On January 2nd, we lost a brilliant economist, Stephen Resnick, one of the founding members and a cornerstone of the heterodox Economics Department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Steve, a devoted and fabulous teacher, touched the lives of hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students over his career. Steve, along with his colleague Richard Wolff, worked tirelessly for decades to transform Marxian Economics and influenced the researching and teaching of scores of students. He will be sorely missed. Here we reprint an early obituary, written by one of his former students from Umass.
Greg Saulmon, writing in The Republican:
Jan 3rd, 2013,
Stephen A. Resnick, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts who won the school’s distinguished teaching award and is best known for his piercing critiques of capitalism, died Wednesday after a bout with leukemia. He was 74.
Resnick, of Newton Centre, taught at the university for nearly 4 decades, arriving at the Amherst campus in 1973 after beginning his teaching career at Yale University. He earned a B.S. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1960 and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1964. During his time as a graduate student he held Woodrow Wilson and Brookings Institute fellowships, according to his online University of Massachusetts biography.
“His classes were always oversubscribed,” said friend and long-time collaborator Richard D. Wolff, of Manhattan. “There was a magic to the way he brought this stuff alive and made it exciting.”
Wolff, who retired from UMass in 2008 and now teaches at the The New School in Manhattan, said he met Resnick as a graduate student at Yale. When Wolff took a teaching position at the City College of New York, Resnick — a believer in the school’s controversial open admissions policy — followed.
UMass eventually recruited the pair, Wolff recalled, as the university sought to build a “cutting edge and innovative” economics department in the early 1970s. “Nothing would fit that better than to bring a bunch of different kinds of economists together in their department,” Wolff said, adding that Resnick was an anchor of the new team of faculty members attempting to “create program that would make students aware of the entire range of economic theory.”
“It made UMass the place for students who wanted to study both traditional and alternate theories,” Wolff said.
In Thompson Hall, Wolff said, he and Resnick merged offices in order to free up space to create a student lounge in the economics department. “It was a place for students to talk to one another, and to meet with us,” Wolff said, adding that the academic journal “Rethinking Marxism” “was born and developed at UMass, in that lounge.” Resnick helped launch the publication, now published by Routledge, and remained on its editorial board until 1994.
In addition to teaching advanced courses in Marxian theory, Resnick’s course load included introductory lectures such as the department’s prerequisite class in macroeconomic theory.
But while Resnick’s research and writing offered vigorous criticisms of what he saw as a fundamental instability underlying the American economic system — an instability that surfaced, in his view, in the form of a business cycle that periodically left large swaths of the workforce unemployed and businesses facing bankruptcy — Wolff said his former colleague brought a sense of balance to his teaching. It was an approach, Wolff said, that won the respect of students whose own beliefs spanned the spectrums of political and economic theory.
“Steve won every teaching prize that UMass has — and that was very unusual for an economics professor,” Wolff said.
In addition to the teaching award won during the 1997-98 academic year, Resnick’s accolades include an outstanding teacher award in the social and behavioral sciences, which he also won that same year.
Wolff said Resnick remained committed to teaching the concept of the business cycle even as that approach – which had been central to the curriculum of many economics departments in the wake of the Great Depression – fell out of favor. “Marxists have developed powerful insights into the causes and social costs of business cycles in capitalism,” Wolff said, adding later: “Your ability to make sense of the current economic crisis would be enhanced by studying under Steve, whether you agree with Marxian thought or not.”
With Wolff, Resnick co-authored a number of essays, articles and books, including “Knowledge and Class: A Marxian Critique of Political Economy” and “Contending Economic Theories: Neoclassical, Keynesian, and Marxian.” Wolff said the latter text, published in August 2012 by the MIT Press, exemplifies Resnick’s belief in a comparative approach to teaching the subject that exposed students to a wide range of economic thinking. “This is what he always did,” Wolff said. “He brought a balanced approach, with an emphasis on Marxism.”
In the fall of 2011 Resnick began a three-year term as the university’s second Helen Sheridan Memorial Scholar, according to the school’s website. He had planned to complete two research projects during that tenure, with one examining social security, private pensions, and medical insurance in the context of Marxian theory and the other involving an analysis of Marxian, neoclassical and Keynesian approaches to questions about international trade and capital flows.
He leaves a wife, Charlotte, and three children.
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