Professor Mark Perlman

Historian of economic thought


Mark Perlman, economist: born Madison, Wisconsin 23 December 1923; Professor of Economics, University of Pittsburgh 1963-93 (Emeritus); Editor, Journal of Economic Literature 1969-81; Co-Editor, Journal of Evolutionary Economics 1991-96; married 1953 Naomi Waxman (one daughter); died Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 3 May 2006.

Mark Perlman was an influential historian of economic thought, the co-author with Charles McCann Jnr of The Pillars of Economic Understanding - the first volume published under the subtitle "Ideas and Traditions" (1998), the second as "Factors and Markets" (2000). He was also the founding editor of the Journal of Economic Literature, a leader in its genre, and created a journal for the US Department of State, Portfolio on International Economic Perspectives, as well as a journal for the Schumpeter Society, the Journal of Evolutionary Economics.

His first speciality had been labour economics. His doctoral dissertation on labour arbitration in Australia, published as Judges in Industry (1954), is still much cited, second only in importance to A New Province for Law and Order (1922), the articles of Henry Bournes Higgins, the judge who drafted the early law. Perlman's later work on the subject included Labor Union Theories in America: background and development (1958) and The Machinists: a new study in American trade Unionism (1961).

Mark Perlman was born in 1923 in Madison, Wisconsin, the son of Selig Perlman, a Polish émigré and himself a distinguished labour historian at the University of Wisconsin. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1947, Mark took his PhD at Columbia University in 1950. He first taught at Cornell and Johns Hopkins universities before being appointed to a permanent professorship at the University of Pittsburgh in 1963, a post that he occupied for three decades.

It was fascinating to listen to him discourse about his upbringing in a highly intellectual household, of having met, as a young boy, Albert Einstein and other academic luminaries. Most of the great economists and many of the leading historians and philosophers of the 20th century were known to him. He brought this breadth of outlook to his teaching, preferring to provide undergraduates with broad-based instruction in the liberal arts before proceeding to the discipline of economics. His autobiographical essay, "What Makes My Mind Tick", in his selected essays, The Character of Economic Thought, Economic Characters, and Economic Institutions (1996), is particularly stimulating.

Perlman was a great anglophile, who often talked of his rewarding period as an official faculty visitor and visiting fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge, in 1976-77. He and his wife Naomi delighted to entertain their English friends and colleagues at the Athenaeum Club in London during their frequent visits to the UK. For many years Perlman was a much-appreciated co-editor of the Cambridge University Surveys of Economic Literature (1977-96) and the Cambridge Surveys in Economic Politics and Institutions (1991-95).

His discovery of the English economist G.L.S. Shackle was almost serendipitous, and he did his bit to expand Shackle's influence by publishing papers by and on him and substantial reviews of his books in the Journal of Economic Literature. In May 2004 he delivered the G.L.S. Shackle Centenary Lecture, "Memorialising George L.S. Shackle: a centennial tribute", at St Edmund's College, Cambridge.

In 2002 Perlman was himself memorialised with a Festschrift, Editing Economics, edited by Hank Lim, Ungsuh K. Park and G.C. Harcourt, to which 18 scholars contributed.

Mark Perlman was a deeply religious man and a prominent member of the Jewish community in his home town. The core of his thinking was a religious conviction that it is the tribe (the people), not the individual, that comes before the Almighty.

Stephen Frowen

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