RIP, Warren J. Samuels (1933-2011)

Warren Samuels passed away yesterday at his home in Gainesville, Florida. Warren was an eminent historian of economic thought, whose work ranged across the field’s breadth. His first published works in the field were a pair of articles on the physiocratic system (published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics) that served to reshape thinking about the physiocratic view of the economic role of the state. On the other end of the time spectrum, he was a pioneer in doing and encouraging work on the history of post-war economics. This breadth of scholarship is exemplified nicely in the book that he completed not long before his death, Erasing the Invisible Hand: Essays on an Elusive and Misguided Concept in Economics, which was brought to completion with the assistance of Marianne Johnson and will be released by Cambridge University Press in September. We’ve suffered a great loss as an intellectual community in his passing.

Many of you knew Warren well, so there is no need to rehearse at length his publications or his forays into many other areas of economics. Warren was one of the first historians of economics to treat the history of economics as a branch of intellectual history. This was, for him, a part of the larger intellectual conversation about the role of governments and markets in modern society that was his lifelong pursuit. His well-known studies of policy in classical economics (The Classical Theory of Economic Policy) and in Pareto (Pareto on Policy) were major contributions to that discussion. His perspective had a significant effect on the students who studied with him over the years, and on those of us who were the recipients of his comments and advice at conferences and via correspondence.

From the outset of his career, Warren recognized the importance to the intellectual historian of correspondence, course notes, unpublished manuscripts, public lectures, etc. What we now collectively refer to as archival materials. Not only did he promote the use of these materials in historical research, but he also amassed an extensive personal collection of these materials, which he began to publish in 1989 in archival supplements to Research in the History of Economic Thought & Methodology. The very first supplement contained the notes he had obtained from economist Robert L. Hale and Sinologist Homer H. Dubs of John Dewey’s course on Moral and Political Philosophy at Columbia University. The second supplement contains the only authorized publication of Frank Knight’s infamous lecture on “The Case for Communism.” Warren and George Stigler went back and forth for some time regarding the publication of that piece! Dewey and Knight were, perhaps not surprisingly, two of Warren’s intellectual heros. The materials he amassed will continue to be published in the research annual for many years to come. His collection of photographs of economists is already available online from the Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University.

Warren was also a tireless editor of volumes that touched upon almost any aspect of his wider interests. I have lined up on my bookshelf over 80 volumes that he edited on the history of economics, economic methodology, or recent economic thought. Mine is probably not a complete set! All of these were undertaken to encourage scholarship in areas that interested him (and, by extension, which he thought would interest others). Many of them are also the means by which he encouraged the work of young scholars.

We all experienced his generosity to students, young scholars and anyone else who wanted to join the great conversation. His goal and passion was to broaden and enrich that conversation, and he was as happy to engage a young scholar as he was a Nobel laureate. To that end, he and Sylvia made a substantial contribution to the History of Economics Society to endow its Young Scholars program.

Among the many professional societies to which he belonged, the History of Economics Society was always the one closest to Warren’s heart. He was a founding member of the Society, and served as its 8th President. The Society honored him in 1997 with its Distinguished Fellow award; two years earlier he was the recipient of the Association for Evolutionary Economics Veblen-Commons Award. He was the long-time editor of the Journal of Economic Issues and the founding editor of Research in the History of Economic Thought & Methodology.

I wish to acknowledge the helpful advice I received from Jeff Biddle, Marianne Johnson and Steve Medema.

Ross Emmett emmettr @