Lynn Turgeon

J. Barkley Rosser, Jr. rosserjb at
Wed Mar 17 12:10:09 PST 1999

It was a privilege for me to have been a friend of Lynn Turgeon's. He was responsible for my meeting my wife, Marina, who was a researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) in Moscow in the early 1980s. She had been his translator when he served on his Fulbright in Moscow (in 1976, not 1975 as his obituary states) for his lectures at Moscow State University. Those lectures would later be issued as his book, _The Advanced Capitalist System_ published by M.E. Sharpe. He gave her away at our wedding and we shall both miss him very much.

Over the more recent years Lynn participated in several panels at professional meetings on transitional economy issues, often ones that either Marina or I would chair or organize. Lynn had been scheduled to be a discussant in a session that I organized for the meetings in New York in early January. He had had prostate cancer for several years that he knew was incurable and had warned me that he might not make the meetings, which I said I understood. However, during the middle of last year he seemed to be doing better and I was hopeful that he would be participating as he lived in Hempstead, New York, not far from the meeting site in New York City. It was only when he pulled out in early December that I realized that the end was near. He had fallen and his cancer had relapsed and he had gone to stay with his daughter who is a physician in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was clear that he was not going to be going anywhere else again while alive, although he did continue to be active on the pkt list into January.

Lynn always enjoyed challenging people with ideas that went against the grain, and I sometimes had trouble figuring out to what extent he actually believed some of the things he was putting forward (I certainly did not agree with all of them). Louis Proyect has commented on how he used to appear to argue that fascism was good for the working class, a position that I do not think he really held. However, he certainly did think that Hitler was a practitioner of a form of Keynesianism, perhaps the first "military Keynesian," and he always enjoyed confounding people with his apparently contradictory views on military spending (good for the US, bad for the USSR, etc.).

In more recent years, besides his promulgation of his own idiosyncratic version of a Post Keynesian vision as expressed in his last book, _Bastard Keynesianism_, he also wrote and spoke much about the problems of economic transition. He had originally been inspired to study Russian back in World War II out of a desire for world peace and a feeling that the US and USSR should remain allied and be friends. In the early 50s he was apparently the only person at the Rand Corporation not to have a security clearance. In later years he would point out some of the virtues of the Stalinist system even as he criticized its irrationality and oppressiveness. His _Economics of Discrimination_ (not the exact title) made the point that Gypsies and women were more equal and less discriminated against in Eastern and Central Europe during the Stalinist period than at any other, an uncomfortable fact for many of us. In more recent years his appearances at ASSA meetings often involved analyzing how the position of women was changing in different transitional economies and he initially had high praise for the Hungarians for maintaining a very supportive system for women, although that has since been cut back under IMF pressure. He argued that how women are treated is perhaps the real bottom line measure of a society.

He also had unconventional views on agriculture, documenting the higher productivity of collectivized agriculture in Hungary (thanks to economies of scale) compared to the privatized system in Poland with its small private plots. He accurately foresaw problems for these agricultural systems that would accompany the breakup of their collectives (although China, whose transition he often praised, improved agricultural productivity with privatization under Deng).

I always wanted to pin Lynn down on some of his views, but he had an amazing ability to wriggle out of apparent contradictions and difficulties and to stand grinning at one like a Cheshire cat with his wit and agility and ability to provoke. However, I think that in the end he was a fan of Gorbachev and regretted the failure of his experiment. Here was the figure who would "put a human face on socialism" and would bring an end to the Cold War. He may have done the latter, but at the expense of the former project. In recent years he had strongly recommended Gorbachev's memoirs.

I think others have said much that is useful, accurate, and wise concerning the life and career of Lynn Turgeon. He was indeed someone who traveled widely and made friends wherever he went. I was constantly amazed at the breadth of his contacts and acquaintances, many of whom he kept in contact with and sent his engaging and insightful travelogues to. His curiosity about current developments in the world was unabated and I remember him even in his last illness questioning Marina about farmers market prices in Moscow from her recent visit (his Ph.D dissertation involved developing price indices for the Soviet Union). He was truly a citizen of the world and will be sorely missed by many of us. Barkley Rosser

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