced two themes that characterized Fels’ contributions to the teaching of economics for the subsequent forty years. First, he argued that if economists were to learn how to improve the teaching of economics, they needed to abide by the same methodological standards to which they subject their analysis of other subjects. Second, he initiated his career-long emphasis on teaching a few important ideas very well.

Fels devoted his 1968 Southern Economic Association Presidential Address to hypothesis testing in economic education research, exhorting economists to abandon anecdotes in favor of systematic evidence. Indeed, in one of his last publications (1993), Fels continued to press for carefully modeled theories evaluated with sound evidence. Evaluating a symposium about how experimental economics can be used to improve the teaching of economics, he noted the irony that none of the authors had performed a controlled experiment to evaluate the effectiveness of their proposed use of controlled experiments.

Sound measures of learning are necessary to conduct quantitative studies of the effectiveness of teaching methods. To further this approach, in 1968 Fels chaired a blue-ribbon committee to prepare a standardized test for use in the college-level introductory economics course. The committee produced two versions of a microeconomics and two versions of a macroeconomics Test of Understanding College Economics (TUCE). The original TUCE and its revised version (published in 1980 and 1990) have been used in hundreds of studies of teaching effectiveness. The creation of this examination was crucial to the expansion of research on effective teaching in economics, for without a reliable and valid test instrument it is difficult to conduct persuasive empirical studies. The impact of the TUCE extended beyond its role in facilitating research, however. By focusing on analysis and application questions, the TUCE encouraged faculty to de-emphasize the teaching of economics as a list of terms and a set of facts, and to focus instead on the role of the deductive logic and repetitive applications of powerful economics principles to realistic problems.

In the 1970s, Fels reinforced his emphasis on teaching a few important principles very well through repetition. To mastery of the basic economics principles he added the ability to analyze policy issues systematically using economics principles. To facilitate policy analysis, he created the seminal Casebook of Economic Problems and Policies: Practice in Thinking (1974), which encouraged students to work through contemporary economic policy issues found in newspapers and magazines.

Fels applied his principles to his teaching at Vanderbilt. He was known for high standards in teaching Economics 101. Few students missed exams, because word-of-mouth information that the make-up exams were oral, consisting of one question with follow-ups to discover if the student really understood the material, ensured that few students missed the original written examination. In the 1970s Fels developed an innovative self-paced introductory economics course. Students who completed the course all received an A. The rest received an F. The average grade in the course did not vary much from other Vanderbilt courses, but the absence of any Bs, Cs, or Ds was peculiar. There is a (perhaps apocryphal) story that circulates at Vanderbilt, of a dissatisfied student visiting Fels’ office after a course ended. The student demanded to know why he had received a D in the course. A calm answer came from Fels: “Because you did very well on the final examination.”

Fels served for many years on the American Economic Association’s Committee on Economic Education, and as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Joint Council on Economic Education (now the Council for Economic Education). His vigilance for high quality economics content in National Council publications is legendary. Fels was honored with the National Council on Economic Education and the National Association of Economic Educators’ Distinguished Service Award in 1989. In 1993, he received the National Council on Economic Education Board of Trustees’ Marvin Bower Award. The Bower Award is given to an economics educator who has had a distinguished career in economic education marked by leadership and innovation; who has contributed to economic education through outstanding teaching, publication, or administration, and who has demonstrated an unusual ability to communicate the goals and the content of economic education to a variety of audiences. This award describes well Rendigs Fels’ many contributions to the economics profession and almost two generations of students at Vanderbilt University.

by John Siegfried, Professor of Economics

T. ALDRICH FINEGAN (1929 -2020)

Prof. T. Aldrich FineganProfessor of Economics, Emeritus

T. Aldrich (Al) Finegan, an outstanding labor economist, trusted friend, and pillar of the University and Department of Economics for decades, will be greatly missed. Those of us who knew Al as a colleague realize the depth of this loss all too well.  Al served as Department Chair and Director of Undergraduate Studies among many other key roles in his long career at Vanderbilt, which began in 1964 and continued to this day as Professor Emeritus, an honor conferred at his 2000 retirement. Al remained active throughout his retirement years, and was an inspiring figure to his friends and colleagues, taking up residence at the AEA offices until very recently, where he brightened everyone’s days there with his positivity and intellect.  He lives on via the T. Aldrich Finegan Award, presented annually to the undergraduate Honors student who writes the best final thesis.

By John Siegfried, Professor of Economics, Emeritus

Thomas Aldrich Finegan was an only child born in Los Angeles, California on September 1, 1929, about two months before the great stock market crash.  He died in Nashville, Tennessee on September 21, 2020.

Al grew up in one of the more modest homes in Beverly Hills, California.  His parents were both school teachers.  His neighbor was W. C. Fields.  The world famous composer Andre Previn (My Fair Lady, Gigi, Irma la Douce) was a high school acquaintance, graduating from Beverly Hills High School in 1946, a year before Al.  Previn went on to conduct the London and Los Angeles Symphony Orchestras. Perhaps his exposure to Previn is where Al acquired his life-long love of classical music, holding a season subscription to the Nashville Symphony for a half century.

Al was a lifelong bachelor who lived in the same house for over fifty years . He did not cook much and therefore ate dinner out so frequently that whenever he entered many Nashville restaurants the staff greeted him by name.

He graduated from Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna College) in 1951.  He went to the University of Chicago on a Harry Millis Fellowship and a University Fellowship to study toward a Ph.D. in economics, but was interrupted by a call to active duty from the U.S. Navy.  He served as a payroll officer on a submarine tender (repair ship) and later on a radar picket destroyer.  When he returned to Chicago he took courses on monetary economics from Milton Friedman, and was probably Friedman’s only student who had previous real-life experience with the supply of money, having distributed it to drunken sailors about to take shore leave as part of his naval responsibilities.

After the Navy, Al returned to the University of Chicago on a Ford Foundation Fellowship and earned his Ph.D. in 1960, working under the supervision of H. Gregg Lewis.  His thesis was about hours of work, a good topic for someone who, even at 80 years of age, was usually the last person to leave the office every day.  An article derived from his thesis was published in the Journal of Political Economy in October 1962.  The first footnote thanks Gregg Lewis, Margaret Reid, George Schultz, Al Rees, Jacob Mincer, William Baumol, Richard Lester, and Bill Bowen for helpful comments—an impressive list of critics.

Al’s first academic appointment in 1960 was as assistant professor at Princeton University, where he remained until 1964, when he moved to Vanderbilt.  He retired from Vanderbilt in 2000, after 36 years on the faculty.  Al devoted most of the 1960s to a monumental 923 page Princeton University Press book, The Economics of Labor Force Participation, that cemented his reputation as one of the leading experts on an emerging trend in the economy at the time, the increasing labor force participation of married women.   His co-author, William Bowen, became President of Princeton in 1972, just three years after the book was published. 

One of the most careful empirical scholars of labor economics, Al studied hours of work, the backward bending supply curve (subject of his first publication in January 1962), labor force participation, overtime, minimum wages, teenage labor force participation in the South, school attendance, and attrition from and completion of Ph.D. programs.  His series of articles and a background monograph written for the National Commission on Employment and Unemployment Statistics in the late 1970s and early 1980s on discouraged workers—those who are neither working nor looking for work, but have virtually given up—led to insights about the various reasons why people enter and leave the workforce, long before the phenomenon attracted a lot of attention after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.  Although he retired from Vanderbilt in 2000, he continued to conduct research and publish well into his 80s, his last refereed publication appearing when he was 85.

Al served on just about every committee at Vanderbilt’s College of Arts & Science.  He served on the Arts & Science Faculty Council for five years, and on the Curriculum Committee, Vanderbilt-in-England Committee, Officer Education Advisory Committee, Academic Standards Committee, College Admissions Committee, Board of Advisors to the Honor Council, College Program Committee, College Administrative Committee, Social Science Committee of the University Research Council, Community Affairs Committee, and the Dean’s Advisory Committee, as well as a half dozen ad hoc committees.  At various times he chaired the Student Publications Board, the Subcommittee on American Studies, the Admissions Committee, the Steine Memorial Lecture Committee, and the College Program Committee.

Al served as department chair in the 1970s, and was later Director of Graduate Studies for seven years and Director of Undergraduate studies for nine years.  He co-founded the department’s honors program and later endowed an annual award for the best honors thesis.

He taught graduate labor economics and undergraduate courses in labor economics, wages and employment, and industrial relations.  In recognition of his devotion to and excellence in teaching, Al was awarded the Ellen Gregg Ingalls Award for Excellence in Classroom Teaching in 1975.  In honor of his extensive service to Vanderbilt and its students, he received Vanderbilt’s Chancellor’s Cup in 1996.

Al was an avid college sports fan. He held season tickets to Vanderbilt football, basketball, and baseball games until recently. One row at the Vanderbilt football stadium contained Al, Kathy Anderson and her son, and Bill and Julie Damon – loyal fans through many less than spectacular seasons. As tough as it was to watch Vanderbilt play Alabama and LSU in football, Al was always calm and just glad to be there with the fans.

Al was a kind, gentle person, who looked a little like and acted a lot like public television’s Mr. Rogers.  Indeed, when a friend’s oldest daughter was about two years old and first saw Al, she pointed at him and exclaimed, “It’s Mr. Rogers.” 

He was kind and generous to a fault.  When I was department chair, Al asked for a meeting soon after annual raises were announced one May.  The meeting immediately took a surprising twist, as Al announced he was unhappy with his salary increase.  He wanted to return part of it so that other more deserving individuals who were in greater need could enjoy a larger raise—a rare showing of generosity and compassion that is not found everywhere these days.  Years earlier, When Al stepped down from his turn as department chair, he assigned himself the office often described as “the closet,” usually reserved for short term visiting scholars. 

Al Finegan was a respected scholar, a beloved teacher of thousands of Vanderbilt alumni, a colleague without peer, and a generous friend.  He will be missed by all who were fortunate enough to have their lives touched by him.

Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (1906-1994)

Professor Emeritus Nicholas Roegen at lecternDistinguished Professor of Economics, Emeritus

Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen was born in Constanza, Romania, on February 4, 1906, and died in Nashville, Tennessee on October 30, 1994, at the age of 88. He studied mathematics and statistics at the Universities of Bucharest and Paris (Sorbonne), and taught at Vanderbilt from 1949 to 1976. His early work pioneered contributions in utility theory and Leontief systems. Influenced by the writings of Karl Marx and his personal acquaintance with Joseph Schumpeter (whom he met at Harvard), Georgescu-Roegen in his later work criticized the neoclassical theories of utility and production, incorporated insights from agrarian economics, thermodynamics and ecological economics, and sketched the outlines of a new interdisciplinary field that he called bioeconomics. He is the author of numerous articles. His books include Analytical Economics: Issues and Problems (1966), The Entropy Law and the Economic Process (1971), and Energy and Economic Myths (1976). Paul Samuelson has described Georgescu-Roegen as “a scholar’s scholar, an economist’s economist.”  

C. Elton Hinshaw (1936-2019)

Professor Emeritus C. Elton Hinshaw wearing academic regaliaProfessor of Economics, Emeritus

C. Elton Hinshaw was born in Texarkana, Arkansas on August 2, 1936, and died in Nashville, Tennessee on February 24, 2019. He earned his B.A. from Baylor University and his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt. Upon earning his doctorate, Elton taught for a few years at Louisiana College before joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 1966, where he remained until his retirement in 2001. Elton’s most significant research contribution was Forecasting and Recognizing Business Cycle Turning Points, a 1968 National Bureau of Economic Research monograph co-authored with Rendigs Fels.   

C. Elton Hinshaw was born in Texarkana, Arkansas on August 2, 1936 and died in Nashville, Tennessee on February 24, 2019. Elton and his brother grew up on “the wrong side of the tracks,” and were the first in their family to graduate from high school. Elton’s youth was consumed by work and sports. He was an excellent high school athlete in baseball and basketball, but eventually gave up sports for academic pursuits when, as he recalls, he played an exhibition baseball game against a local prison team, whose pitcher threw so hard “it might have gone straight through me.” Around the same time, Elton’s high school basketball team lost a state tournament game to North Little Rock High School. Elton was a senior, but he was outplayed by a sophomore guard named Brooks Robinson (later a third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, and now in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame), who was playing his “hobby sport.” At that point Elton concluded that professional sports were not his future, but he continued to be active. He played intramural softball at Vanderbilt for many years, and was so fast that when a ball was hit toward him in left field he had sufficient time to first carefully place his cigarette in the grass before running to catch the ball, and he always seemed to (just) get there. He played golf until six months before he died, and several times at Vanderbilt’s Legends golf course in the last few years shot a score equal to or less than his age, achieving a goal to which most golfers aspire, but few attain.

After high school, with help from their parents, as well as working and receiving scholarships, Elton and his high school girlfriend from Texarkana, Jane, set off to college in Waco, Texas, graduated from Baylor University, and were married soon thereafter. Elton and Jane then moved to Nashville where Elton enrolled in Vanderbilt’s Ph.D. program in economics, while Jane worked as an elementary school teacher. Upon earning his doctorate, Elton taught for a few years at Louisiana College before joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 1966, where he remained until his retirement in 2001, with the exception of a two year academic leave Elton, Jane, and their children, Stephen, Becky and Carol, spent in Rio de Janeiro from 1967 to 1969.

Elton’s most significant research contribution was Forecasting and Recognizing Business Cycle Turning Points, a 1968 National Bureau of Economic Research monograph co-authored with Rendigs Fels. In 1974 Fels and Hinshaw published a short note about business cycle turning points in the American Economic Review. Following Turning Points, Elton published articles about inflation in Brazil, prepaid tuition plans for financing college education, a federal law forbidding National Football League teams from refusing to broadcast locally games that are sold out in advance, a California law requiring art owners to pay a royalty to the original artist each time a work of art is resold for a capital gain, the capital asset pricing model, a history of the American Economic Association’s (AEA) involvement in promoting quality teaching, and an analysis of who participates in the AEA’s annual convention program.

Elton’s signature contribution to higher education has been his dedicated service to Vanderbilt and the economics profession, starting with the four years (1970-74) he served as associate dean of the College of Arts & Science, responsible for college finances and physical space. He was an invaluable adviser to many of his junior colleagues as well as his students. Elton’s patience and good humor were legendary. He was the epitome of calm no matter what the circumstances, and was deft in helping others work through problems by quietly asking them questions until they eventually solved the problem themselves. One of his most important policy decisions while he was associate dean was to abolish Saturday classes. In light of current students’ nocturnal habits, if Vanderbilt had continued to require classes on Saturday mornings it more than likely would have gone out of business.

During the 1970s and 1980s Elton served in various capacities on the Arts & Science Faculty Council, chairing the Council twice, and serving on College committees on administration, the student judicial system, student-faculty relations, the curriculum, constitutional amendments, and education programs, among a half dozen more. He served multiple terms on the University Faculty Senate, was the Senate secretary and a member of its Executive Committee. He served on Senate Committees on athletics, business affairs, human relations, public exercises and was the University Marshall for commencement. In recognition for his dedicated service, in 1989 Elton was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Award “for distinguished service to Vanderbilt through extraordinary contributions as a member of the faculty in the councils and government of the university.” For almost a decade Elton voluntarily shared his office with Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, one of Vanderbilt’s two economists recognized by the AEA as a Distinguished Fellow (the other is George Stocking, who was a President of the AEA), so that Georgescu could continue his research after mandatory retirement (and automatic loss of office).

In 1976, Elton was appointed Secretary (chief administrative officer) of the American Economic Association, and served on the Association’s Executive Committee through 1999. In 1988 he added the responsibilities of Association Treasurer to his portfolio, and continued in that role until January 2000, when he retired from the Association. He served as Secretary until 1997, overseeing the Association’s publications, organizing an annual conference for about 10,000 economists, initiating Job Openings for Economists, a classified listing of jobs for Ph.D. economists, and shepherding a new journal, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, into publication in the late 1980s.

Elton taught many large classes of Money & Banking during his first two decades on the Vanderbilt faculty. He was a popular instructor who retained friendships with many of his past students. In the mid 1980s, when his department found itself unable to staff courses in American Economic History, Elton volunteered to “tool up” in the subject, and subsequently taught it regularly until his retirement in spite of never having formally studied the subject.

For the last 25 years Elton and three colleagues made semi-annual three-day golf trips to many of the top golf courses in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, and Georgia. The last of those trips was in the summer of 2018. There is now an empty seat in the car. He will be sorely missed. 

by John Siegfried, Professor of Economics

William H. Nicholls (1914-1978)

Professor Emeritus William H. NichollsProfessor of Economics, Emeritus

William H. Nicholls was born in Lexington, Kentucky on July 19, 1914, and died in Nashville on August 4, 1978. Professor Nicholls did his undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky and his graduate work at Harvard University, where he received the Ph.D. in 1941. His doctoral dissertation, published that same year, on Imperfect Competition Within Agricultural Industries, established his reputation as one of the country’s leading agricultural economists. He began his teaching career at Iowa State University in 1938 and moved to the University of Chicago in 1945. While serving as assistant professor at the University of Chicago, he edited one of the major professional journals in economics, the Journal of Political Economy. Nicholls came to Vanderbilt as a full professor in 1948, where he continued his prodigious output of books and articles.

William H. Nicholls was born in Lexington, Kentucky on July 19, 1914, and died in Nashville on August 4, 1978. Professor Nicholls did his undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky and his graduate work at Harvard University, where he received the Ph.D. in 1941. His doctoral dissertation, published that same year, on Imperfect Competition Within Agricultural Industries, established his reputation as one of the country's leading agricultural economists. He began his teaching career at Iowa State University in 1938 and moved to the University of Chicago in 1945. While serving as assistant professor at the University of Chicago, he edited one of the major professional journals in economics, the Journal of Political Economy. Nicholls came to Vanderbilt as a full professor in 1948, where he continued his prodigious output of books and articles. He was president of the Southern Economic Association in 1958-59 and presidentof the American Farm Economic Association in 1960-61. He received the Centennial Distinguished Alumnus Award of the University of Kentucky in 1966 and was Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor at Vanderbilt in 1973. He chaired the Department of Economics and Business Administration from 1958 to 1961 and directed the Graduate Center for Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt from 1965 to 1977.

Distinguished Professor Nicholas Gerogescu-Roegen, writing in support of Professor Nicholls' nomination for the Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professorship, said of him, "He is the originator of the field of regional development. One would be justified in speaking of a Nicholls' school, which has attracted numerous doctoral students to our Economics Department, and has enhanced the prestige of the University. His works in the area of agricultural economics have no equal. They reflect a unique combination of theoretical power with a keen insight of the relevant aspects of actuality. The best example is supplied by his (now a classic) volume Imperfect Competition Within Agricultural Industries, in which Bill has created some new and efficient tools for the analysis of monopolistic structure.

"His scholarly interest in agricultural economics and its relation to economic development brought him in contact with the problems of Latin America, with Brazil in particular. Here, again, Bill showed his imaginative approach and his scholarly grip of difficult problems. The excellent name our own department (and implicitly the University) has in Latin America and among the specialists on Latin American Economics, is due in the greatest part to Bill's contributions". 

Gian Singh Sahota (1924-2010)

Professor Emeritus Gian Singh

Professor of Economics, Emeritus

“A colleague who guided the [GPED] program in its formative years. . . a mainstay at all times.”–James S. Worley

Gian Sahota was born on July 22, 1924, and died in Princeton, New Jersey on November 20, 2010, at the age of 86. He received an M.A. in Economics from Leeds University in the United Kingdom in 1957 and then returned to India as a Junior Fellow at the prestigious Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi and promptly published his first book, entitled Indian Tax Structure and Economic Development, which gave rise to several studies on the same topic in other countries. Professor Sahota came to Vanderbilt University as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics in the Graduate Program in Economic Development (GPED) in the summer of 1964. He spent the next 24 years at Vanderbilt, becoming associate professor in 1967 and full professor in 1970.

“A colleague who guided the program [GPED] in its formative years. . . a mainstay at all times.” James S. Worley (1988)

Gian Sahota was born on July 22, 1924, and died in Princeton, New Jersey on November 20, 2010 at the age of 86. He received M.A. in Economics from Leeds University in the United Kingdom in 1957 and then returned to India as a Junior Fellow at the prestigious Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi and promptly published his first book entitled Indian Tax Structure and Economic Development which gave rise to several studies on the same topic in other countries. From 1961 to 1964, he was at the University of Chicago pursuing Ph.D. in Economics. His Ph.D. dissertation: Fertilizer in Economic Development was published by Praeger in 1968.

Professor Sahota came to Vanderbilt University as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics in the Graduate Program in Economic Development (GPED) in the summer of 1964. He spent the next 24 years at Vanderbilt, becoming associate professor in 1967 and full professor in 1970. In the mid-1960s, after joining the Vanderbilt Economics Department, he traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil with other Economics faculty including Andrea Maneschi, Bill Thweatt, Werner Baer and Doug Graham to set up a Master’s program in economics at the University of Sao Paulo. This program became one of Vanderbilt’s best known foreign programs and continues to thrive today as a domestic program which now offers the Ph.D. degree as well.

Professor Sahota was a prolific writer. His contributions encompassed many areas of economics, but development was his passion. He authored six books whose topics ranged from the role of fertilizer in economic development to economic policies in India, Brazil and Panama. He published over 100 articles in professional journals on issues related to poverty, income distribution, public finance and transition economies. He published papers in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Economic Development, Cultural Change, Kyklos, Southern Economic Journal, Public Finance Quarterly, Journal of Policy Modeling, “Personal Income Distribution Theories: A Survey” in the Journal of Economic Literature, and many journals from India, Brazil and elsewhere. He also authored a book entitled: Income Distribution: Theory, Modeling and Case Study of Brazil in 1985 that was widely reviewed. In addition, he advised 15 governments in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Former Soviet Union, and produced 25 advisory reports.

Professor Sahota was an accomplished econometrician. Typically, he used large data bases and careful analysis to derive important policy implications. Nicholas Georgescu-Roegan, another noted economics professor at Vanderbilt, was honored in 1977 on his 75th birthday with a Festschrift. In presenting a copy of this festschrift to Gian, Professor Georgescu wrote “To my fearless econometrician friend”. That indeed capsulated the role econometrics played in Professor Sahota’s career!

After retiring from Vanderbilt, Professor Sahota continued to be actively involved in international consulting. He headed a team, including Kathryn Anderson, to study economic development and policy in Bangladesh; he went there in 1988 and lived for two years. In 1992, he was one of two distinguished economists invited to fill the P.K. Seidman Distinguished Professorship in Political Economy at the Rhodes College in Memphis. Professor James Tobin of Yale University was the other. Professor Sahota was also engaged in evaluating policy and development in Kazakhstan and made several trips there in the 1990s.

Gian was a close friend of India’s current Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh who asked him to remain involved in research on economic development in his native state of Punjab. His research helped indentify economic and fiscal gains from the liberalization of agriculture in the state.

Professor Sahota was a star athlete in his college days, captaining five sports teams – soccer, volleyball, wrestling, kabaddi (a sport native to India), and athletics -- in one year. While he was always an avid tennis player, his athleticism blossomed in his senior years. In the biennial 1999 Senior Olympics, when he was pushing 75, he won the gold medal in 10 kilometer race as well as silver and bronze medals in 800 meter and 1500 meter track meets. He also won several half marathons in Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky, all after retirement. His interest in athletics extended from participation to research. In January 1984, he co-authored an article with his wife, Kanta Sahota, entitled “A Theory of Human Investment in Physical Skills and its Application to Achievement in Tennis” that was published in the Southern Economic Journal.

Professor Sahota was closely associated with the GPED throughout his Vanderbilt career. He supervised over 300 master’s theses. He also supervised nearly 30 Ph.D. dissertations, serving as chair of 16. Still, he found time to act as an external examiner on a dozen Ph. D. dissertations from universities in Brazil and India. By mentoring so many graduate students from over 50 countries around the world, Professor Sahota has left a lasting legacy. He is survived by his wife Kanta, son Vivek, daughter-in-law Sumeet, and three beautiful grandchildren.

by Suhas Ketkar, Visiting Professor of Economics

George W. Stocking (1892-1975)

Professor Emeritus George W. Stocking sitting at conference tableProfessor of Economics, Emeritus

George W. Stocking, Sr., was an American economist who was one of the pioneers of industrial organization and an early writer on international cartels. After completing a Ph.D. degree from Columbia University in 1925, he was professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin from 1926 to 1947. During 1933-1943 he held several positions with the federal government, including the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he advised Attorney General Thurman Arnold. He founded and was professor and chair of the Department of Economics at Vanderbilt University in 1947, where he remained from 1947 to 1963. 

George W. Stocking Sr. (1892–1975) was an American economist who was one of the pioneers of industrial organization and an early writer on international cartels.

After completing a Ph.D. degree from Columbia University in 1925, he was professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin from 1926 to 1947. During 1933-1943 he held several positions with the federal government, including the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he advised Attorney General Thurman Arnold. He founded and was professor and chair of the Department of Economics at Vanderbilt University in 1947, where he remained from 1947 to 1963. He was elected President of the Southern Economic Association in 1952, and of the American Economic Association in 1958.[1]

Stocking was a pioneering economist of industrial organization. Stocking’s most enduring research was published in three volumes: Cartels in Action (1946), Cartels or Competition? (1948), and Monopoly and Free Enterprise (1951). The first two volumes were seminal works in the field of empirical studies of price-fixing cartels; in them Stocking synthesized lavish quantitative and qualitative data on international cartels in eight markets that demonstrated their internal mechanisms, pervasiveness in the economy, and effects on industrial performance. The third volume addressed the problems of market power in the U.S. economy and public policies to ensure the benefits of free enterprise.

Education

Stocking graduated from Clarendon College in Texas (BA 1918), the University of Texas (BA 1918, MA 1921), and Columbia University (Ph.D. 1925). His mentors at Columbia were Thorstein Veblen and Wesley Clair Mitchell.

Career

Stocking’s first book was an empirical study of competition in the petroleum industry, in which he had worked as a “roughneck” in the oil fields of western Texas. While teaching at the University of Texas, Stocking had his first taste of public service as a member of the Consumer Advisory Board of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) in the mid-1930s, where he observed the destructive effects of the brief U.S. legalization of industrial cartels.

When the antitrust laws were reinstated after about 1937, Stocking served through the early 1940s as an economic adviser to the great head of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, Thurman Arnold. It was Arnold who initiated for the first time a large number of successful U.S. criminal prosecutions of international cartels in the mid-1940s. Information from these prosecutions and from Congressional investigations of the nefarious roles played by cartels in facilitating the economic policies of national socialism formed the basis of Stocking’s two landmark books on international price-fixing cartels.

In the 1950s, Stocking was involved in several issues that had lasting effects on antitrust enforcement. Perhaps Stocking’s best-known journal article was a 1955 article in the American Economic Review that addressed what is now known as the "Cellophane Paradox.” In research on the DuPont company arising from his student’s (Willard F. Mueller) Ph. D. dissertation, Stocking and Mueller pointed out the error of mistaking a monopolist’s inability to exercise market power by raising price above the current price for an inability to have already exercised market power by raising price significantly above the competitive price. Courts that use a monopolized product’s elevated market price will typically misconstrue a completed anticompetitive act as a lack of market power. A second issue addressed by Stocking was the extent to which concepts of "workable competition" and the "rule of reason" should be employed in antitrust enforcement.

Selected Published Works

  • (1946), Cartels In Action (with M.W. Watkins) (Twentieth Century Fund, New York)
  • (1948), Cartels or Competition? (with M.W. Watkins) (Twentieth Century Fund, New York)
  • (1951), Monopoly and Free Enterprise (with M.W. Watkins) (Twentieth Century Fund, New York)
  • (1955), ‘The Cellophane case and the new competition’ (with W.F. Mueller), American Economic Review 65,March, 29–63
  • (1955), ‘The Attorney General’s Committee report: A businessman’s guide through antitrust’, Georgetown Law Review 44(1), November, 1–57.
  • (1961), Workable Competition and Antitrust Policy, Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, Tenn.

References

[1] “In Memoriam: George W. Stocking 1892-1975,” American Economic Review, Vol. 66, No. 3 (Jun., 1976), pp. 453-454. • Jong, Henry. W. de and William G. Shepherd (editors), Pioneers of Industrial Organization. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing (2009).

William Oliver Thweatt (1921-2008)

Professor Emeritus William Oliver ThweattProfessor of Economics, Emeritus

William Oliver Thweatt, Professor Emeritus of Economics, known to his colleagues as “Bill”, died on February 28, 2008, at the age of 86 after being ill for about a year. Bill was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 4, 1921. He spent a difficult childhood since his father died in a car accident when he was six, and when he was ten, his mother died of tuberculosis. By then the Great Depression had started. Bill was shuttled among the households of relatives from New York to Alabama until he was 18, attending four high schools in three states. When World War Two broke out, Bill enlisted in the Navy’s V-12 program and was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. Through the Officers’ Training Program, he began studying at Berea College, Kentucky, and the University of North Carolina. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, he completed his Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Management in 1946 at UCLA, and stayed there to earn the M. A. degree in Economics in 1948.

William Oliver Thweatt, Professor Emeritus of Economics, known to his colleagues as “Bill”, died on February 28, 2008, at the age of 86 after being ill for about a year. Bill was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 4, 1921. He spent a difficult childhood since his father died in a car accident when he was six, and when he was ten, his mother died of tuberculosis. By then the Great Depression had started. Bill was shuttled among the households of relatives from New York to Alabama until he was 18, attending four high schools in three states. When World War Two broke out, Bill enlisted in the Navy’s V-12 program and was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. Through the Officers’ Training Program, he began studying at Berea College, Kentucky, and the University of North Carolina. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, he completed his Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Management in 1946 at UCLA, and stayed there to earn the M. A. degree in Economics in 1948. While a Teaching Assistant at UCLA, he met and tutored Coralie, who was then a student and a year later became his wife. After a year at George Pepperdine College in Los Angeles, Bill began the first of four lengthy assignments that brought him overseas, first as a graduate student, then as teacher and administrator in three different continents. The ease with which he adapted to these varied assignments abroad may well be due to his successful response to the dislocations that marked his early life.

Bill was first invited to teach at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, from 1950 to 1953. He seemed to acquire a taste for living overseas, and in 1953 he won a Ford Foundation Overseas Scholarship to study at the Institute of Colonial Studies at Nuffield College, Oxford, with Professor Sir John Hicks, the noted economist who later received the Nobel Prize in Economics. Bill received the B. Phil. degree in Economics at Oxford in 1955. After a year at Montana State University, he began his long association with Vanderbilt when he taught as Assistant Professor of Economic Development from 1956 to 1958. The opportunity then arose for Bill Thweatt to become a Program Economist and Economic Advisor to the Government of Nepal from 1958 to 1960 with USAID, and Ford Foundation Tax and Fiscal Consultant to the National Planning Council and the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Nepalese Government from 1960 to 1963. Being stationed in Katmandu, and Nepal being a small country, Bill became an economic advisor to the King, and got to know the royal family socially.

After this stint in Nepal, Bill returned to Vanderbilt and became Associate Professor of Economics and Assistant Director of the Graduate Program in Economic Development. The many years that Bill spent in Lebanon, Oxford and Nepal made him a natural candidate to lead a group of Vanderbilt faculty members who were asked to set up a Master of Arts Program in Economics at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. Bill was appointed as Chief of Party of the Vanderbilt University Contract Group to the University of São Paulo from 1966 to 1969, and the U.S. State Department recognized Bill’s effectiveness in administering what became one of Vanderbilt’s best-known foreign programs – which continues to thrive as a domestic Brazilian program and now also offers the Ph.D. degree in Economics.

When he returned to Vanderbilt from Brazil in 1969, Bill was promoted Professor of Economics and continued until 1973 as Campus Coordinator of the USAID/Brazil program in Graduate Economics and Training Coordinator for the Brazil Program in Science and Technology of the Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt. He served as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Economics from 1978 to 1980.

Bill’s early academic work was in the area of economic development. He published The Concept of Elasticity and the Growth Equation: With Emphasis on the Role of Capital in Nepal’s Economic Development (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1961), and several articles on economic growth in journals such as Indian Economic Review, Social Research, American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Journal of Developing Areas, Economic Development and Cultural Change and Revista Brasileira de Economia. Together with Vanderbilt Professor of Economics Emeritus Rendigs Fels, Bill co-edited Papers and Proceedings of the American Economic Review in May 1973.

Bill’s sojourn in England as a graduate student, and his interaction with John Hicks and other British academics, made him aware of the British roots of the classical school of economics of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, T. Robert Malthus and John Stuart Mill. His initial attraction to the field of economic development was then displaced by a passionate interest in the history of economic thought. He acquired a reputation in that area in the economics profession, being appointed Vice President of the History of Economics Society in 1978-79, and member of the Board of Editors of journals such as Journal of the History of Economic Thought and History of Political Economy. From 1982 to 1985, Bill served as member of the Executive Committee of the History of Economics Society. He played a leading role among historians of economic thought, and published numerous articles in that area in journals such as Scottish Journal of Political Economy, History of Political Economy, Journal of International Economics (with Andrea Maneschi), Eastern Economic Journal, and Quarterly Review of Economics and Business. He also edited a well-received volume on Classical Political Economy: A Survey of Recent Literature (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988).

In our Department, Bill Thweatt was known for his gregarious outgoing nature, his wry sense of humor, friendliness toward colleagues and students, and his excellent teaching. In 1977 he was awarded the Madison Sarratt Prize for best undergraduate teacher. In 1985 he went on to win the Chancellor’s Cup for the greatest contribution outside the classroom to student-faculty relationships. As reported by Grace Zibart in the Vanderbilt Alumni magazine some years ago, a former student of Bill described his teaching aptitude in a way that explains his reputation as one of the most popular professors on campus. This student wrote about Bill: “It is not altogether his energy that makes such an impact, although you have to see him in action – talking, moving about, never giving you a chance to waver in your attention. It is his complete involvement in his subject, he is as interested in his subject as he wants you to be. He has a characteristic way of putting things, often witty or ironic. He brings a sense of discovery to what could be the cut and dried tenets of introductory economics. Best of all, he seems to be talking to you personally, quite a feat when there are 300 students in the class.”

The energy that this student commented on regarding Bill’s teaching was mirrored in other aspects of his life. Bill was a very keen and competitive tennis player, playing several times a week with students and colleagues. He and his wife often invited students and colleagues to swim in their pool and stay afterwards for snacks and refreshments. One of Bill’s endearing personal quirks was his tendency to clap his hands together, rubbing them briskly back and forth, smiling, as a commemoration of a job well done, or perhaps to stir up energy for the next task. He was a voracious reader, always carrying a book around with him and reading in spare moments. In Nepal he and his wife also became art collectors, and accumulated an impressive collection of bronze and brass statuettes of Buddha and other religious artifacts, many of which they bought to help out Tibetans escaping from their homeland.

Bill Thweatt retired from Vanderbilt in 1991 and became Professor Emeritus. Even after he fell ill in his last year, Bill retained an invariably positive attitude, a contagious enthusiasm for life, and a marked sense of humor. He was a fun-loving, generous and kind person, an affectionate family man, and he is missed by the colleagues who knew him.

by Andrea Maneschi, Professor of Economics 

JOHN VROOMAN (1947-2020)

Principal Senior Lecturer of Economics, Retired

John Vrooman was a well-known sports economist, with rare real-life experience in the field as a high school and college football play.  A popular teacher at Vanderbilt for more than 20 years, John inspired generations of students.

 

 

 

Remembrance by Robert Driskill

John Vrooman died Sunday, July 5, 2020, from ALS. John, a longtime admirer of many Yankee baseball greats, would have undoubtedly preferred that we refer to his illness as “Lou Gehrig’s” disease. 

John had a long and illustrious career as an economist, winning numerous teaching awards and publishing important papers in sports economics.

John brought a unique perspective to his jobs in part because of his experiences in American football—and in life. John was a prominent Dallas, Texas high school player for the prestigious private St. Mark’s school, from which he graduated in 1964. He was recruited from a public school by St. Marks to play football, and that progression from public to private school let him identify with and counsel many undergraduate college students who had followed a similar path.  He was forever grateful for the opportunity to attend an elite high school.  He enjoyed telling people about how he played alongside the now-famous actor Tommy Lee Jones.

He was offered an athletic scholarship to Vanderbilt, but chose instead to attend and play as a defensive back for Kansas State, covering the tight ends from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas A & M. He is still the eighth-ranked punt returner for Kansas State. After a coaching change at Kansas State, John moved back to Texas and finished his degree at University of Texas, Austin.

He taught high school for a few years—in part because he could coach the football team—and then went back to the University of Texas to earn his Ph.D. in economics. His advisor was the former Secretary of Labor, Ray Marshall.  Not surprisingly, John started his professional life as a labor economist.  

But as John accumulated teaching awards from the University of Utah and from Louisiana State University, he began focusing his research on the economics of sports. He wrote 14 peer-reviewed papers that have received over 1000 citations, the most notable being “A General Theory of Professional Sports Leagues,” in the 1995 Southern Economic Journal. Furthermore, he became perhaps the most-quoted sports economist around the world, providing his expertise to various news outlets on everything from American football to that other football we in the United States know as soccer, to the Olympics.

Moving from Rice University to Vanderbilt in 1999, John established himself as one of the most popular instructors in the university.  For many years he taught several sections of large introductory economics courses and two specialized courses on the economics of sports.  One trademark was the relaxed atmosphere he maintained in the classroom, which he reinforced with his wardrobe choices: cargo shorts from opening day of major league baseball until the end of the World Series, accompanied by Vanderbilt-logo black collared tee shirts and sandals, and then blue jeans—along with the same tee shirts but with trainers-- in the interim.  Another was his non-required but heavily-attended “lab” session on Friday afternoons at a local sports bar.

Sitting next to John’s office, though, was where you could see the passion and dedication he brought to his teaching.  A steady stream of students came by to talk economics, but also to talk about life. As a Division One football player, John could empathize with the pressures many Vanderbilt students faced as they juggled school and time-consuming co-curricular activities. He also freely dispensed sports advice to student athletes. Whether future NBA players really thought John knew more than them about how to set a pick, or whether women lacrosse players really thought he knew much about cradling a lacrosse ball, they returned repeatedly to talk it over with him—and to talk about their lives in general.

Diagnosed with ALS in 2018, he continued to write on sports economics until a few weeks before his death when he decided against invasive measures to prolong his life. He died peacefully surrounded by his family.

John met life head on, with great passion.  I think his description of how he responded when he was asked by his Kansas State coach if he would return punts is a great illustration of John’s personality: he told the coach he would only do it if the staff understood he would never “fair catch” the football. And he never did.

Fred M. Westfield (1926-2019)

Professor Emeritus Fred M. WestfieldProfessor of Economics, Emeritus

Fred M. Westfield, Professor Emeritus of Economics, came to Vanderbilt as Professor of Economics in 1965, after serving on the faculty at Northwestern as Assistant and Associate Professor of Economics following his degree from MIT in 1957. Born in Essen, Germany, Fred was a local who went to high school in Nashville and then to Vanderbilt for his undergraduate studies. He made many contributions over his long career to the field of industrial economics. Those of us who remember Fred as a colleague prior to his retirement in 1998 will immediately point to his jovial nature and enthusiasm for life that seemed to permeate his every move. He had remained active in the department as an emeritus professor all the way to his passing, and was a frequent visitor to our endowed lectures.  

Fred Westfield was born on November 7, 1926, in Essen, Germany. He died on April 23, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. When Fred was an early teenager and war loomed in Europe, he was sent to the United States to live with relatives, who resided in Nashville. Fred graduated from Nashville’s West End High School in 1944. His first stop after high school was the U.S. Army, where his mathematical ability and understanding of physics led him to serve as an ordnance instructor. After his discharge in 1946, Fred returned to Nashville, and four years later graduated from Vanderbilt. He then enrolled in the Ph.D. program in economics at M.I.T., and three years later took up a Lecturer appointment at Northwestern University.

Fred completed his doctoral dissertation in 1957, writing on “Static and Dynamic Optimization Problems in the Multi-Plant Firm with Particular Reference to the Electric Power Industry.” His thesis supervisors were Paul Samuelson and Robert Solow, both of whom would later win the Economics Nobel Prize. Upon completing his Ph.D. Fred was promoted to Assistant Professor at Northwestern, and three years later to Associate Professor. In 1965 he moved to Vanderbilt as Professor of Economics, where he remained until his retirement in 1998.

It was at Vanderbilt in the mid-1960s where Fred met his wife, Joyce, at a university picnic. They had been married for 44 years when Joyce passed away in 2012.

Fred’s earliest research focused on Operations Research and optimization methods, addressing topics as diverse as engineering processes of zinc smelting and refining, and the operation of hydrothermal electric generation systems. His early publications even included two items in Jet Propulsion, the journal of the American Rocket Society.

Fred’s publications in the mainstream economics literature addressed three issues. The first was how to apply marginal analysis to multi-plant firms, balancing long run marginal costs across plants (this was the focus of his Ph.D. thesis and a 1959 article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics).

The second was an extension and theoretical generalization of what was called the AverchJohnson (AJ) effect, a phenomenon that was exposed by the great electrical equipment conspiracy of the early 1960s. In a 1964 American Economic Review article, Fred demonstrated that utilities subject to rate-of-return regulation could benefit from a conspiracy among their suppliers that raised the price of their capital inputs (such as generation and switching equipment) because doing so raised the base on which the regulated rate-of-return was calculated. Thus the AJ effect was commonly called gold-plating to reflect the idea that inputs were over-priced without much resistance from the public utilities that purchased them.

The third issue was how vertical integration is likely to affect prices paid by the ultimate consumers of a product. In the 1981 American Economic Review, he showed rigorously how, were an upstream monopolist to buy its competitive downstream distributors, final price to consumers could rise, stay the same, or decline depending on the combinations of the elasticity of substitution among inputs and the elasticity of demand for the final distributed product.

All of Fred’s research was characterized by careful mathematical demonstrations of general theoretical conclusions that derived from common sense intuition. Thus it is of no surprise that Fred taught Vanderbilt’s graduate microeconomic theory sequence for decades.

Fred supervised numerous Ph.D. dissertations, demanding precision and accuracy from his students. He was known to be extremely patient and generous with his time, willing to keep working with a student no matter how long it took, but, at the end, it had to be correct.

Throughout his career Fred consulted on various issues involving economic regulation, including the cost of capital and pricing for water supply, natural gas, telephone service, and electricity production. At various times he was involved as a consultant on public utility pricing in Argentina, Chattanooga, Brazil, Europe, South Korea, Kenya, and Pakistan.

Fred served on the College of Arts and Science Faculty Council twice, and in the University Faculty Senate twice. He served a term on the Graduate Faculty Council, and was a member of the 1975 university accreditation committee, and the Graduate School Committee on Student Affairs. He was the Economics Department Director of Undergraduate Studies for three years.

Those who remember Fred as a colleague point to his jovial nature and enthusiasm for life that seemed to permeate his every move. He remained active in the department as an emeritus professor all the way through early 2019, frequently attending the department’s endowed lectures. He will be missed by his colleagues and friends.